I promised you a sheep, so here’s your sheep. Or rather, here are your sheep, since there are two of them.
This is the year of the sheep, according to Chinese astrology, which means temples and shrines with a sheep connection, however tenuous, will be more popular than usual.
Yes, dear hearts, of course there are sheep shrines and temples!
|Sheep statue at Tamagawa Daishi|
The two shrines that got the most attention in the media at the beginning of the year were Hitsuji Jinja (羊神社) in Nagoya and Hitsuji Jinja (羊神社) near Isobe Station in Gunma. 羊 = the zodiac sign of the sheep. Read more about them here.
Tokyo itself has two places of worship with a sheep association, Ōkunitama Jinja (大国魂神社) and Tamagawa Daishi (玉川大師), but the connection requires a bit of explanation. Hang in there; I'll keep it short.
The god that is enshrined at Ōkunitama Jinja is Kunitama, a very old deity that's regarded as the spirit of the land. He's associated with the sign of the sheep, for reasons that I haven't been able to figure out, but several Japanese sites refer to this connection (link, link, link).
I wrote about Ōkunitama Jinja at length in this post.
This temple is associated with sheep because … this is getting embarrassing … I'm not sure, but I know it's a Shingon temple and all Shingon temples are associated with the sign of the sheep.
Furthermore, the temple has an underground corridor that symbolizes the intestines of Dainichi Nyorai (大日如来), known as Vairocana in Sanskrit, who's the embodiment of the Buddhist concept of emptiness. He's also associated with the sign of the sheep.
Don't ask me what the link is between gods and guts and quadrupedal, ruminant mammals. I know not. All I know is that Tamagawa Daishi has two sheep statues, so instead of fretting over reasons, let's just accept that lambs doth gambol here.
|Sheep statue at Tamagawa Daishi|
Thus we went walkpeditioning
What a demotion: the intrepid elephant huntress was in pursuit of sheep! To add insult to injury, in an area that she tends to avoid at all costs: Futako-Tamagawa. I enjoyed my little excursion, though, since FT (I keep wanting to write pffft!) is an amusing place.
It's as Western as it gets in Tokyo: a plethora of European/American brand name shops, French restaurants and hair stylists. Crikey moses, there are many hair stylists in FT, but I guess the Ladies Who Lunch have to look their best. Talking of which, it's an impressive collection of coiffed, coutured, manicured and pedicured females. They all look exactly the same: camel-coloured coats, black pencil skirts, black tights, black stiletto boots that would kill me in 13 seconds flat, bangs, long hair layered and curled just so around the face, generous lashings of face powder, false eyelashes, false nails, probably falsies as well.
Meantime I was marching along in my beloved hiking boots and faded 20-year-old Levis and too big coat-that-looks-like-a-blanket, with a haphazard ponytail and a red nose (it was cold!) and, as per usual, zero makeup. Probably, as per usual, with a scowl as well.
Especially when I walked past a very noisy elementary school. Japan has a birthrate problem? Really? Not in FT, where the Ladies Who Lunch clearly devote some of their energy to begetting, producing and dressing-in-Dolce&Gabbana the next generation.
Why are kids so loud?
Anyway. Sheep. We're supposed to talk about sheep.
Tamagawa Daishi, built in 1925, is primarily famous for the twisting 100-meter corridor underneath it. This corridor, symbolizing the intestines of Dainichi Nyorai, includes 300 Buddha statues, 33 Kannon statues and a chamber with 88 statues that represent the 88 temples on the Shikoku pilgrimage.
You gain access by entering the temple, depositing ¥100 and then plunging into the guts of the earth. Or the god. Whatever, it's pitch-black, and you have to feel your way around by keeping a hand on the walls.
It might surprise you that I was totally OK. I get claustrophobic in crowds, not in small spaces. There were a few other people – all of us semi-giggling, semi-stumbling and semi-cursing – but not enough to make me panic.
Nevertheless, I didn't exactly linger, and I was very happy to get excreted, as it were, into the icy wind that was blowing from the Tama River. (It was so strong that it made commuters stagger on the FT Station platform, which is almost above the river. I wanted to take a picture of the river, but dang, it was too cold.)
You're not supposed to take photos in the corridor, and the ill-mannered, law-breaking, dangerous criminal from the darkest continent obeyed that request. Other law-abiding Japanese citizens felt more adventurous. I found some photos on the internet, which I'll share here. You can also take a look at this.
|Nope, not mine.|
You can read another account of capering through the god's guts on Terra's blog. Since she's also a lawless furriner, she didn't take pictures inside the tunnel either.
List of sheep shrines/temples, given in Japanese because you'll find more Japanese than English information about them: 羊神社（愛知）、大国魂神社（東京）、玉川大師（東京）、法輪寺（京都）、 教楽院大日堂（宮城）、唐招提寺金堂（奈良）、高野山金剛峯寺（和歌山）、 全国の真言宗の寺院。
|Statue of Kūkai (空海), also known posthumously as Kōbō-Daishi (弘法大師)|
|Memorial to pets|
|Incense sticks. I was playing around with focus in this photo.|
|Oh, looky here, Fudō Myōō (不動明王), the wisdom king!|
|Ema with Kōbō-Daishi|