I got it wrong again. I wrote about Suitengū, the shrine for pregnancy and childbirth, before I wrote about love and marriage. I know that love-marriage-babies isn't necessarily the order in which things happen …
As a matter of fact, quite the opposite. When a couple gets married because the woman is pregnant, it's called dekichatta kekkon (出来ちゃった結婚), i.e. "ready-made marriage" or shotgun marriage. According to the Ministery of Health, Labour and Welfare, 25.3% of all marriages in Japan in 2010 were dekichatta kekkon. I find myself wondering how many of these pregnancies were genuine oopses, and how many were meticulously planned accidents.
Anyway, if you abide by the rules, as Japan is supposed to love to do, you should first meet a nice boy, then get married, then get pregnant. That first step is the most difficult one, and that's why you need help at Imado Jinja (今戸神社) in Asakusa. It not only ensures that you'll find your true love, but it's also the birthplace of Japan's beloved lucky cat, the manekineko. That, at least, is what locals believe. Here’s the legend: Once upon a time, a long time ago, an old woman lived in Imado. She was so poor that she was forced to sell her beloved cat. One night the animal appeared to her in a dream, and told her to make and sell its image in clay. She listened to its advice, sold thousands of cat statues and became very wealthy.
As if one lucky cat isn't enough, Imado Jinja offers you two, a male and a female, with えんむすび (enmusubi) written above their figures. A rough English translation would be "love knot" or "partner for life". (There's a Shinto god of marriage who's called Enmusubi-no-kami or 縁結びの神.) So then. If you want that fateful encounter that will change your life, toddle off to Imado. If you've already found your beloved, you can visit the shrine together to pray for continuing happiness.
I went there on a drizzly day in January. Despite the fact that it was a weekday with bad weather, there were plenty of young girls at the shrine, as well as a number of couples. No single men.
I've never seen so many ema at a shrine: hundreds of thousands of personal pleas for love, passion, romance, eternal bliss, a prince on a white horse (or in a red Ferrari). Cinderella is reincarnated daily in the dreams of hundreds of women at Imado.
My verdict? Cute but not classy, thanks to dozens of plastic cats and ubiquitous Disney images. It's worth a visit, but I prefer the other place that claims to be the origin of the manekineko: Gōtokuji, a Zen temple in Setagaya. You can read my post about Gōtokuji, as well as more information about the lucky cat, here.
Extra paragraph added for history lovers: Imado used to be famous for Imado-ware or Imado-yaki, earthernware pots and figures made during the Edo period. You can read more about it here.
|Entrance to Imado Jinja|
|Ema with cats in wedding clothes|
|More cat statues|
|Cute cat watering cans in white ...|
|... and black.|
|Happy New Year wish (2012 is the year of the dragon)|
|Disney characters on a bench|
|Even the "no smoking" sign is written on a cute heart.|
|Couples reading ema|