- Suga Shrine enshrines Susano’o-no-Mikoto, hero of Japanese myths and a guardian divinity for Tokyo’s Yotsuya since the early Edo period.
- Yakubarai, the purification ceremony
- Take a leisurely stroll around the grounds of the shrine
Suga Shrine enshrines Susano’o-no-Mikoto, hero of Japanese myths and a guardian divinity for Tokyo’s Yotsuya since the early Edo period.
*Chi-no-wa: These rings made of straw or reeds are used in an end of year purification ceremony.
Recently this shrine has received a lot of attention as it was used as a location for the 2016 anime “Kimi no na wa”, or “Your Name”; a film that’s been such a huge hit it’s almost a social phenomenon. In a key moment from the film, the two main characters pass by each other on a stairway. Filmmakers based the location for this scene on the stairs leading to the Suga Shrine.
And now it seems the number of people coming daily to photograph these stairs has skyrocketed!
The two main deities revered at the Suga Shrine are Suga Daijin,
sometimes called Susano’o-no-Mikoto (須佐之男命), and Inari Daijin, sometimes called Uka-no-Mitama-no-Mikoto (宇迦能御魂神). As such, it is known for bringing good luck, prosperity in business, and warding off evil.
This shrine is very solemn. Being on high ground means the noise of cars and the city can hardly be heard, making it an oasis of quietness.
The pictures of the “Thirty-Six Immortals of Poetry”, decorating the inside of the main hall in this shrine have been designated a Tangible Cultural Property of the Shinjuku ward. They were completed by painter Ōoka Unpō and dedicated to the shrine in 1836.
They are based on the selection of poets made by the nobleman Fujiwara no Kintō (966-1041), a poet himself, who selected this group of thirty-six exceptional poets of the middle of the Heian period (794-1185). The pictures of each poet are 55cm high and 37cm wide, and have been rendered on silk fabric. Well worth a look when you come to visit.
Yakubarai, the purification ceremony
Some of my workmates said they were going to the Suga Shrine for yakubarai and hōiyoke ceremonies, so I tagged along to watch how these purification rituals took place.
There are certain years in a person’s lifetime, called yakudoshi in Japanese, that are considered unlucky and tend to bring some kind of misfortune.
Yakubarai is a purification ceremony held to ward off this bad luck. Ages considered unlucky for men are 25, 42, 61, and for women, 19, 33, 37, following the old Japanese system for calculating someone’s age, starting from when they are born, then adding a year every New Year’s Day.
Age 42 for men and 33 for women – known as taiyaku – are said to be particularly unfortunate, and even the years before and after them – maeyaku and atoyaku – are considered pretty luckless.
The hōiyoke ceremony is based on the view of luck and fate as a fusion of various concepts including divination lore, Yin and Yang from Chinese philosophy, and the study of calendars.
Each person’s age has its own position on a kind of compass based on the movement of the stars, directing them to their fortune for the year. The happōfusagari position – or blocked from all sides- is said to be particularly bad, with various misfortunes more likely to occur.
Charts for the Suga Shrine’s Yakubarai and Hōiyoke ceremonies for 2017 can be found here(Japanese text only).
The charts tell people in what year they should visit a shrine or temple for a purification ceremony, in order to repel any personal misfortune.
It’s interesting, but the idea of “unlucky years” is not just peculiar to Japan. Although the actual years aren’t the same, and the methods of purification may differ, it seems that in other countries there are also ages that are seen as bringing bad luck.
Back at the Suga Shrine, after paying the prayer fee, and being watched over from above by the “Thirty-Six Immortals of Poetry”, we were ready for the purification ritual to begin.
First the Shinto priest solemnly strikes a drum, marking the start of the ceremony.
The priest then makes his prayers in front of the shrine altar.
Then the priest blesses a golden Ōnusa – a ritual wooden wand with paper streamers – and waves it over the heads of those being purified.
Then the priest, returning to the front of the altar, recites a ritual Shinto prayer while calling out the names and addresses of those taking part in the ceremony.
Finally, those taking part offer a branch from a sacred tree to the alter, and pray for no future misfortunes to occur.
In the end, as a signal that the ceremony is over, the priest strikes the drum once more. Everything’s safely completed!
It seems like everyone who took part in the purification ceremony feels refreshed and somehow relieved.
Take a leisurely stroll around the grounds of the shrine
Although the stairs that appear in the film “Your Name” tend to be seen as its main feature, spend some time in the intimate grounds of this shrine and – maybe because of it’s position on a small hill – you’ll find a kind of quietness about the place.
Don’t forget though, this is where Susano-no-Mikoto is worshiped, the younger brother of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu-no-Ōmikami (天照大神). He’s a hero with a wild and reckless streak who defeated the eight headed dragon Yamata-no-Orochi in the old province of Izumo – which is all pretty awesome!
While you’re in the grounds look out for the plump happy face of Daikoku-sama, one of the Seven Gods of Fortune, as well as a separate Inari Shrine.
Replica pictures of the “Thirty-Six Immortals of Poetry” are also on display, so you can inspect each one close up.
When in the Shinjuku area, do not hesitate to take some time to visit this charming shrine that sits so quietly in the middle of the city.
For smartphone users, please click on this link to go to the Tadaima Japan website which includes detailed location information.