The Ōyama Kaidō: From Nagatsuta to Atsugi

My most recent stage of walking the ÅŒyama Kaidō was the longest single stage, at something over 20km, plus walking to and from the railway stations at the beginning and end. I did it on February 13th, because I was very tired, and needed a break. Since the tiredness was primarily mental, walking about 30km in a day was, in fact, an excellent way to deal with it; I felt much better afterwards. In fact, my legs weren’t even sore the next day, so my habit of walking to and from the stations on normal days has paid off.

At the end of a road lined by tall buildings, ÅŒyama can be clearly seen

You just head for the mountain. Can't miss it.

This stage was still largely urban, but I was finally getting away from the Tokyo sprawl, so the amount of green space started to increase. In addition, as I was getting closer to ÅŒyama, it became a common sight on the journey. Indeed, there were quite a few stretches where the road was straight, and the mountain was clearly framed between the buildings lining the road. In this case, it’s easy to imagine that the straightness of the road isn’t due to careful planning, but due to people just walking straight towards the mountain so that they didn’t get lost, in the days before GPS-equipped smartphones.

Speaking of those, once again I had to use my smartphone to track down a ten-metre hill. It was hidden behind some buildings, and the indication of its location on the map in the guidebook wasn’t quite right, but the fact that this is the second time I’ve not been able to find a hill is a little frustrating.

This mound also had a small stone shrine on top, and it claimed to be “Mitake Shrine”. It was a bit small for that, but Google maps also recognise it as such, so it presumably played a more important role at some point in the past. The same could be said of a lot of the shrines that I passed. One in particular, a Hie Shrine, had two mikoshi and a small Inari Shrine that someone clearly paid a lot of attention to, because it had offerings of red rice with fried bean curd, hand-made flags, and bamboo stuck in the ground along the approach. However, the shrine had no precincts to speak of, sharing the ground with the store rooms for the local fire-fighting group (not the full-time fire service). In that case, the shrine may well have had a long association with the fire fighters, but, in any case, it was hard to escape the feeling that it had fallen on relatively hard times.

The main worship hall of the shrine visible beyond a sacred tree, with the torii of two sub shrines visible to either side

Shimo Tsuruma Suwa Shrine

Another shrine I visited did not have that problem. This was Shimo Tsuruma Suwa Shrine. It wasn’t actually on the ÅŒyama Kaidō, but I passed a sign indicating that a small side road was a short cut to it, so after debating for a bit whether I had time, I went to have a look.

I’m very glad I did. The shrine had a really good atmosphere, with the main shrine lined up with three sub-shrines (an Inari shrine, a Yasaka shrine, and a Furumine and Akiba shrine sharing the same structure), as well as an area set off as the old site of the shrine. There was a priest present, and I was able to get a goshuin, the only one I managed to get this time round. I also spoke to them a bit, explaining about my plan to walk along the ÅŒyama Kaidō, and they seemed to think that was a good idea. They also said very nice things about my Japanese ability, so I’m clearly not that good yet. In any case, this is a shrine I’d quite like to go back to at some point.

I arrived in Atsugi in early evening, crossing the river into the town as the sun was setting behind ÅŒyama.

The walk is very interesting to me, but there isn’t a great deal to say about it, because the main interest comes from actually seeing more areas of Japan around here, and describing them in a blog just isn’t the same. I do plan to keep writing about it; two more stages should get me to ÅŒyama, and there might be a bit more to say about the shrine at the end of the journey. The journey may be the point, but the destination is likely to be easier to talk about.

The Ōyama Kaidō: From Futagotamagawa to Nagatsuta

My scheme to walk the whole length of the ÅŒyama Kaidō, from Akasaka in central Tokyo to ÅŒyama, in Kanagawa, was last covered on this blog about a year ago. It was, in fact, suspended for quite a long time, first because we were moving house, then because we had one of the hottest summers for a long time, and then because people were coming for Mayuki’s Shichi-go-san. However, I finally managed to restart it last December, but I wasn’t able to write about it here because of the need to write about Mayuki’s Shichi-go-san, Nara, and the Representative Assembly. I’ve actually done two more stages now, the second two days ago, but I’ll write about the stage I completed in December first.

An ordinary Japanese urban streetscape

The Ōyama Kaidō behind Mizonokuchi Station

That stage took me past Mizonokuchi station, the one we normally use to go into Tokyo, so I passed a lot of very familiar places on the first half. However, it also took me along roads that I don’t normally use. For example, the ÅŒyama Kaidō crosses the road I use to get to Mizonokuchi just by the station, so although I’d been through the junction many times, I’d not been through it that way before.

