Tokyo -- fast, frenetic and ultra modern is not a place you would normally associate with temples and shrines. There is Tokyo's oldest temple, Sensoji in Asakusa and Meiji Jingu in Harajuku but these are just two. In my mind, Tokyo is not at all like Kyoto which boasts of over 2,000 temples and shrines.
But surely, there would be places in Tokyo that a temple and shrine goer like me could enjoy.
On this last trip, I set off to look for places visited by the locals -- those certainly not mentioned in the tourist guidebooks.
To start off my temple exploration, my Japanese colleague Kobayashi san brought me to his temple -- the place he regularly goes to. This is located in Monzen Nakacho, a rather traditional residential neighbourhood quite removed from the towering buildings of Tokyo -- although it is just a couple of subway stops from busy Nihombashi.
Exiting the subway, we were greeted by this huge red torii marking the entrance to the street leading to Fukagawa Fudoson. This temple is a "branch"of the famed Shinshoji Temple in Narita City.
The street leading to Fukagawa Fudoson is bordered by small shops on both sides -- selling all sorts of things like tsukemono, furikake, mochi cakes and other traditional sweets, seasonings, spices, even bento boxes if you're too lazy to cook dinner at home.
Needless to say, I had to stop by each and every shop so that it took us quite a while to traverse the short 200 meter walk from the subway exit to the temple gate.
Here we are taking a group-fie along "temple street". Kobayashi san is our Japanese colleague who so kindly brought us here.
The temple grounds are expansive. There is a new and modern building right beside the older structure. We had wanted to attend the traditional goma or fire burning ritual but there was none scheduled when we visited. So I ended up visiting the temple shop where I couldn't resist the amulets and good luck charms. Fudoson is a "traffic temple" where people pray for safety from road accidents so most of the charms were dedicated to that wish.
Like in most Japanese temples, Buddhism co-exists with Shintoism. There is a small Shinto shrine located right within the temple grounds. I saw the familiar foxes guarding the plain stone torii so this must be an inari shrine.
Walking back from Fukagawa Fudoson, we chanced upon this open gate leading to a small temple. And serendipitously, Kobayashi san told me that it is a Koyasan temple and belongs to the Shingon sect of Buddhism which Kobo Daishi founded.
And true enough, tucked away by the side were two small jizo standing by a tablet carved with the likeness of Kobo Daishi. It was good fortune or perhaps Kobo Daishi's doing that led me to this small temple so that I could say a quiet prayer to him.
The next day I had a few hours before heading to the airport so I set off to discover more "local" temples. I started the day bright and early by hopping on the Oedo subway line, which was right in the basement of Park Hotel. I was bound for Kasuga station to visit the Denzuin Buddhist temple in the Koishikawa area. It was a 15 minute walk, most of it uphill before I found this temple on a side street off Kasuga dori.
I had read about Denzuin from the book The Tokyo 33 Kannon Pilgrimage which lists the various temples in Tokyo dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy.
Sensoji in Asakusa counts as temple number one and after this visit to Denzuin, I can now claim that I have gone to two temples for this pilgrimage -- just 31 more to go!
The temple is marked by this impressive wooden gate that is quite new.
While Denzuin was founded in the 15th century, everything was destroyed in the second World War, and the buildings have been completely rebuilt in the last 30 or so years.
It was early when I visited so there was hardly any one around. The pathway from the gate leads directly to the main hall.
Denzuin has quite a big cemetery. Perhaps the most famous person buried here is the mother of Tokugawa Ieyasu, one of the (as I irreverently think of them) "big three" of Japanese shoguns (the other two being Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi).
It was so peaceful to walk through the silent stone markers and graves.
It was not yet sakura season but there it was at the end of the path -- a single tree in full bloom.
So appropriate to be reminded here in this cemetery about what the sakura stands for -- one brief brilliant burst of glory before being detached from the branch and dying at the peak of its beauty.
After my visit to Denzuin, I headed back down the street towards Kasuga station and came upon this sign pointing to the direction of the Koishikawada Jingu shrine. So of course I turned left.
I nearly walked past it -- the shrine is hidden inside this building. Only the small lanterns at the gate gave me a clue that this was indeed the place.
The windows on the right open in to the shrine office where you can buy ema or the wooden plaques for wishes and where I was also able to get a temple seal for my shuin cho.
This shrine is completely surrounded by buildings on all sides. A temizuya stands in front where I was able to make the purification ritual.
The 33 Kannon pilgrimage mentioned a small temple in the area called Genkakuji. Not at all connected to the Ginkakuji temple in Kyoto, this temple is not a Kannon temple but is dedicated to the god for healing of the eyes. Perfect for me as I have worn glasses all my life.
Genkakuji is on the street intersecting Kasuga Dori and is nearer the subway station.
One interesting detail about Genkakuji are these jizos made completely of salt. Here they are, tucked away in their own little protective shed. I read in the book that these jizos are dedicated to those who lost their lives at sea, particularly those who perished in the Battle of Saipan in World War II.
On my way out of Genkakuji, I saw this big bronze bell called the Pan Pacific Temple Bell.
Beside it is a figure of a compassionate looking bodhisattva. The plaque by the bell lists dates from 1690 to 1974. I wish I could read the Japanese text so that I knew its significance.
But there is no one to ask and I have a train and a plane to catch.
Meandering through these un-touristy areas of Tokyo gave me new appreciation for this mega-city. Just by going off the tourist track, I have seen bits and pieces that continue to make Tokyo so fascinating for me.