The Namiyoke Inari Shrine is just a block and a half away from the famous Tsukiji Fish Market. We didn’t originally plan on going to the Shrine, it just kind of happened.
Actually, this was the second time Ryosuke and I have tried to go to the Tsukiji Fish Market – the first time we rented a hotel right down the road; the actions are from 5:20 – 7:00AM, they only let in the first 120 people, and trains don’t run that early. But when 5:00AM rolled around and Ryosuke tried to wake me up, I threw a pillow at his face, and went back to sleep.
This time we were meeting my best friend from High School, Michelle. She was on her way back from China and only in Japan for a day – so we made plans to meet at the Tsukiji fish market. Unfortunatnly, it happened to be “Respect for the Aged Day” a Japanese national holiday on the third money of September (so this year it was on the 17th). If I had a TV and/or watched Japanese television I would have seen a day full of programs that featured the oldest people in Japan, talked about notable elderly citizens, and discussed the current age breakdown of the population.
But I don’t have a TV.
And ICU doesn’t celebrate this National Holiday.
In any case, the Tsukiji Fish market was closed.
But I guess that’s ok, because apparently you are not allowed to wear flip flops inside the market anyways.
Which I can totally understand.
I felt awful because next to us was another foreign couple who had even brought a change of shoes specifically for walking around the action. It was a smart idea and would have worked wonderfully, you know, if the fish market wasn’t closed.
Ryosuke and I were, of course, just wearing flip flops.
In any case, once we realized the fish market was closed, we set off exploring and stumbled upon this delightful little shrine.
Namiyoke Inari Shrine (波除稲荷神社)
The Namiyoke Inari Shrine was built during the Manji Era (a period of Japanese history that ran from 1658 to 1661). The name was derived from “Namiyoke” (波除) which literally means “protection from waves” because they had all sorts of problems building the shrine. It was built on an old landfill next to the river, and the waves kept tearing the structure down.
However, one day, the workers floated an Inari (Shinto god, often in fox form, that represents fertility, rice, industry, and agriculture) on the muddy bank to try to appease the gods. It must have worked, because after that day the shrine was built without any problems.
They decided to name the shrine Namiyoke (protection from waves) Inari (the Shinto god) Shrine in honor of the extraordinary event.
Since the Edo period, this shrine has become iconic for safe travels – especially by sea. To this day (apparently) people still worship the shrine when they are about to set out on a long, difficult journey (I didn’t take this picture, sorry. Original can be found here)
There was nothing particularly special about this shrine until the fish market was relocated here in 1923 after the horrific Kanto earthquake (Tsukiji fish market used to be in the Kanto region). Since then the shrine has become the unofficial “guardian” of the fish market and frequented by tourists.
It you pay 200 yen, you can get your “fortune told” by getting a pre-written fortune out of nearby box.
You are then allowed to tie your wishes onto a nearby tree.
I sort of wanted to get my fortune told, but the only shrine attendant we could find looked kind of bored and intimidating – which is always a terrifying combination. During the ten minutes we walked around the shrine (tossed money in the basket, rang the bell, took pictures, and tried to figure out the correct shrine rituals) – no other visitors came by. So I guess the attendant had a reason to look bored.
Once a year in June the Namiyoke Inari Shrine has a festival called Shishi Matsuri (獅子祭り) “the Lion Festival” where two large, wooden lion heads are paraded around Tsukiji city. In the past the festival was much larger – but as the years have gone by, the number of lion heads has decreased (mostly from earthquakes and the fire bombings in WWII). I missed it this year, but hopefully next year I will get a chance to go!
Furthermore, on either side of the entrance of this tiny shrine, they have paper lanterns with beautiful kanji written on them. I asked Ryosuke (since I see these at shrines all the time) – apparently they are the names of the shrine’s sponsors.
I thought it was a delightfully artistic way to display sponsors.
The Namiyoke Inari shrine was tiny, but artsy. It was nowhere near the size or complexity of some of the larger shrine or temples in Japan, but still worth looking at. I hope you get a chance to go!
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