The walking was very urban for the whole length of this stage, but there was still a lot of evidence that I was following the course of an old road. Some of it was in the prevalence of shrines, temples, and religious statues along the route. In many cases, these were established along the road, but in other cases the road may have diverted a little to go close to them. Another bit of evidence came when the current roads deviated slightly from the route of the old road: some of the older houses along the road were still aligned to face the Ōyama Kaidō, and so were at an angle to the current line.

A mountain visible on the horizon beyond an urban road


Another piece of evidence didn’t really come into view until a bit later in the walk, and in December it wasn’t consistently visible. That evidence was ÅŒyama itself, visible on the horizon, straight ahead, at the end of the road.

Because the ÅŒyama Kaidō was a major road in the Edo period (1603–1867), the route was largely followed by major roads after that as well, but because it wasn’t designed for cars (obviously), the major roads don’t follow it exactly. That means that walking along the ÅŒyama Kaidō takes you on and off major roads, so that you walk along a six lane dual carriageway for a while, then disappear up what looks like someone’s drive to go over a ridge and back down to the main road on the other side. As a result, I got a very varied view of this area, and it’s interesting.

For example, I visited all the Shinto shrines that I passed, and got the goshuin from the ones that were staffed (which was only two of them). Mizonokuchi Shrine was busier than I had expected, despite it being an ordinary Sunday, and I also visited a shrine where the tutelary kami of two villages shared one set of precincts, straddling the border, and another where the shrine had replaced a Buddhist temple in the Meiji period (1868–1912), and inherited its graveyard.

The precincts of a shrine, with the sanctuary visible in the background

Shitodomaekawa Shrine

The nicest shrine, however, was Shitodomaekawa Shrine, in Yokohama. The first part of the shrine’s name (“Shitodo”) is written with characters that would normally be read “Kamitori” or “Shincho”, so how they came to be pronounced “Shitodo” is a bit of a mystery to me. Although Yokohama is a big city, the shrine is in the northern part, where there are still a lot of fields, so the hill on which the shrine sits is surrounded by small houses and agricultural land, rather than being utterly hemmed in by tall blocks of flats. The precincts were also very clean, with a nice shelter for sitting in, and with many old trees around the edge. Over all, it just had a good atmosphere.

The whole stage was over twenty kilometres, so I was a bit tired when I got home, and had a nice warm bath to relax. However, my legs weren’t sore the next day, so obviously my habit of walking to the railway station rather than getting the bus is doing me good. That should help me to finish walking the ÅŒyama Kaidō this year.

Kamimeguro Hikawa Shrine

A torii on a flight of steps sandwiched between a building and a wall

The back entrance to the shrine

Kamimeguro Hikawa Shrine is a fairly ordinary urban shrine, its precincts sandwiched between high buildings and lacking in old, impressive trees. “Kamimeguro” is the name of the area, and the “kami” just means “upper”; it is, apparently, not connected to the word for Shinto kami, although quite a lot of people have thought it was. (The evidence relies on technical arguments about sound changes in Japanese in the eighth century; apparently the two “kami”s originally had different “i” sounds. Not everyone is completely convinced.)

The main shrine building at Kamimeguro Hikawa Shrine

The main shrine building, with flags for the first visit of the New Year outside.

The Hikawa shrines are only found around Tokyo, and the overwhelming majority are in Tokyo and Saitama prefectures. There are one or two in the other adjacent prefectures, and none further away. This sort of situation is fairly common in Shinto; particular shrine groups tend to be found in a local area. Indeed, about the only shrine group that is truly national is the Hachiman group; even Inari seems to have a significant bias towards eastern Japan. This does mean that you cannot walk around visiting the shrines in one area to get a sense of which types of shrine are important; that will just tell you what is important near you.

The reason I was talking about shrine groups rather than kami is that the main kami of the Hikawa shrines is Susano-o no mikoto, the younger brother of Amaterasu ÅŒmikami, who is enshrined in many other places as well. For example, he is the main kami of the Gion shrines, which tend to be found in western Japan, and of several shrines in Shimane prefecture, on the Japan Sea coast. Indeed, “Hikawa” is thought to come from the Hi river in Shimane, which is closely associated with Susano-o’s legends. However, traditions and festivals seem to be more often associated with the shrine type than directly with the kami, so it is generally more useful to keep track of the shrine type.

