I'm a commoner, a peasant and a pleb. I'm also a socialist; as a matter of fact, the older I get, the redder the colour of my personal flag.
That's one of the many reasons why I prefer to live in the shitamachi, the poorer working-class area of Tokyo. Tokyo's sought-after wealthy suburbs either bore me (Daikanyama; what in heaven's name do you do there except shop?) or scare me (Den-en-chōfu is an American suburb and Shōtō in Shibuya is Johannesburg) [both feel like a psychopathic virtual reality game].
However. There's one upmarket area that does appeal, and I can't for the life of me figure out why. It's Azabu-jūban, which happens to be right next to my pet hate, Roppongi. Perhaps it's the suburb's village-like atmosphere thanks to cobbled streets and a giddy mixture of fru fru cafes and traditional shops. Maybe Asakusa would look like that if it were wealthy.
Whatever the reason may be, I'm always happy to return, as I did this morning when I went hunting frogs. I've started stalking toads …
|The two frogs that can stop fires|
Woa. Just thought of something. What's the difference between a frog and a toad? LiveScience says, "You can tell most toads and frogs apart by the appearance of their skin and legs. Both amphibians make up the order Anura in the animal kingdom, but there are some key differences. Most frogs have long legs and smooth skins covered in mucus. Toads generally have shorter legs and rougher, thicker skins."
Aha. Frogs are western Tokyo; toads are eastern Tokyo.
I've started stalking these ribbiting* creatures because never-mind-it's-a-long-story. I'm also looking for snail temples, but I haven't been successful yet. I'm sure I will be. If it exists, Japan has a temple for it.
You often see frog statues at shrines and temples because frog in Japanese is 蛙 (kaeru), which is a homophone for 返る (kaeru, to return). Whether you want to return to your home town or you want love, money, success, lost items or your own lost youth to come back to you, ask a frog.
I've written about frogs before (link, link), but the froggy shrine in Azabu sounded interesting enough to lure me early on Friday. (I arrived hours before the shops opened. I keep telling you, shopping anaesthetizes me.)
It's called Jūban Inari Jinja (十番稲荷 神社), and it’s a tiny but delightful and surprisingly busy place. Two statues of two frogs, allegedly parent and child, lurk in a shadowy corner next to the shrine. According to legend, a frog appeared out of a pond called Gama-ike (がま池) during the great Bunsei Fire of 1821 and started spouting water from his mouth. This killed the flames and protected the area, and the frog was immortalized at Jūban Inari.
|Jūban Inari Jinja in Azabu-jūban|
|Jūban Inari Jinja|
The shrine also has a statue of the seven lucky gods.
One last comment about statues in that area: you can also see Kimi-chan, a statue of the main character in the children's story Red Shoes (赤い靴 Akai kutsu) by Noguchi Ujō (野口 雨情). You'll find her in a small square in Patio Street. Read more about her story here.
|The shrine is right next to Exit 7 of Azabu-jūban Station.|
|This looks like a toad, not a frog.|
|The seven lucky gods at Jūban Inari Jinja|
|The statue of Kimi-chan is in this small square.|
* Ribbit? I don't know what sound this thingamajiggy is making, but ribbit it's not. This is what I look/sound like when I'm forced to go to (heh) shopping. I get very angry, too.