“Ghost photo” shows Kyoto’s breathtaking Fushimi Inari Shrine can be bone-chilling at night

And that flash of light isn’t even the scariest part of the snapshot.

In the span of a few years, Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Shrine has gone from being relatively unknown to foreign travelers to being one of their favorite destinations in Japan. And its popularity is well-deserved, as wandering through the hillside tunnels of thousands of Shinto torii gates makes for a beautiful, unforgettable experience, especially if the late afternoon sunlight is filtering through the gaps in the torii.

However, Fushimi Inari can feel a little less inviting once the sun goes down. Just like many Western horror tales are set in or around secluded churches, Japan has a long tradition of ghost stories that take place at rural shrines. The higher you climb along Fushimi Inari’s pathways, the farther you get from the light of the city, which can make it feel like the world of the living is also growing distant, which brings us to a creepy snapshot taken by Japanese Twitter user @mcoscam.

“I was taking photos at Fushimi Inari Shrine at night, and I ended up with this freaky one…So scared I’m about to cry…”

“What happened?” asked a shocked commenter, to which @mcoscam replied “That’s what I want to know!”

Following the ghostly streak of light its farthest point from the lens, it seems to stop at a hanging lantern, or perhaps the brightest part of the reflection of the camera’s flash. Somehow this light source then got smeared in an undulating arc when the image was captured. That’s got to be what’s going on, right? After all, ghosts aren’t real…

…is what we keep trying to convince ourselves as we look at this subtly startling portion of @mcoscam’s photo, which escaped our notice until another Twitter user shared a zoomed-in version.

Once again, though, this looks to be a trick of the light, though one with a connection to local religious customs. See, each of the torii at Fushimi Inari is paid for by a donor, often a business looking to curry favor with Inari, the Shinto god of commerce. Torii are added as donations are made, which means that adjacent gates may actually have been installed several years apart from each other, and so their paint, metal fittings, and other components will be in different states of weathering and/or disrepair. As a result, the surfaces of the torii tunnels don’t reflect light uniformly, which can cause irregular shapes like the “silhouette” seen in the photos above.

So as spooky as @mcoscam’s photo may be, this probably isn’t concrete proof that the shrine is haunted. As a matter of fact, some of @mcoscam’s other photos from that night show that Fushimi Inari has a unique beauty after dark, which we also saw when we took a look at its midsummer Motomiya Festival.

Still, if you decide to plan your trip to Fushimi Inari for early enough in the day so that you’ll be done before sundown, we won’t blame you.

Source: Twitter/@mcoscam via Hachima Kiko
Featured image: Twitter/@mcoscam
Top, insert images ©SoraNews24

Plan to turn real-world shrine from Studio Ghibli anime into a parking lot upsets fans, residents

Shinto shrine was featured in recently deceased anime director Isao Takahata’s Pom Poko.

Last week, the anime world suffered the sad loss of Isao Takahata, one of the medium’s most respected directors and a founding member of Studio Ghibli, who passed away on April 5 at the age of 82. Though Takahata is best known for his 1988 postwar tragedy Grave of the Fireflies, his 1994 Pom Poko (also known as Heisei Era Tanuki War Pom Poko) has its own tale of sadness to weave as it follows a pack of tanuki (raccoon dogs) who, like their folklore counterparts, can speak and have magical powers.

In the film, the tanukis’ woodland home in the Tokyo suburbs is being increasingly encroached upon by human residential development, mirroring real-life expansion of the city during the period when the anime was released. Pom Poko is filled with fantastical and farcical comedy (such as tanuki swinging their famously large testicles as weapons), but also presents the conflict as a genuine life-or-death situation, with casualties on both the human and tanuki sides dryly included as a matter-of-fact consequence of the conflict.

▼ Trailer for Pom Poko

Once again opting for realism over sentimentalism, as the movie goes on the tanuki have to resign themselves to the fact that their animal concerns and coercive capabilities aren’t enough to deter the construction, and their land is redeveloped. Now, in a parallel to that, a Shinto shrine featured in Pom Poko might be being torn down in order to make room for a parking lot.

Kincho Shrine (pictured at the top of this article) is located in the town of Komatsushima, Tokushima Prefecture, on the island of Shikoku, far away from Tokyo. However, the shrine has long had a connection to tanuki. The shrine was originally constructed in 1956 using money from a donation from a film company executive who’d made a successful movie based on local tanuki folklore, and it also serves as the setting for a scene in Pom Poko, where it’s depicted as the home of a group of wise tanuki elders.

▼ Tanuki statues (and their massive balls) welcome visitors to the shrine.