An additional complication is that sometimes the kami is not the same in all shrines of the same type, and even when it is that is sometimes just a result of Meiji period rationalisation. Another result of such rationalisation can be seen at this shrine. As well as Susano-o, the shrine enshrines Amaterasu and Tenjin, Sugawara no Michizane. Now, while Amaterasu is connected to Susano-o, Tenjin is not, and is only here because he was moved from another local shrine, one that was being closed down, in the Meiji period.

The shrine precincts also include an Inari shrine and a Sengen shrine. The Sengen shrines are dedicated to the kami of Mount Fuji, and thus are only common in areas from which Mount Fuji can be seen. The presence of other shrines in the shrine grounds, called sessha (for shrines to kami closely connected to the main kami, in theory) or massha (for other kami), is quite common. The Grand Shrines of Ise cover 125 shrines if you add up all of the sessha and massha, although some have special names in that case. Some sessha and massha are even outside the shrine grounds, sometimes quite a long way away. These days, I think that the key point is that the sessha and massha are not independent religious corporations; they are administered by the corporation of the main shrine.

Because of my route, I entered the shrine through the rear entrance, and left from the front. The stone steps at the front are almost two hundred years old, and lead to and from the ÅŒyama Kaidō, but as soon as you reach the top of the steps, the fact that you are in the heart of Tokyo is inescapable. There’s something about triple-decker roads that destroys any sense of peaceful isolation.

Steps going down next to a tall building,  towards triple layers of roads

Little of the traffic visits the shrine these days.

Mitake Shrine, Miyamasu

The first actual shrine that I passed walking along the Ōyama Kaidō was Mitake (mee-ta-kay) Shrine, on Miyamasu Hill in Shibuya. This is the main road on the opposite side of the station from the famous junction with the enormous screens that it almost always used as an establishing shot of Tokyo in foreign films. It is, therefore, about as urban as an area can get, and the shrine is squeezed in between two large buildings, one of which is a main post office. As is often the case, there is a flight of stone steps up from the street to the main precincts of the shrine.

There are three things that struck me as unusual about this shrine, but as the shrine office was closed and, in any case, I couldn’t spend too long there if I was going to get to the end of the day’s route, I wasn’t able to check in detail. At some point I may go back, since it isn’t very far away, and try to find out.

The shrine precincts, with the buildings visible beyond the torii and tall buildings to either side.

The shrine precincts. Note the buildings to either side, and that the whole surface seems to be paved.

You may be able to tell from the photograph of the precincts, but, in addition to being squeezed between buildings, the shrine looks rather as though it is on top of a building; the structures to the side seem to be built into the “ground”, not next to it, and all of the surface is paved. This is surprising because, according to one of the lecturers at Kokugakuin a few years ago, the basic rule of the Association of Shinto Shrines is that a shrine must be “On the earth, under the sky”. A shrine on a building or inside is, as far as the Association is concerned, just a glorified kamidana. So, most shrines are built directly on the ground. Now, Mitake Shrine may be, in fact, on a hill. The bits of the hill to either side could have been carved away to make room for the buildings; that’s fairly common in Japanese cities. On the other hand, it might not be recognised by the Association; there is no law requiring shrines to have such recognition, and, indeed, some very famous ones (Meiji JingÅ«, Fushimi Inari) are not. Either way, the absence of an obvious natural earth surface under foot is unusual.

Three stone Buddhist images

The images of Fudō Myo-ō enshrined in the precincts.

The second unusual point is the presence of an image of Fudō Myo-ō in the shrine grounds. According to the notice next to it, this image has been worshipped in the area since the late seventeenth century, and it is a Buddhist image. Now, as I have mentioned before, in the late nineteenth century the government required that all Buddhist images be removed from shrines. Unlike Toyokawa Inari, Mitake Shrine is clearly a shrine, which raises the question of why it has a Buddhist image.

One possibility is that it was moved to the shrine after the second world war, as a result of the development of the area around Shibuya station. That sort of thing happens quite a lot; there are a number of religious images noted in the Ōyama Kaidō guidebook as having been moved from their original sites due to building and development.

Another possibility arises from another historical event recorded on a big noticeboard at the shrine. In 1870, the Meiji Emperor made a royal progress from the palace, and on the way out and back he stopped at Mitake Shrine for a rest, paying his respects at the shrine. If the Fudō Myo-ō was near the shrine at that time, and the Emperor paid his respects to it as well, it would be difficult to move it away. So, it might have been just outside the shrine, thus formally within the law, and protected by an imperial association.

Whatever the history, the fact remains that the Buddhist image is now clearly within the shrine precincts, although there is a second torii between the small shrine for the image and the main hall of the shrine. Whether or not this can actually be called Shinto-Buddhist syncretism, given that, as far as I could see, it was just a matter of physical proximity, it is still a reminder of the close links between Shinto and Buddhism.

