August 22, 2010

Shrinespotting

The Washinomiya shrine is said to be one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan. According to Wikipedia it is located in the town of Kuki which was once the town of Washinomiya.

This is not entirely correct as a walk through Kuki will attest.

There is a city map at the city center which does not include Washinomiya. I gather that Washinomiya was annexed by Kuki, not renamed, and is some miles distant. I got on the train and got off at Higashi-Washinomya...which is NOT the station one wants to get off at if one wants to see this shrine. Washinomiya Station is on the Tobu line and one should transfer to it at the station in Kuki. However, it is not covered by the JR rail pass and as I was able to get directions to the shrine I decided to hoof it.


At a fairly brisk pace, the walk from Higashi-Washinomiya takes about 2.5 hours. (Possibly less if one refrains from walking in very large circles.) The directions seemed unduly complex, given the fact that I was standing on country roads in rice paddies, but I soon realized that there are irrigation ditches that are impassable and these cause the roads to change course multiple times.

The elaborate nature of the irrigation system was interesting...

...and very understandable given the needs of rice, as well as this bit of trivia which, being as I'm a coastal southerner interested me greatly.

Eventually, I passed the water traps and  began entering a less rural area ...an area which had its own hazards...


Two tigers, a penguin and a Texan polar bear from Hawaii...Just don't make eye contact...

And eventually after getting directions from 2 convenience stores and a police box, I saw the wrong side of Washinomyia Station.


If you look back and see this...YOU'RE GOING THE WRONG WAY!

Turning left as one exits the station on the side without the bridge takes one  on a pleasant and short walk down a road parallel to the tracks which curves to the right and ultimately to this bridge...


..and after crossing it, about a block further will put one in the parking lot to the shrine.

I was completely unprepared for the scale of the place.



The Tori is massive and leads not to the shrine, but to the path to get to the shrine.

Along the way there are a couple of small alters/ shrines such as this one overlooking a pond.



After a walk of at least a hundred fifty meters one comes to the purification station, complete with helpful instructions.

At that point one is in the main part of the shrine....







And beyond this, two more gates each of which  leads to a path through the woods


Fairly long paths...

Each of which passes by these small prayer houses/ shrines.


The place is huge.

It is also very important to the Shinto religion and gets well over a hundred thousand visitors on New Years.

I spoke to a shrine maiden who was selling fortunes and asked her some questions to the best of my ability. She was very patient and helpful despite the language barrier.

She was adamant that this is THE oldest Shinto shrine in the Kanto region. I gathered that this place honors most types of spirits hence the large number of shrines (and the little garden in the courtyard...with a shrine beside it.)  There was a lot I did not get, but she got out a pamphlet and circled certain headings that I can look up in my Kanji dictionary. She seemed quite happy that a fat ugly American  was asking her questions...that pertained to the shrine.

This may seem odd, what else would one ask?

Well there is one other thing about this place, (scarcely worth mentioning of course).

This, you see, is the view from just outside the front gate...



And this is a frame grab from the opening credits to Lucky*Star.



Some time ago someone put this piece of trivia in Newtype....and the 'pilgrims' began arriving....and life got very strange for this August and solemn place....



The first clue the shrine maidens had that blasphemy was afoot was when they started getting prayer tablets with strange prayers like "Konata is my waifu!"

That has since progressed to this:













In the face of this sort of infestation there were limited options open to the residents of the town.
They could spray.
However, the pesticides that have the best effects on cultists are rather dangerous to commuters as well.

Instead the townsfolk decided to embrace the situation and make the otaku pilgrimages work for them. They went so far as to make the Kagami sisters honorary residents and incorporate the show into their festivals.

The building visible in the photo and the screen grab next to the shrine gate  is actually a restaurant that's been around a  several centuries. Notwithstanding the random Konata banner, it is, in layout and menu a very traditional establishment.

Be advised that it is very old fashioned in layout and custom. One takes off ones shoes before stepping up to the eating area and sits on ones heels on pillows. Chopsticks ( and, if warranted, spoons) are the utensils.  There is no bathroom (though there is a public bathroom very close) and no English on the menu....which  now has every menu item named after a member of the Lucky Star cast.

                                                                 There are even old style fire pits.

The food is quite good and I got out for 680 yen.

Ambiance...


The guest books in the room with the fireplace are filled with sketches.



In addition to their regular menu, they sell sweets, (though not chocolate cornets), and souvenirs too including the Shrines signature product, ginger.

Elsewhere in town the Kagami twins ginger sauce (with or without balsamic vinegar) still seems to be a hot seller 3 years after the show went off the air.

Some fellow came up to the convenience store I was standing at and bought a case of the stuff.




This is a traditional dress shop though in this display window they advertise that they've branched into fujoshi fulfillment.


This seemed to be a hardware store.... I...don't understand the business model behind this window display.



This was the 7-11 in Higashi-Washinomyia where I first asked directions....This sort of thing did not extend into Kuki BTW.




Addendum:

I do want to re-emphasize that this is a very important place to a lot of people. If any of you go there please be respectful, and polite. Also remember that aside from the prayer boards there is no Lucky Star anything inside the gate (apart from a shed next to the restaurant that contains certain items for the festival float).

 I did note a group of (Japanese) Otaku behaving a bit badly (well loudly) inside the gate at one point and this visibly annoyed some people.

On the other hand there were a lot of people came to pray and at least some of these did seem to be LS fans, some of whom were bringing their children.

The town does seem to have taken to this silliness with some enthusiasm.  According to this article, which marvels at the persistence of the phenomenon, the local chamber of commerce were the ones who actually commissioned  the Kagami Twins Ginger Sauce and were working with Kyoto Animation prior to the towns annexation by Kuki in March . 

Given the annexation, how much, if any of this will be carried on past this years end of summer festival (which is in 11 days as I type this) is anyone's guess.

The shrine, having been around at least 900 and possibly over a thousand years will continue on little phased.  Their website is here.

 Update: Here is the translation of the  business magazine article.

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at 02:43 PM | Comments (2) | Add Comment
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1 Wonderful tour through rural Japan.

Do Kamichu! next!

Posted by: Pixy Misa at Mon Aug 23 10:55:15 2010 (PiXy!)

2 My plan is to visit the Kawasaki City.

Posted by: Pete Zaitcev at Mon Aug 23 23:29:56 2010 (9KseV)

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