An autumn day in Tamagawa Jinja

[Published on Nov 15th, 2020.]

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Μια φθινοπωρινή ημέρα στο ιερό Ταμαγκάβα

Μένουμε σπίτι κλπ, κλπ, οπότε η θεματολογία περιορίζεται. Αφού η μόνη ενδιαφέρουσα δραστηριότητα που έκανα ήταν να πάω για περπάτημα μέχρι ένα ναό κοντά στο σπίτι, θα σας μιλήσω γι’ αυτό. Το ιερό Ταμαγκάβα Σένγκεν (多摩川浅間神社) χτίστηκε πριν 800 χρόνια, αλλά κλασσικά ήταν από ξύλο, οπότε έπεσε, κάηκε ή το έφαγαν τερμίτες, οπότε προφανώς τα … More

Since we are all trying to ‘stay home’, the themes that I can write about naturally diminish. Since the only interesting thing I have done in a while is to walk to a shrine close to my house, I am going to talk about it. Tamagawa Sengen Jinja (多摩川浅間神社) was built 800 years ago, made of wood as it usually happens in Japan, so it probably fell down or burnt down or got eaten by termites, so probably the current version is a reconstructed one. Legend says that when a guy left for war and failed to return, his wife Masako got anxious and went to look for him. Suddenly, as she was climbing Mt. Kamenoyama (which basically is just a hill but ok), damn, she hit her leg and couldn’t move further. So, she went down to Tama river to get treatment. Since her guardian deity was enshrined in Fuji, she turned towards the holy mountain that was visible from where she was and founded the Tamagawa Sengen Jinja at that place.  

The Shichi-Go-San weekend, a celebration for young children

However, the background historical events is more interesting that the legend of the foundation of the temple. The husband of Masako was Minamoto no Yoritomo, the first Shogun on Kamakura and practically the first feudal lord in the political system that prevailed in Japan until the 19th century. Maybe you know him from the Age of Empires. He is famous for his battles with Taira clan and child-emperor Antoku, including the victory at the battle of Dan-no-Ura, the origin of the tale of the blind biwa musician who sang to the spirits of the dead Heike (alternative reading of ‘Taira’). A few years before his death, he became a Buddhist monk and after his death, his wife’s family seized control of the shogunate.   

The Shichi-Go-San weekend, a celebration for young children vol. 2

On the other hand, his wife Masako of the Hojo clan, was described as a ‘Nun Shogun’, she was kinda freaked out with religion. She became a nun and shaved her head after her husbands death, but contrary to the usual practice of retiring in a monastery, she remained politically active in controlling her sons that inherited the shogunate and also her clan that was involved in the politics of Kamakura. After conspiracies, treasons and various deaths, with 2 sons to climb and fall from the seat of the shogun, the Minamoto family line disappearing, she assigned as new shogun a child, a distant relative from the Kujo and Fujiwara clans. In practice, Masako was the shogun, acting as a regent for the young boy. She continued to mediate between the Hojo, the emperor and the nobility until her death. Eventually, she became a symbol of strong women in politics, commonly referred to together with Empress Lu of China and Empress Jingu of Japan.

A married couple of pines in the shrine grounds

Anyway, back to the topic of the shrine, it is devoted to a deity pretty as a blooming sakura flower called Konohanasakuya Hime no Mikoto. She is the daughter of the god protector of mountaints, Oyamazumi no Kami and got married to a grandchild of the sun-goddess Amaterasu, originator of the Japanese imperial family line. For some reason though, when she got pregnant, her husband Ninigi had doubts that the child was hid. And she, smart as she was #not, she decided to stay locked in a room with no doors or windows until giving birth as proof of his paternity, although that is not proof of anything. An actually kinda psycho Ninigi decided to set the house on fire, claiming that ‘if the child is mine, she will be able to deliver no matter the fire’. In some magic turn of events, Konohanasakuya managed to give birth safely and since then she was considered protector of family happiness and of easy childbirth, cause duh, if she managed to do it in the fire, everyone else’s childbirth will be easier. Moreover, since now she was a master in surviving fires, she became protector of fire extinguishing.

Artistic depiction of Konohanasakuya Hime no Mikoto from the shrine’s pamphlet

In the village of Shimonumabe, as the area of Tamagawa shrine was called in the past, there were 3 shrines. However, during the reforms of Meiji Restoration, the government ordered that only one shrine could remain per village. As a result, all 3 shrines merged in Tamagawa Shengen Jinja and it ended up having three separate crests. These are the three-legged Hidari Mitsudomoe (looks similar to Sharingan from Naruto), a cherry blossom and the three-legged Yata-no-Karasu crow,  a messenger from heavens.

Vending machine with Godzilla and a label of the shrine inside shrine grounds
Wooden boards with Godzilla for writing down wishes to the shrine deity

Another, modern, characteristic of the shrine is the relationship with Godzilla. In the 2016 film Shin Godzilla (an allegory about how the Japanese government handled the Fukushima disaster), Godzilla appears to destroy the iconic blue Maruko bridge, located next to the shrine. The priests, with the business mindset that they always have, seized the opportunity and started selling wooden boards for prays and wishes with Godzilla on them.  

Screengrab showing Maruko bridge from the Shin Godzilla film

Tamagawa jinja is built next to Tama river, which acts as the natural border between Tokyo and Kanagawa prefectures, at the level of Tamagawa station. Immediately next to the shrine, there is the long rectangular Tamagawa park, which offers various flower gardens, the Kamenokoyama and an observatory with wonderful views of the river. At this time of the year the gingko trees (or icho in japanese) are standing out with their bright yellow leaves that look like tiny fans.

Maruko bridge as seen from the observatory from Tamagawa Jinja

I just remembered that I have actually visited the original Sengen shrine that Masako was thinking about when she built Tamagawa Sengen. It is none other than the Asama Jinja next to lake Kawaguchi at the foot of Mt. Fuji. It looks like this and apart from married pines, it also has a wooden statue of a horse.

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