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Suitengū, a shrine for mothers and babies

Want to get pregnant? Visit this shrine. Mission successful and want an easy delivery? Return. Baby arrived effortlessly? Go back to say thanks.

Or simply go, even if you're a happily childless woman, just because it's fun to be at funky shrines. The shrine in question is Suitengū (水天宮) in Ningyōchō, a place of worship which is associated with Suiten (水天) or Suijin (水神), the Shinto deity of water, the sea, fishing folk, fertility, easy delivery, motherhood and children. Benzaiten, another deity who is associated with water and everything that flows – art, poetry, good luck, even money – is also enshrined here.

Suitengū. Click on the photos to see bigger versions.

There are several Suitengū shrines in Japan, but this one in Ningyōchō has an additional quirky feature: a statue of a dog and her puppy. It is said that if a pregnant woman touches the dog, she'll have an easy delivery, just like doggy moms do. I've also read that this statue embodies Inari, the god of rice and fertility, whose messenger is a fox.

The statue of the dog and her puppy

Three generations

It so happens that every twelfth day is a "dog day" (戌の日, inu no hi) according to the old Japanese calendar, so you should visit the shrine on a dog day in your fifth and ninth month of pregnancy.

More pregnancy traditions: a pre-birth celebration is held in the fifth month, when the mother starts wearing a bellyband (腹巻き, haramaki) to protect her abdomen. Couples also buy a lucky charm (安産御守, anzan omamori) to provide protection during pregnancy and birth. A naming ceremony takes place seven days after the baby's birth, and the parents visit the shrine on the 32nd day after the birth of a boy and on the 33rd day for a girl. This used to be a new-born's introduction to its village.

If you're interested in history, the original Suitengū shrine was founded in the 12th century in Kurume in Kyushu. When the Genji clan defeated the Heike clan in 1185, the six-year-old emperor Antoku and his mother drowned themselves in the sea. They took the Sacred Sword with them, since it symbolizes legitimacy to the throne, and they believed they would find a palace at the bottom of the sea. One of their court ladies fled to Kurume, where she built a shrine to pray for their souls. She called the shrine Suitengū or "celestial palace of the sea".

Fast forward to 2012. After I visited the shrine, I wandered through the backstreets of Ningyōchō. I was looking for the kimono wholesalers' section, but it wasn't as interesting as I hoped it would be. It's a working area, duh, without glorious displays of luscious garments.

The easiest way to get to Suitengū is on the Hanzōmon Line. Exit 5 at Ningyōchō Station is right next to the shrine. Early notice: the shrine's big annual festival is on 5 and 6 May.





Sake barrels at the shrine

What are those wire thingies?



This is a kappa or water sprite. It makes sense at a water shrine, ne?

One of the tiny back alleys in Ningyōchō

Kimono shop. That's yours truly reflected in the window, standing pigeon-toed like a proper Japanese lady. The photos below are of kimono wholesalers' signs.

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