For the traditionalist, celebrating the New Year in Japan offers a number of history-laden foods, decorations and activities, all calculated to ensure that the coming year is a good one. One of my favorite outdoor activities -- and let's face it, usually the weather at New Year's is pretty good -- is a seven lucky gods pilgrimage. Usually these are courses through a neighborhood visiting seven shrines and temples to pay homage to Japan's seven lucky gods: Benten, Bishamonten, Daikoku, Ebisu, Jurojin, Fukurokuju, and Hotei. Such courses exist all across Japan; Tokyo alone is blessed with nearly 30 of them.
Just for something different, how about a pilgrimage to seven lucky Inari? There is just such a walk in southwest Tokyo, not far from Haneda Airport. It can easily be done in just a couple of hours and offers the chance to secure good fortune in the coming year while strolling through a quaint, traditional neighborhood with a few very unique features.
Inari is one of the oldest and most popular of the Shinto gods (“kami”). It was possibly first regarded as the god of the harvest (the word “Inari” means "carrying rice"). The traditional guardians of Inari shrines are a pair of fox statues; often one of the foxes holds the key to the rice granary in its mouth. Notwithstanding its agricultural origins, over the centuries, Inari has taken on a number of roles and these days seems to serve as a general "protector." Indeed, tiny Inari shrines are found everywhere, even on the rooftops of modern office towers.
The breadth of the Inari's role is evidenced on the Haneda Seven Lucky Inari pilgrimage, where each Inari shrine visited -- some of them tiny traditional neighborhood shrines -- provides the pilgrim with a different form of luck, fortune or protection. During the first five days of the new year, pilgrims can collect inscriptions at each shrine to commemorate their visit (100 yen each). The walk finishes at Anamori Inari Jinja, where it is also possible to purchase other special "goods" to commemorate your walk.
Begin at Kojiya Station on the Keikyu Kuko Line, where you can pick up a copy of a color map of the area showing the route of the pilgrimage. (If you can't find the maps, ask the station attendant.) If you want to study the route in advance, download a map from the Ota Tourist Association here. (The downloadable version is actually easier to follow.)
The first shrine of the pilgrimage is just a 10-minute walk away. After crossing the Kanpachi ring road, walk along Kojiya Shoten-gai. Already you may find yourself feeling transported back to Showa-era Japan, the days when Tokyo was just a collection of villages and in each village everyone knew everyone else.
Little Tokanmori Inari Jinja is toward the back of the grounds of a larger shrine, Haginaka Jinja. It sports a number of vermillion red shrine gates, something only found at Inari shrines. The god here is said to ensure the safety of those who work on the seas, and the particular blessing you will receive here is for physical safety. This neighborhood is very close to the mouth of the Tama River and historically its inhabitants were predominately fishermen and gardeners.
Stop two: Myoho Inari Jinja, is another 10 minutes away. This shrine has endured floods, earthquakes and fires in its day, but perseveres to offer pilgrims a blessing for general good luck.
Another 10-minute walk brings you to tiny Juko Inari Jinja, which has a long history of protecting villagers from floods and bringing them successful harvests. Here you will receive a blessing to bring you a long and prosperous life.
The next stop in the pilgrimage is Takayama Inari Jinja, about a 20-minute walk away. Warning: if you're following the map provided at the station, keep in mind that "massugi" (go straight) really means "follow the road." That is, the map shows a straight road, when in fact there are a number of bends -- just stay on the wide road. The blessing at this simple shrine is for success in school. Remember, life-long learning is a virtue.
Continuing on the wide road, you will soon pass under Sangyo Doro. For a little extra history, turn right and follow the road toward the Tama River (the road will bend to the left so that you're following the river). You'll see a nice little marina of fishing boats and, right where the Metropolitan Expressway is passing high overhead, you will find a marker on the levee for the old Haneda ferry landing. If you're lucky, you might catch a glimpse of Mt Fuji from here.
In another 7 or 8 minutes, you can reach Kamome (Seagull) Inari Jinja, where you will receive another blessing for luck and good fortune. This little shrine was founded during the Edo Period for protection against the three disasters of the age: disease, flood and fire.
As you return to the road, take note of the low red-brick wall that was once part of the flood protection system. The more modern flood protection is quickly apparent when you reach the Tamagawa Benten Shrine, which sits far below the levee on which the road now runs. Benten shrines are often found near water and this shrine is ideally situated where the Ebitori River flows into the Tama River. Climb the metal stairs to the top of the flood barrier for more views of the Tama River as well as an interesting perspective on Haneda Airport.
Follow the road as it bends left to run alongside Ebitori River. Across the river you will see a large red torii shrine gate that seems not to lead to a shrine. More on this shortly.
At Benten Bridge, turn left. Shira-uo Inari Jinja is a little way up on your right. Although another shrine popular among fishermen (hence its name, meaning "white fish"), the shrine's principal purpose is said to be protection from fires. The fact that it escaped destruction during World War II is often cited as evidence of its efficacy. The blessing you receive here will keep you "in a state of perfect health".
Another 15 minutes will bring you to the last stop of your pilgrimage and the largest of the Inari shrines in this area: Anamori Inari Jinja. This shrine was once situated on land now occupied by Haneda Airport and was moved to this location just after World War II to make way for the development of the airport. The red torii you saw earlier was part of the original shrine, although it has been moved from its earlier location near the terminal building.
One of the shrine's administrators, Inoue-san, kindly explained to me that the shrine was originally established to protect from floods. It was also a popular spot to pray for a good harvest and business success. But, he added solemnly, the shrine has evolved as its neighborhood has evolved, so that it now also sees to the needs of air travelers. Indeed, the blessing you will get here provides safe air travel, safety in your home, and success in business.
The extensive shrine grounds at Anamori Inari Jinja feature a large central shrine as well as a “dengaku” stage and several small subordinate shrines. Pass through the tunnel of red torii gates on the right side of the central shrine to find a small structure with the purpose of housing and properly disposing of spent amulets and other religious accoutrements when they are no longer needed.
Having completed your pilgrimage you will be fully protected and endowed with plenty of luck and good fortune for the year to come. Use it well!© Japan Today