A bronze statue of a dog or wolf.

The open-mouthed koma-inu.

The final point concerns the koma-inu. Although the name means “Korea Dogs”, these statues normally look nothing like dogs. Rather, they look rather like lions, with curly hair and, occasionally, horns. They stand in a pair in front of the shrine buildings, protecting them from evil influences, one with its mouth open and the other with its mouth closed. At Inari shrines, the koma-inu are almost invariably replaced by foxes, and at Hie shrines they are sometimes replaced by monkeys. In both cases, these are the animals particularly associated with kami in question. On the other hand, I’ve never seen a Tenjin shrine that uses cattle, or a Hachiman shrine that uses doves (the animal associated with the kami of scholarship is the cow, that associated with the kami of war is the dove).

As you can see from the photograph, the koma-inu at this shrine look a lot like dogs, or possibly wolves. “Mitake” refers to a sacred mountain, and wolves used to live in Japan’s mountains, so it is possible that the animals associated with the kami of this shrine are wolves, and that the koma-inu are wolves. Alternatively, since there are no formal rules for how they look, the chief priest of this shrine, or the donor, may just have decided to make them look like dogs. In any case, this is definitely unusual.

Toyokawa Inari Tokyo Betsuin

The main building of the temple, and the approach.

It's a temple, not a shrine

The first shrine I visited on my walk along the Ōyama Kaidō last month was not, in fact, a shrine at all, at least not strictly speaking. Toyokawa Inari Tokyo Betsuin is formally a Zen Buddhist temple. It is also, very clearly, an Inari establishment, and Inari is almost always a Shinto kami.

A vermillion torii and avenue of prayer flags

Don't be fooled; this is not a shrine

So, what’s going on? From around the eighth century to the nineteenth, the borders between Shinto and Buddhism were extremely ill-defined, with many practices and people shifting from one to the other. A lot of early Shinto theology, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, was written by Buddhist monks, for example, and reading Buddhist sutras to held kami achieve nirvana was also very common. The most famous manifestation of this, however, was the doctrine of Honji Suijaku, which said that the kami were local, Japanese manifestations of Buddhist deities. The inverse doctrine, holding that Buddhist deities were different manifestation of the kami, was also popularised by some Shinto priests.

In the late nineteenth century, however, the Meiji government declared that Shinto and Buddhism were clearly separate, issuing a law, the Shinbutsu Bunri Rei, or Law to Separate Kami and Buddhas, which said that all religious institutions and practitioners had to choose to be either Shinto or Buddhist.

The Inari cult started at Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto in the early eighth century, but when KÅ«kai, the founder of Shingon Buddhism, founded Tōji nearby in the late eighth century, he adopted the kami as a protector of his sect’s temples. As a result, many Inari shrines were founded with strong Buddhist elements. Nevertheless, in the Meiji period almost all chose to become shrines, getting rid of much of the Buddhism.

Toyokawa Inari, in Aichi prefecture, was an exception, and it became a Buddhist temple. The one I visited in Akasaka is technically a part of that temple. Karen Smyers did part of her research for The Fox and the Jewel at the one in Aichi, which she says has few obvious foxes. That is not the case in the Tokyo temple.

The combination of Shinto and Buddhist elements was very interesting. The main building did not have a torii, but it did have two fox statues in front of it, like the koma-inu at a shrine. The shrine building at the end of the path marked by the large red torii was built like a shrine, but the items inside were Buddhist style. Similarly, the dedication on the stone at the centre of the crowd of fox statues was to Dakiniten, the Buddhist deity who was assimilated to Inari, not to Inari directly.

A statue of a fox in front of an incense burner

The stone fox looks like it belongs in a shrine, but the incense burner behind it is definitely temple furniture

There were quite a lot of fox statues around, some of them next to distinctively Buddhist items, such as an incense burner. There was also a complete set of statues of the seven gods of good fortune, behind some shrine buildings. The seven gods of good fortune are derived from Shinto, Buddhism, and Hinduism, at least, so they are even more complex than most elements of Japanese religion.

It is interesting to speculate that, two hundred years ago, most Shinto shrines were like this, with sutras being chanted before the kami and incense burned, while monks went about their business. However, Toyokawa Inari had no miko, and even two hundred years ago a shrine would have had them, so this is no more a relic of pre-Meiji practices than any other location. It does, however, provide evidence that the syncretic practices were not completely suppressed by the Meiji law, and were ready to reappear when, eighty years later, the law was repealed by the occupying Americans.

