It’s common for Japanese to go on pilgrimages at the beginning of the year to ensure good fortune for the rest of the year. This could mean just visiting a local shrine or temple, throwing a few coins (denominations in multiples of 5 are luckiest) into the slatted collection box and saying a little prayer. Or you can do one of the longer pilgrimages where several temples are visited.
The oldest one in Tokyo is the Yamate walk and it just so happened to be near my place so here’s my log of the journey.
There are 7 gods in 6 temples. At each temple you can get an official stamp or you can buy a little daruma, wooden figures. Inside the hollowed base of each figure is a fortune. There are categories of fortunes on each slip of paper, like health, marriage, career, etc. If you receive a fortune that is rated luckiest, you hold onto this slip and keep it as a lucky charm. If you receive any lower rated fortune, then you tie them on a tree or bamboo slats, or whatever the temple provides. These will later be burned by a priest.
The following are the temples, organized by the lucky god they curry favor from, pictured above.
Bishamonten, God of War (the angry looking one)
The first temple was Kakurinji, which honors Kato Kiyomasa. Kiyomasa is revered as a hero in Japan, but in Korea he is known as one of the worst and cruelest of the generals of Hideyoshi during their late 16th Century invasion of Korea. I figure this temple owes me a lot of luck based on past historical misdeeds.
At the center of the courtyard there was a statue that you could rinse with water as an act of devotion. Otherwise, it was a modest, non-descript temple befitting a god with a spartan ethos.
Hotei, God of Happiness, aka the Fat Buddha (the one holding the yellow fan)
Zuishoji was a larger temple, but also unspectacular, as temples go. It was the first Obaku Zen temple in Edo. The sole distinguishing feature was a rock garden even more sparse than other rock gardens, if that’s possible.
And there were some interesting architectural elements like this bronze ornament. Also notice the carved cloud details on the beam, an uncharacteristically ostentatious display for a zen temple.
Jurojin, God of Longevity, and Fukurokufu, God of Fortune (the yellow and green robed ones with beards)
These two gods are often paired together and are the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of Japanese deities. No one seems to know which one is which.
Myoenji actually feels like a temple, with beautifully pruned trees and a lush garden. It was calm and there was a quiet reverential vibe about the place.
This ornate bridge, though small, is a unique element, not commonly seen in temples.
Daigoku, God of Wealth, Farmers and the Kitchen (the one with a red cap)
Daienji was my favorite of the 6 temples. It’s a relatively small space, but it’s crammed with a funhouse full of statues and interesting objects. It’s got a stately pagoda, a mysterious stone wheel with hieroglyphic inscriptions, and stone etchings. Even the rain gutter catch was a lovely spidery work of art.
The centerpiece of the temple is a wall of saints to placate the spirits of the people who died during a great Edo fire, penance for being the flashpoint of the disaster.
For those with ailments, you can buy some goldleaf and rub it onto this golden Buddha on the part of the body that ails you. My back was feeling good so I passed this time.
Benten, Goddess of Music and Fine Arts (the one in red)
Benten is the only female of the 7 lucky gods. In temples, she’s often surrounded by water, so Banryuji was the only temple with a water feature. This was also a very peaceful temple. There are paths that lead to grotto shrines for a more intimate spiritual moment.
Ebisu, God of Commerce, Fisherman and Fortune (the one in white with a fish)
The last temple is Ryusenji, and it’s massive. The secondary temple building is bigger than any of the other temples’ main buildings. I imagine the temple is wealthy because it’s patron god, Ebisu, presides over commerce and trade. So businesses come here and give big donations. You could see groups of business men on official company visits.
Scattered throughout the sprawling grounds are open shrines devoted to various deities. Also, in contrast to the other temples, Ryusenji is quite colorful.
It was also the only temple with its own bus stop. And appropriately, everything was done in bulk, like these incense sticks.
An interesting footnote to the temple is a statue of Fudo Myou. It’s eyes were painted black by the founder of the temple and gives the neighborhood its name, Meguro, which means ‘black eye’. But this statue was deep in the temple and I couldn’t get a good look at it.
The whole walk could easily be covered in 2 hours. Metropolis has a great map and addresses of the walk.
I don’t know if walking around to different places and collecting dolls bring you good luck. But it was a good time to meditate on the coming year. And I was lucky to spend time with T, walk around in sunny weather, and look at interesting temples. That’s all the good fortune I need.