While the shrine is private property, it sits on municipal land, which is part of a park. Last summer, it was announced that sections of the park would be redeveloped, with tsunami preparedness the initial impetus for the project. Part of the proposed plan, though, calls for Kincho Shrine to be demolished, and a parking lot to be put in its place.

▼ An aerial view of the area

That proposal has sparked a backlash, though, among local residents who want to preserve the shrine, who have received shouts of support online from anime fans. In March, an online petition was started to keep the shrine even after the park’s renovation, garnering roughly 2,000 signatures so far.

Luckily, the city itself is showing a willingness to be flexible on the issue, At the very least, planners say they want to leave behind a tanuki statue, and they’ve reminded everyone that while the initial proposal is to replace the shrine with a parking lot, that’s by no means finalized, and planners are still debating the exact details of the redevelopment. “The shrine itself is private property,” a member of the city’s development bureau reminded those who were upset, “and so it can’t be torn by unilateral decision.” So hopefully Kincho Shrine’s future will be less bittersweet than the ending of Pom Poko.

Source: Livedoor News/J Cast via Jin
Top image: Wikipedia/Reggaeman
Insert images: Wikipedia/Reggaeman, Wikipedia/タコノマクラ

Japan Sumo Association bans girls from prohibiting in practice event as controversy continues

Stance that the sanctity of the sumo ring is tarnished by female presence extends all the way down to elementary school-age kids.

It’s been less than 10 days since a controversy erupted as women were asked to leave the ring at a sumo exhibition in Kyoto where the attending male mayor had collapsed. Now the Japan Sumo Association is once again under a critical spotlight as it asserts that the ring’s sacred purity will be contaminated by the presence of even grade school-age females.

As part of its regional spring exhibition tour (which included the above-mentioned event in Kyoto), a sumo exhibition was held in Shizuoka Prefecture on April 8. This was the sixth iteration of the annual event, and as part of the festivities, elementary school-age children from local youth sumo clubs are allowed to step into the ring (called the “dohyo” in Japanese) for a training session with top-tier professional sumo wrestlers. For the last three years, the kid contingent has included girls as well as boys (there are no records indicating whether or not girls participated in the event in 2013 and 2014).

▼ A photo from a previous iteration of the event

This year, five girls, two from Shizuoka City and three from the town of Yaizu (also in Shizuoka Prefecture) were to part of the training session, dubbed “Chibikko Sumo” (“Little Tykes Sumo”). However, a few days prior to the event, the local organizers received a phone call from retired sumo wrestler Daisuke Araiso (who competed under the ring name Tamaasuka). Araiso now serves as the national Japan Sumo Association’s director for Shizuoka Prefecture, and he called to tell the local organizers that the Japan Sumo Association did not want girls to participate in the Chibikko Sumo portion of the Shizuoka event.

Oh, and the exact date Araiso placed the call? April 4, the very same day of the incident in Kyoto, though it’s not known whether Araiso was aware of the mayor’s collapse at the time of the call.

So in the end, all 20 of the kids who took part in the Chibikko Sumo program were boys.

The prohibition against women entering the dohyo has its roots in ancient Shinto beliefs, and to this day sumo retains strong ties to religious ceremony. However, even to many Japanese people, this is a case of clinging too tightly to traditions, as evidenced by online reactions including:

“Utterly idiotic.”
“This is just cruel.”
“With the timing, it’s hard to see this as anything but rubbing it in women’s faces.”
“The Japan Sumo Association is worthless.”
“This isn’t going to do the sport any favors in the image department.”

If there’s a silver lining to this, it’s the fact that despite the Japan Sumo Association’s hard-line stance, not everyone involved in the sport feels like women need to be kept out of the ring, especially in the case of little girls. As evidenced by the inclusion of girls in the Shizuoka event the last three years, there are coaches willing to train girls in sumo, and organizations who want them to have a chance to compete. “I wanted the girls to be able to enter the dohyo, at least for a regional tour event,” lamented the coach of the Yaizu sumo club, and hopefully they’ll get the chance someday, even without the Japan Sumo Association’s blessing.

Sources: Tokyo Shimbun, Twitter/@taketake1w via Otakomu
Featured image: Twitter/@taketake1w
Top image ©SoraNews24

Controversy as announcer asks “ladies” to leave sumo ring after elderly man collapses inside it

Video of the incident has critics saying sumo’s belief about women’s inherent impurities goes too far.

With a history that stretches back centuries, sumo is a sport steeped not only in tradition, but in religious significance as well. The raised sumo ring, called a dohyo, is considered sacred, and the practice of sumo wrestlers tossing salt across it is said to act as a further purification.

Because of orthodox Shinto beliefs regarding women as impure in certain ways, women are forbidden from entering the sumo ring, but a recent incident in Kyoto Prefecture’s Maizuru City has many saying that an exception should be made in situations of life and death.