Lots of stone fox statues, arranged on stone shelves

I can't think why so many people think Inari is a fox

Ōyama Kaidō: From Akasaka to the Tama River

The remains of the gate to Edo Castle in Akasaka

The starting point of the Ōyama Kaidō, the old Akasaka gate of Edo Castle

For my birthday last year, my sister bought me a book describing the course of the ÅŒyama Kaidō, with directions for walking it. The ÅŒyama Kaidō was one of the Edo-period roads of Japan (the Edo period is 1603-1868; the time when the Tokugawa shoguns ruled Japan from Edo, the city that later became Tokyo), and led from Edo to ÅŒyama, a mountain in what is now Kanagawa prefecture. ÅŒyama was a pilgrimage centre, hosting a shugendo temple complex, but the road was also used for trade. It was, however, a relatively minor road, certainly compared to such famous routes as the Tōkaidō or Nakasendō, both of which ran from Edo to Kyoto, the former along the coast and the latter through the mountains. (“Tōkaidō” means “east sea road” and “Nakasendō” means “middle mountains road”.) However, I decided that I wanted to walk along the ÅŒyama Kaidō for two reasons. First, it’s relatively short, making the goal practical. I expect to be able to do it this year. Second, it runs very close to our home; it’s our local historic road.

Aoyama streetscape

A view of the Ōyama Kaidō in Aoyama

So, on Monday, when I had a day off, I started the walk. The road starts in central Tokyo, at one of the old gates to Edo Castle, the Akasaka gate. From there, it heads west, and for most of the distance the modern 246 main road follows the old ÅŒyama Kaidō route. This means that the first part of the walk, at least, is very urban, and not overly blessed with clean air. However, it is still interesting to see different areas of Tokyo. Another point of interest for me is that the Den’entoshi line and Hanzōmon line, the train lines I use to get into Tokyo most of the time, also stick close to the route of the ÅŒyama Kaidō, albeit underground in this section. Thus, I got to see what the bits of Tokyo above the line look like. Having gone under all of these areas countless times, it was nice to finally see them above ground.

Along the way, I passed a fair number of Shinto shrines, and went into most of them. However, I want to give each shrine its own article, so this article will concentrate on the road.

Shibuya streetscape

The Ōyama Kaidō in Shibuya, on Dōgenzaka

The first part, from Akasaka to, roughly, Omotesandō, was quite open, with a lot of modern buildings lining the road, and even parks. This is still, I believe, quite an expensive area of Tokyo, with high-class shops. From Omotesandō, however, you are approaching Shibuya, where the buildings are much more crammed together and chaotic, with a much wider variety of shops. I took a small detour in Shibuya, to pick up the deposit on the kimono I rented for last year’s tea ceremony, and found that it took me through Shibuya’s red light district. Given that the area is just off an old road, it could have a longer tradition as such than you might think.

Sangenjaya streetscape

The Ōyama Kaidō at Sangenjaya, where I stopped for lunch

The main road continues to follow the ÅŒyama Kaidō for a while from that point, and elevated expressways follow the same route, so that there are three layers of road for quite a long distance. This makes the street quite dark, so the route recommended in the book dodges off the main road wherever the ÅŒyama Kaidō seems to have taken a slightly different route. Unfortunately, even this isn’t very much. The mid-point of the walk came around here, so I stopped at Sangenjaya, which is also one of the stops for the express trains, to have lunch.

Seta Streetscape

The view from the footbridge where the Ōyama Kaidō crosses over the main roads

Some way beyond Sangenjaya, at Komazawa University, the Ōyama Kaidō finally breaks away from the route of the main road, and things get a lot quieter. The area becomes residential, and almost suburban, with much lower buildings and even a street dedicated to a very famous anime series (Sazae-san), because the creator lived in that area. The route of the Ōyama Kaidō crosses the main road again, but then plunges back into residential areas, and quiet backstreets that barely seem urban, as it approaches the Tama River, the current border of Tokyo prefecture.

In the Edo period, there was no bridge, and the river was crossed by ferry. According to the book, there was a marker stone at the site of the ferry, but I couldn’t find it; there is a lot of development going on by the river at the moment, so the map and directions were not as useful as they should be. It may, in fact, have been removed, because the river itself is having flood-prevention work done.

I set off walking at about 10am, and arrived at the river shortly after 4pm. My legs were getting quite tired by that point; in the whole day, I think I walked over 25km. Fortunately, my legs didn’t feel too bad the next day, so I think I’ll be able to cope with the following segments of the road. I hope to walk the next section next month.

The Tama River

The Tama River