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The littlest Inari shrine in Tokyo

I have an irritating tendency to do things ass backwards. Instead of approaching life in a linear, logical fashion, I bollemakiesie into it.

Bollemakiesie means somersault, and it's one of my favourite Afrikaans words. I love the sound of bollemakiesie, huppelkind, hupstoot, kwansuis, bokmakierie, fieterjasie, gogga, katjiepiering, kolwyntjie …

Oh. I do seem to like the diminutive form, -ie, in Afrikaans.

See? I'm doing it again. I want to tell you about the littlest Inari shrine in Tokyo and how do I do it? By bollemakiesie-ing into it gat-oor-kop via Afrikaans words.

 Suzufuri Inari Jinja (鈴降稲荷神)

I first read about this shrine in an old book about Tokyo, which merely said the smallest Inari shrine was in Akasaka. It didn't even mention the shrine's official name, but it did include a map. It was a silly idea and a wild fox chase, and when could I ever resist either? I took off. I knew the shrine was somewhere in Akasaka, near the TBS building, but that in itself was an iffy direction since the map I was following was drawn when General Nogi was still living in that area.

TBS building

You may think of Akasaka as a neighbourhood that's snugly – or should that be smugly? – situated between the government centre in Nagatachō and the (smutly?) nightlife district Roppongi. It's often described as a wealthy area that provides condos to wealthy expats and head offices to companies such as EMI Records, Fuji Xerox and Komatsu.

Yes, it’s all that, but if you duck into the valley behind the TBS skyscraper, you'll see narrow alleys and dilapidated wooden houses. It's a hilly area, and it was hot, and I couldn't find the damn street where the bloody shrine was supposed to be.

Well, would YOU have found it? If it hadn't been for the typical red banners,
I would've walked past.

Fortunately I'm stubborn. I caught it. Eventually.

Then I forgot about it. Mission accomplished. Move on.

Fast forward two years, and Ru is looking at Google Maps, trying to figure out how far it is between two stations in Akasaka. She spots Akasaka Station, Exit 3a, the TBS building, and behind it "Suzufuri Inari Shrine".

"Heh," she thinks. "That's where I was blundering about. Shrine. Interesting. Wonder which one … whoa … hang on … that's it! That's the littlest Inari shrine! Its name was right here on Google Maps the whole time?!"

Yes, it was, and Ru had once again bollemakiesied her way ass backwards into a story.

Why didn't I use Google Maps two years ago? I'mfromAfrica. I track things with animal footprints in dust and elephant dung that leads to rivers. Maps? Maps are dull. It's more fun to flounder about completely lost while muttering petulantly and alarming the natives.

Also, Africa time. It takes two years to write a story. Problem?

I went Googling. Nothing in English, and very little in Japanese. I was informed that Suzufuri Inari Jinja (鈴降稲荷神used to be in Yotsuya, but then moved to Akasaka, and Tokugawa Ieyasu had something to do with it, and bells. Bells? Something something bells. Tokugawa? "If it's Tokugawa," I thought, "it's got to interest Tokugawa expert Somedays Sarah. Perhaps if I promise her a penguin, two penguins?, she'll help me with the translation? Yes, time to recall the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to active duty, definitely."


Sarah is Canadian. She speaks not only fluent Japanese, but has mastered classical Japanese. She's more obsessed with Tokugawa Ieyasu than I am with Sky Tree, and she loves penguins, and I'm from penguin capital Cape Town.

It's a match made in heaven.

I dispatched an email, and here – finally! – is the shrine's story with the help of Sarah and her husband U.

History

The shrine was originally located at Yotsuya Tonomachi, was moved to Akasaka Hitotsugi, collapsed in the Great Kantō earthquake in 1923 and two years later was combined with the Inari shrine within the grounds of Hikawa Jinja.

There are two possible explanations for the shrine's unusual name, "suzufuri" (鈴降) or "bell that descends". Legend has it that the god Inari possessed the body of a 7-year-old girl and told her, "This bell has descended from heaven. If you pray to it just once, your family will be blessed with prosperity."

Ru being Ru immediately started thinking dirty thoughts. Inari, the god of fertility. His foxes hold a tama () under one paw. Tama has many meanings – sphere, precious, beautiful, jewel or testicles – but in a Buddhist context it's usually translated as jewel. It represents both financial and spiritual wealth. Bell, tama, testicles, possession, blessings, fertility, oh it's all rather deliciously Freudian.

Anyway.

Another explanation for the name:  At the time of the Honnō-ji Incident, when Tokugawa Ieyasu was trying to get through Iga to Hamamatsu, he heard the sound of a bell which lead him to a Kannon temple. A priest at the temple gave Ieyasu three bells and had locals show him the route to Iga. After Ieyasu established the bakufu he called the priest to Edo and offered him land in Yotsuya, where a shrine was established for the bells.

It's not exactly impressive.

I was trespassing in somebody's private garage to take this photo. I'mfromAfrica.


Is it worth it?

It's tiny! I'm not sure whether it's really the tiniest official Inari shrine in Tokyo. I haven't found conclusive evidence via Google yet, but my search has introduced me to a few dozen other tiny Inari shrines (surprisingly many in Chiyoda-ku), from which we could conclude that Ru might have an Inari summer.

I've seen smaller shrines at private homes and companies, but I'm referring to shrines recognized by the Association of Shinto Shrines (神社本庁 Jinja Honchō).

Akasaka is a pleasant area, and Suzufuri Inari Jinja is cute, unusual and sufficiently hidden away to gladden a hunter's heart. If you're a serious shrine lover, go. If not, don't. Simple.


Bonus

Nothing to do with shrines, but it uses the same kanji, and that's a good enough excuse to share a poem by Issa with you.

よい世とや
虫が鈴ふり
鳶がまふ

yoi yo to ya
mushi ga suzu furi
tobi ga mau

a good world!
crickets ring
a black kite wheels

Bell crickets are called suzumushi because they produce a sound like a ringing bell. "Mushi ga suzu furi" means "the insects that are shaking bells", i.e. crickets.

How to get there

I haven't included a map, because you can simply go to Google Maps, type in "Akasaka Station", find Exit 3a and look a bit up and towards the left. There it is. Embarrassingly easy.

Translations of Afrikaans words

bollemakiesie – somersault
gat-oor-kop – bum over head, i.e. somersault, i.e. backwards, wrong, disorganized, impulsive
huppelkind – literally skipping child
hupstoot – push, shove, help
kwansuis – allegedly
bokmakierie – a bush shrike
fieterjasie – fuss
gogga – insect, bug
katjiepiering – gardenia (literally kitten's saucer)
kolwyntjie – muffin

Thank you!

This post is dedicated to Sarah and U. You're the best!

Sorry!

I haven't responded to all comments at older posts yet, and once again I haven't visited other blogs for, what?, two or three weeks? Academia, summer semester, heavy class load. Reality is having a detrimental effect on my fantasies.

This is the Inari shrine at Hikawa Jinja in Akasaka.

Torii at Inari shrine at Hikawa Jinja

Aka-chan

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