On the afternoon of April 4, a regional sumo exhibition was being held in the Maizuru Culture Park Gymnasium. After yokozuna grand champions Kakuryu and Hakuho made their entrances, Maizuru mayor Ryozo Tatami stepped into the ring to welcome the crowd. However, during his speech the 67-year-old Tatami suddenly lost consciousness and collapsed.

A crowd quickly gathered around Tatami, with one woman promptly administering a heart massage to try to bring the mayor back to consciousness. Then, at the 38-second mark of the video above, two more women can be seen stepping up into the ring, ostensibly hoping to offer some sort of assistance.

Seconds later, though, an announcer’s voice can be heard through the PA system, saying “Josei no kata ha dohyo kara orite kudasai,” or “Ladies, please exit the sumo ring.” The announcement is immediately repeated, and when the two women remain in the ring, the announcer says it a third time, adding “Gentlemen, also, please exit the ring.”

The initial specification that “ladies” should exit the platform has drawn angry criticism from online commenters in Japan, whose reactions after watching the video included:

“Unbelievable.”
“Disgraceful.”
“So if the paramedics on-scene were women, were they just supposed to leave him to die?”
“Putting the sanctity of the ring ahead of a person’s life. Sumo is supposed to be religious, but do they think the gods will be happy with this sort of behavior?”
“No matter what the circumstances, saving a person’s life should come first.”

In the announcer’s defense, his announcement may not have been entirely prompted by a desire to protect the dohyo from female impurity. At the beginning of the video, several men can be seen in the ring, but they’re dressed in traditional garb or suits, or are wearing ID cards around their necks or armbands on their sleeves, denoting their status as event staff or administrators who, one would think, are trained and obligated to respond to health emergencies during the exhibition. At 0:13, a woman in casual clothing steps into the ring to begin massaging Tatami’s chest, and at 0:21 another woman also ascends into the dohyo to assist. Both appear to know what they’re doing, with the decisive movements of the first woman in particular suggesting that she’s a trained medical professional, and neither is immediately told to leave.

Two more women step onto the dohyo at 0:43, and the announcer makes his first request for “ladies” to leave the ring at 0:45. However, this is also the same moment that a man dressed in a kimono (again, likely an event administrator) arrives at the dohyo with a defibrillator, with a team of either security or medical personnel following close behind.

Because of this, it’s possible that the announcement for “ladies” to leave the ring is specifically referring to the second pair of women, who were standing about on the platform after stepping up onto it. From their attire, they appear to be spectators, not staff, and it could be that the announcer wants them to leave not because they’re women, but because he wants them to give the trained professionals space to do their jobs. As for the tacked-on request for “gentlemen” to also leave, after the second pair of women step into the ring, a man casually dressed in a plaid shirt also enters the ring, and it’s clearly his presence the announcer is saying is unwanted, as opposed to each and every man in the dohyo.

Nevertheless, Japan Sumo Association Chairman Hakkaku (born Nobuyoshi Hoshi) has deemed the announcer’s actions reprehensible, issuing the following statement of apology on the day of the incident:

“Today, during an exhibition at Maizuru, Kyoto Prefecture, Mayor Ryozo Tatai collapsed. We are praying for his speedy recovery.

We wish to express our deep gratitude to the women who promptly administered first aid measures. During their administration, the referee in charge of announcements repeatedly said ‘Ladies, please leave the ring.’ The referee was agitated, but nonetheless his actions were inappropriate in a life-or-death situation, and we deeply apologize.”

As for Tatami, he was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he regained consciousness and is no longer in any danger, though physicians plan a full medical examination to determine the cause of his collapse. Meanwhile, regardless of the motivation for the announcements made during the incident, Japanese people at large seem to believe that when someone’s life is on the line, a woman stepping into the dohyo doesn’t mean she’s trampling on sumo’s traditions.

Sources: YouTube/とろんぼーん, Nikkan Sports, Yahoo Japan News/Kyoto Shimbun via Jin, Sports Hochi
Images: YouTube/とろんぼーん

Experience the moment the local gods cross a frozen Lake Suwa【Video】

Lake Suwa in Nagano Prefecture is the scene of a curious natural phenomenon which results in ridges of ice erupting out of the frozen surface.

These days, if not for the hot spring monkeysNagano Prefecture may come to mind for its turn as the Winter Olympics host city exactly 20 years ago. Its prefectural area includes the Kiso Mountains, which form part of the range referred to as the “Japanese Alps.” The mountains are in turn the site of Lake Suwa, a destination that has been receiving increased attention as the supposed inspiration for the lake featured in 2016’s animated cultural revolution Your Name.

