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Akagi Jinja, a thoroughly modern shrine

A shrine is an ancient building. It's either made from dark, weather-worn wood or it's painted a bright vermilion red.



Most of them, maybe, but not this one in Kagurazaka. Akagi Jinja is a modern design by Kengo Kuma, one of Japan's most renowned architects and professor at the Graduate School of Architecture at the University of Tokyo. His goal, according to Wikipedia, is "to recover the tradition of Japanese buildings and to reinterpret these traditions for the 21st century".

That's exactly what he's done with Akagi Jinja: it's clearly a shrine, yet it's unlike any other you've ever seen. It will turn all your preconceptions upside down.

The original shrine was established in 1555 by the Ōgo clan (大胡) from Gunma, who moved to this area in the 1300s. Read more about them here and here.

The shrine was completely renovated in 2010, and its approach is novel: the shrine complex includes a 6-story condominium that was leased by the shrine to a developer for 70 years to fund the project. There's a restaurant on the ground floor of the condominium building called the Akagi Café where you can have reasonably priced food in a vaguely Scandinavian environment: light wood, empty spaces, neutral colours.

The shrine used to have its own kindergarten, but it closed due to lack of children. That's Japan.

The condominium complex next to the shrine

The koma-inu have a modern look, too.

The enshrined deity is one I've never heard of before. Mind you, that's to be expected, since there are 8 million of them. He's called Iwatsutsunoo (岩筒雄命), and I can't help smiling at the explanation of his name: "male deity with the hardness of a sword". Men and their obsessions …

You can pray at the shrine for a plethora of blessings: health, traffic safety, academic success, travel safety, protection against cancer, "realization of ambition", love, wedding, easy delivery, happy family, preventing senility, good luck in general; in other words, everything.


Incidentally, you can still visit what's left of the original Akagi Jinja in nearby Waseda. I haven't been there yet, but you can see pictures here.

One more arbitrary trivium about Kagurazaka: I walked to the shrine via a short slope called Sodesurizaka (袖摺坂) or "sleeve-rubbing slope". Nobody's quite sure how old this name is, but it appears in the Gofunai Bikō (御府内備), a city gazette that was published in the early 19th century. Apparently this slope was so narrow that two people passing each other would "rub sleeves".

When you come out of Exit A2 of Ushigome Kagurazaka Station on the Toei Ōedo Line, you'll see this:

Sodesurizaka is to the right in the photo above. Below, the slope from the bottom and the top.

That's it. Short (for me) post today!


Kuma is a superb architect. His designs include the Bamboo Wall House (I'd happily kill to live in such a house) and Starbucks Fukuoka.

There's an Akagi Jinja in Gunma, too (link).

How very Kagurazaka: wine and shrine. Kagurazaka is known as Tokyo's
French quarter due to the proximity of l'Institut Franco-Japonais de
Tokyo. It also has the city's largest concentration of French eateries.

There's no dragon at this temizuya, just a functional stainless steel tap.

That's the shrine: glass walls, light wood, thin steel roof.


I smiled when I saw this: old-fashioned sudare, screens made from bamboo
or reeds, inside a modern glass wall to keep the sunlight out.

Everything in one shot: small Inari shrine at the back, sub-shrine, main shrine,

There's a small Inari shrine next to Akagi Jinja.

Kitsune or fox

If you walk to the back of the condominium complex, you'll see this old
hand water pump.

This surprised me: old danchi in Kagurazaka behind the Akagi condominium
complex. I thought I could never afford to live in this wealthy, sought-after
neighbourhood, but if I could wangle my way into a danchi ...

Some apartments are abandoned.

Others are not.

Dinner menu at Akagi Café

Kagurazaka is très français.

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