Wisteria and wandering a corner of Koto-ku

Springtime in Tokyo is time of brilliant color everywhere you look. Once the cherry blossoms have faded, azaleas are the next most prominent, but the dangling bundles of wisteria are perhaps the most evocative.

Kameido Tenjin Shrine, in the northeastern corner of Tokyo’s Koto-ku, has become my favorite place to enjoy wisteria.

As I noted in a post last year, the shrine also has plenty of other flowers as well as associations to education and learning that particularly appeal to me.

This year, after a visit to Kameido Tenjin Shrine to enjoy the wisteria and wildlife, I took the time to explore a bit of its neighborhood as well. This is one of Tokyo’s older neighborhoods and, while not as trendy as some parts of the city, it’s got plenty going on.

I decided to focus on a couple of spots between Kameido Tenjin Shrine and JR Kameido station. My first stop was Katori Jinja. I was attracted to visit when I noticed a torii shrine gate on a side street of Kuramaebashi-dori, the road I had walked to reach Kameido Tenjin Shrine. The quaint little side street, lined with retro shops of every variety, turned out to be the traditional approach to Katori Jinja, where I also managed to catch the last of the double blossoming cherry trees.

Founded in 665 AD, Katori Jinja claims the honor of being the oldest shrine in Koto-ku. It also lays claim to being the home of the god of sports, making it a regular stop for both amateur and professional athletes before they face major competitions.

According to legend, Fujiwara-no-Kamatari (641-669), founder of the Fujiwara clan that were powerful retainers of the imperial household during the Heian Period, established Katori Jinja in 665 and left his sword at the shrine as a token of his piety. In 2016, the 1,350th anniversary of the shrine’s establishment, the “victory stone” was installed on the shrine ground as a place for anyone to make their appeal for whatever victory they are after (hence the association with sports). An effigy of Kamatari’s sword is embedded in the stone (shades of King Arthur!). Touch it for an extra boost of luck.

In another Katori Jinja legend dating to the 10th century, Fujiwawa-no-Hidesato prayed here for success in suppressing the rebel Taira no Masakado and later returned to donate his bow and arrows to the shrine in thanks. This act is the origin of the shrine’s Kachiya (winning arrow) Festival, held annually on May 5. A popular feature of the festival is the samurai parade, a stream of participants costumed in medieval armor marching about two kilometers from Kamede Shrine (departing 13:00) to Katori Jinja (arriving 15:00). It’s quite a visual spectacle.

There are a few other Katori Jinja specialties to observe. This Kameido area was once an agricultural center and in the middle of the 19th century was especially known for its cultivation of daikon radishes, which managed to be ready for harvest at a time when few other fresh vegetables were available, making them especially valuable.

Just to the right of the main shrine building stands statues of Daikoku, the god of wealth and prosperity, and his son, Ebisu, the god of fishing. Here at Katori Jinja they serve different roles. Put JPY300 into the donation box provided and splash water onto the statues and they will give you a year of good health, free from accidents.

As I headed back to Kameido Station, I also stopped in at Kameido Umeyashiki, on the corner of Meiji Dori and Kuramaebashi Dori. This little center, easy to spot with its reproduction Edo-style tower, has tourist information, refreshments and local handicrafts, including an entire showroom of Edo Kiriko cut glass. It is a fun little stop to make on the way to or from the shrines.

There is much more to explore in this older corner of Kameido, but that will have to wait for another day of wandering.

© 2022 Jigsaw-japan.com and Vicki L. Beyer
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