Meiji, Asakusa, Hikawa… the list of beautiful but imposing shrines in Tokyo and beyond goes on, appearing in every ‘What to See’ article and ‘Top 10’ list you find. Giant lanterns strung on chunky cables, gongs the size of cars, and gravel walkways that snake through endless food stalls and souvenir stands. But as much as these places are exciting, you might prefer to experience the truly peaceful shrines of smaller neighborhoods, where the hushed whisper of the breeze washes over you like water. One such Shinto shrine is Okusawa shrine.
Okusawa Shrine, a hidden treasure in Tokyo
Okusawa shrine is a quiet emerald in a simple neighborhood, only a few stops from Meguro station on the Yamanote Line. Built during the Edo Period, a huge snake made of straw lies guarding its entrance, wrapped heavily around the stone torii gate. Walk under this, and past the burly protective shisa lion-dogs, and the world behind you falls away.
Okusawa shrine is dappled and glittering, sunlight streaming through the leaves on the trees onto the packed dirt and paved walkways. A large stone basin awaits, overflowing with cold water to cleanse your hands and mind, reflecting a solitary white lantern that dangles above it. Wooden buildings with paper-screened windows form the borders of the shrine, creating a tranquil place to collect your thoughts amidst the hubbub of city life. To the right, surrounded by cherry trees and mossy boulders, is the shrine itself. It is large and filled with candles, its silence broken only by copper bells rung every so often by visiting locals offering up their prayers and dreams.
Toss a coin into the wooden box and then ring the bells yourself. This will call the spirits to the altar. Bow twice, make a wish in your heart. Clap twice and then bow a final time.
Okusawa Shrine, Another treasures
To the left behind Okusawa shrine is a little hollow. A tree stands tall, surrounded by low benches. A bamboo fountain bleeds water into another basin, which flows in turn into a shallow moat that runs around the main shrine. Here is another altar – the Cave of the Dragon – which is said to provide the snake at the entrance with its serpentine spine. Other small figures are hidden in the plants, all in the name of different spirits and gods.
It is at Okusawa shrine, preserved so perfectly and tucked so neatly into an otherwise unspectacular neighborhood, that you will come to understand how the Japanese recognize deities in even the smallest corners of life. Here, each breath of wind is the catalyst for a kaleidoscope of rustling leaves, each droplet of water the starting note of a rainy-day symphony. Untainted by cameras and crowds, find peace at Okusawa shrine, and let it be the start of your discovery of many other similar shrines pocketed across the country.
Okusawa shrine is a five-minute walk from Okusawa station on the Meguro Line.