Pearl on the banks of the Sumidagawa (Part 2)
Last time we paid the Ushijima Jinja a visit – today we continue our pilgrimage to the seven lucky goods of Mukōjima:
Either on the river promenade at the Sumidagawa or one of the parallel streets on the east-side of it we keep on heading north. It is just a few hundred meters to the Mimeguri Jinja (三囲神社 / みめぐりじんじゃ) (Mimeguri shrine), where you will find already two of the seven lucky goods. The Mimguri Jinja is home to Daikokuten (大黒天 / だいこくてん), the god of wealth, harvest, nutrition and the kitchen, and to Ebisu ( 恵比寿 / えびす) the god of wealth, transport, fishery and trade – but also of the divers.
You may be surprised to see such a shining new entrance at a rather small shrine like that (the torii and walls made of bright granite were erected in 2008). But the shrine isn’t a poor one at all – it is the “house shrine” (so to speak) of the families of the Mitsui Group and the Mitsukoshi Group. It is said that the complete top management of the groups’ firms can be seen here – in times of economic uncertainties in particular – to pray for a profitable development of the company. No wonder that also the Mimeguri Jinja is home to Ebisu – the perfect lucky good for trading companies.
Consequently, don’t be surprised, if you see a Mitsukoshi-Lion on the left hand side of the shrine – it was brought here from the Ikebukuro branch of the Mitsukoshi department store.
What’s perhaps a bit out of the ordinary: The shrine is guarded by stone statues of dogs as well as foxes which are placed to both sides of the approach to the shine’s main building. The foxes are located closer to the shrine, as they are deemed to be “communicators” for the main diety of the shrine, Inari (稲荷 / いなり).
On the right hand side on the way to the shrine’s main building you will find a big, flat natural stone with a Haiku (俳句 / はいく) (Japanese style poem consisting of 17-syllables) engraved describing a miraculous event of the year 1693. At this time, it’s been told, that farmers had gathered here to a ask the gods for rain for their dried-up rice paddies. The poet, Takarai Kikaku, happened to pass the scene and since he was touched by the desperation of the farmers, he wrote the respective poem. And, believe it or not, on the following day the rice paddies were flooded by heavy rain. Nobody should say again that poetry wouldn’t feed the hungry mouths of the world….
The other, mostly smaller shrines on the grounds of the Mimeguri Jinja are rather unimposing, some are even a bit shabby. However, there is also a rather interesting pair of statues behind a row of red gates (torii /鳥居 / とりい) in the backyard of the main building. They look like and old woman and an old man, but represent two wizards who are said to have the ability to talk to foxes. And foxes, in return, are able to communicate with the Inari-(稲荷 / いなり) goddess, hence are the communicators between the people and the diety. The two statues are supposed to date back to the early 18th century.
Probably more interesting for Germans only: On the shrine’s grounds there is a memorial stone paying tribute to Wilhelm Höhn, a German who introduced the Prussian police system to Japan during the Meiji era (1868-1912). The stone speaks of his impeccable service to the state, his punctuality and his always shiny boots. Obviously, this man was the spitting image of a Prussian. But it should also not go unnoted, that – even after years in Japan – never put aside his German way of living and working. He even refused Japanese cuisine and had his beloved German bread sent to him from Kobe wherever he traveled around Japan.
While you’re at the Mimeguri Jinja you might as well return to the river promenade again have a look at the Sakurabashi ( 桜橋 / さくらばし) (cherry blossom bridge). Beneath the mighty highway bridges alongside the river you are also likely to find some homeless people and their miserable huts. As mentioned in part one of this Mukōjima series, don’t worry – they won’t molest you. But, please, also leave them in peace.
The Sakurabashi was built together with the re-vitalisation project of the river promenade. With its unusual X-shape it’s only to be used by pedestrians and cyclists. Have a brief look up and down the river – and off we go for the next to lucky goods of Mukōjima.
At the gateway to the stilted highway we turn right (east-ward) and pass the „Kototoi Dango” (言問団子) (see picture below). This shop may look like nothing much from the outside, but you’ll hardly get better “dango” (small sweet balls made of rice-mush), a Japanese sweets delicacy, anywhere else in the city.
At the next traffic light we’ll turn right again, heading back into a southern direction, where we’ll find the Chōmei-ji (長命寺 / ちょうめいじ), a temple where Benzaiten (弁財天 / べんざいてん), the goddess of literature, art, science, happiness, virtue, long life and goodwill can be found. She is also the patron saint of craftmanship, including computers and electronics. Benzaiten is usually depicted with a biwa (琵琶 / びわ) (japanese lute) in her arm. However, apart from this fact, the Chōmei-ji has very little to offer – and it even doesn’t help much, if you know that this temple dates back to the 16th century. Its concrete buildings are not really overwhelming. Nowadays the temple is home to a flourishing kindergarten.
But, not to worry, there is a real gem just next door: the Kōfuku-ji (弘福寺 / こうふくじ).
The lucky god Hoteison (布袋尊 / ほていそん), the guardian of harmonious co-operation in family, business and school, his the object of pilgrimage here. He is usually shown as a rather corpulent zen monk.
The Kōfuku-ji stands apart from most of the temples in the city, because of its impressive and somewhat “Chinese” wooden architecture. If you are interested in it, here is the place where you can buy trays handmade of the wood of the cedar trees of Nikkō. But you may also just admire the the temple’s grounds, the large temple bell and the graveyard. The little bridge-like connection between the temple’s main building and the administration annex is rather picturesque. Even though the grounds are not extensive – or maybe rather because of it – this temple has a particularly peaceful atmosphere. And it is, as mentioned above, not that often that you see this kind of “Chinese” architecture in Tōkyō.
To be continued….