A Visit to Nezu Jinja (Shrine), Part 1

Nezu Jinja lies in Tokyo’s Bunkyō ward, and has since Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi ordered the shine moved to its current location in 1705.

The shrine is perhaps best known for its extensive azalea garden, which erupt in color every April (there’s even an azalea festival at the shrine each spring), but I visited for the first time last December and can attest it’s worth a visit in any season.

According to legend, the twelfth Japanese emperor, Prince Yamato Takeru, founded Nezu Jinja during the first century. The shrine is dedicated chiefly to Susanō-no-mikoto, Shintō kami (god) of storms and the sea – though it also has a sub-shrine to Inari, complete with the tunnel of torii so often found at Inari shrines:

After passing through the massive torii (pictured above) at the shrine’s main entrance (the first photograph above), visitors follow a wide paved path–called the sandō or shrine approach–and across a wood and stone bridge to the nijumon, or two-story gate – an architectural feature normally found at Buddhist temples but adopted at some Shintō shrines as well.

Just beyond and to the right of the gate, visitors pass the kagura-den, a stage for sacred dances.

Some kagura-den are also used for Nō, though the one at Nezu Jinja lacks a number of important features required for Nō, which suggests it isn’t customarily used for that purpose.

The cloisters and worship hall lie just beyond the kagura-den. Out of respect for Shintō shrines and worshippers, I choose not to photograph worship halls except from a distance. At Nezu Jinja, distant shots of the worship hall are impossible due to the cloisters and surrounding trees, so I don’t have photographs of the worship hall to share today. I do, however, have photos of the gold-covered finials that adorn the worship hall:

And the gold-covered lion finials on its eaves:

The remainder of the worship hall is similarly striking – if you’re ever in Tokyo, I hope you’ll choose to see it for yourself.

Guardian komainu (lion dogs) stand guard in front of the worship hall:

As usual, one’s mouth is open, saying a, and the other’s mouth is closed, representing the sanskrit syllable un. I’ve blogged in the past about why komainu look this way – together, they represent the syllable aum, which is a word of completion.

The temple’s treasure house stands beside the worship hall, on a raised platform intended to help protect the treasures against flooding and other forms of damage. (The sunbeams in my photo are a happy accident – normally, I’d consider them a flaw, but in this case I think they give the treasure house a holy look.) 

Nezu Jinja isn’t in the standard tourist areas, which means (except in azalea season) it’s often less crowded, and more serene, than many major shrines. As I mentioned above, it also has an excellent Inari subshrine  . . . and I hope you’ll join me Friday as we continue the tour with a stroll through the torii path.