“I’m not really a temple or shrine kind of person” is a phrase I’ve heard a fair few times over the years I’ve been living in Japan. No doubt I’ve occasionally uttered those words myself but over time I’ve racked up a fair few visits to these places of buddhist and shinto worship.
Most tourists have always traditionally gone to the famous ones like Asakusa Senso-ji, Meiji Shrine and the controversial Yasukuni Shrine but with more and more visitors arriving in Japan there is a higher demand to get off the tourist trail a bit more and seek out some different temples and shrines, ones with perhaps a stronger interest or connection that they can relate to such as appearances in movies or music videos or just their novelty and quirkiness.
Here, in no particular order, are the Tokyo Fox top 10……alternative temples and shrines in Tokyo.
1. Jougan-ji Temple @ Honcho 2-26, Nakano-ku.
Scarlett Johansson went here in the rain for the briefest of scenes in ‘Lost In Translation‘ (2003) More details here
2. Kappa-derra Temple @ 3-7-2 Matsugaya, Taito-ku.
If you’ve ever had kappamaki in a sushi restaurant then you may be interested to learn that the sushi roll gets it’s name due to cucumbers being the favourite food of the bipedal, turtle-like aquatic goblins who, according to folklore, have been known to grab children crossing bridges and drown them. This temple was built to appease the many kappa creatures in the area and the altar even has offerings of the long green vegetable. More details here
3. Sumiyoshi Jinja shrine @ 1-1-14 Tsukuda, Chuo-ku.
This shrine was used in the ridiculously silly low budget sequel ‘The Toxic Avenger Part II‘ (1989) and comes alive once every three years for its festival held on the first weekend of August. An enormous gate covered in copper plate welcomes you to the Shinto deity of fishermen and ocean travellers and is protected by foxes. More details here
4. Asakusabashi Temple @ 1-29-11 Asakusabashi, Taito-ku.
American indie band The Killers descended on this place for the filming of their 2007 hit ‘Read My Mind‘. More details here
5. Shinryō-ji temple @ 2-7-25 Minami Shinagawa, Shinagawa-ku.
Small unusual shrine with a very beautiful Indian/hindu looking elephant gate which is counted as a Tangible Cultural Property of Shinagawa Ward…not that I have any idea what that means exactly!! More details here
6. Mimeguri Jinja Shrine @ 2-5-17 Mukojima, Sumida-ku.
How on earth did the one of these lions find its way from Trafalgar Square to this small shrine via Ikebukuro? More details here
7. Wakamiya Hachimangu Shrine @ 2-13−16 Daishi Ekimae, Kawasaki-ku.
Not technically in Tokyo but as it’s only a 15 minute train ride from Shinagawa it’s close enough to be included and let’s face it, the quirky nature of it merits its inclusion in this list. The best time to visit is undoubtedly the first Sunday each April when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom and the erm, portable phallic shrines are standing upright! More details here
8. Zojoji Temple @ 4-7-35 Shibakoen, Minato-ku.
Perhaps the most famous one in this list and increasingly more popular due to its appearance during a funeral scene in ‘The Wolverine‘ (2013). Way before Hugh Jackman and co turned up there, the Steven Seagal movie ‘Into The Sun‘ (2005) also featured this place which is famed for its rows of little statues holding windmills. More details here
9. Zenpukuji Temple @ 1-6-21 Moto Azabu, Minato-ku.
The John Wayne movie ‘The Barbarian & The Geisha‘ (1958) brought the name of Townsend Harris to my attention and there is a monument within these temple grounds dedicated to the first Consul General to the Empire of Japan in 1856. This place also houses the oldest ginkgo tree in Tokyo (800+ years old) with a girth of 10m and the grave of the man on the 10,000 yen note is also in the adjoining cemetery. More details here
10. Shibamata Taishakuten @ 7-10-3 Shibamata, Katsushika.
Sample the more traditional side of Edo period Japan and get into all things Tora-san related in this town where the temple is the showpiece feature. For the uninitiated, Shibamata is the home to the ‘Otoko Wa Tsurai Yo‘ (It’s tough being a man) series which were made between 1969 and 1995. More details here
Bonus: Shomyouji Temple @ 212 Kanazawacho, Kanazawa-ku.
A bit further afield this one but worthy of mention for it’s part in the video for the classic Manic Street Preachers song ‘Motorcycle Emptiness‘ (1992) More details here
Miyamisu Mitake Shrine, 1-12-7 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku. More details here
Sengakuji Temple, 2-11-1 Takanawa, Minato-ku. More details here