Speaking of Lake Suwa, there’s an ancient belief revolving around a natural phenomenon that occurs there every winter. When the lake’s surface freezes, pressure ridges form on the ice due to the presence of a natural hot spring beneath its waters. This awe-inspiring sight is known as omiwatari, which can be rendered into English along the lines of “gods’ crossing.” According to local lore, the ridges are actually the pathways of the gods as they travel between the four building complexes of the Suwa Grand Shrine located on opposite sides of the lake.

It’s one thing to read about and another to experience the exact moment when omiwatari occurs with your own eyes. This year, one of those moments was incredibly recorded and uploaded by YouTube user nekonekomyano1. The video has since been spreading over the Internet like, well, a growing crack in thin ice since the end of last month:

▼ The actual moment this particular pressure ridge erupts can be viewed from two angles at 1:10 and 2:16.

Isn’t the foreboding sound of rattling right before the fissures emerge particularly eerie? That must have been quite a lengthy procession of divine spirits!

Interestingly, Japanese net users responded to the video in largely polarizing ways. Some berated the uploader for ignoring the local town’s signs that forbid people from walking on the ice due to changing conditions, while others noted the close proximity of the shore and thanked them for sharing this moment that would otherwise be inaccessible to those in other parts of the country.

For another odd but intriguing view of Nagano’s lakes, check out the frozen waves spotted a bit to the north at Lake Kizaki a few years back.

Source, featured image: YouTube/nekonekomyan01

Travelers’ misguided attempt to earn good luck is damaging Japan’s most famous torii shrine gate

While in Japan, you absolutely should visit Hiroshima’s Miyajima island, but while there, you definitely shouldn’t do this.

Lots of sightseeing destinations in Japan come with some sort of qualifier. Akihabara should be on your itinerary if you like anime, for example, and you won’t want to miss the town of Hakone if you’re interested in onsen hot springs.

Hiroshima Prefecture’s Miyajima, though, is absolutely worth visiting, regardless of what specifically drew you to Japan. The mountainous island is covered with centuries-old shrines and lush forests, and wild yet calm deer walk through the town where the ferry port is located. And then there’s the sight of Itsukushima Shrine’s torii gate rising from the waters of the bay, one of the most iconic views in all of Japan.

When the tide is low, you can actually walk all the way out to the base of the torii, where travelers routinely snap close-up photos of its orange-painted timbers.

But because the lower part of the gate spends much of the day underwater, the wood is cracked and warped in spots. Unfortunately, some tourists have taken to cramming coins into the cracks, creating an unsightly mess that can’t be good for the torii. Japanese Twitter user @riyusuisuiriyu recently tweeted a photo of the current state of the torii, along with a plea to stop the practice.

“If this keeps up, the torii might collapse…Look at all those coins. People wedge them in the cracks, and then the cracks get bigger…I’d hate to see this torii, which is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site, disappear. Remember, this is a shrine, not an amusement park.”

It’s worth noting that Japan does have a long-established practice of donating coins to shrines and temples, which is often thought to bestow good luck, health, or other benefits upon those who toss a coin into the collection box in front of the altar. Odds are people began jamming coins into Miyajima’s torii as an extension of that custom, but the Shinto faith doesn’t recognize or encourage this as proper donation protocol, and it can’t be good for the torii.

Internet reactions to @riyusuisuiriyu tweet ranged from shocked to angry.

“It’s terrible that the poor torii has to put up with that.”
“It looks like it’s in pain.”
“You have to be really dumb to think this would bring you good luck.”
“Doing that has got to earn you some bad karma.”

So remember, when you visit Miyajima and want to bring some of its mystical energy home with you, put your coins into the actual collection box at the shrine’s entrance (which is just a short walk from the torii), or even better, buy yourself an omamori charm, and just let the torii keep doing what it’s meant to do: stand.

Source: Twitter/@riyusuisuiriyu via Hachima Kiko
Top image: Hiroshima Prefectural Tourism Federation
Insert image: Hiroshima Prefectural Tourism Federation

Six things to avoid during in the first three days of the Japanese New Year to have the best luck

Keep on the good side of the gods (and maybe cows and pigs too) with these tips.

The first few days of the New Year mark a time of change, when we think about the past year and what the next year could bring. In the U.S., people typically choose a few resolutions for the new year: goals that we set with the hope of improving some aspect of our lives, like going to the gym regularly or not eating so much Kentucky Fried Chicken.

In Japan, the first three days, especially, are a time for visiting shrines to pray for good luck and success in the new year. While of course it’s also a time for bargain shopping and eating deadly mochi, the focus of New Year’s is much more spiritual than other holidays. Making the first visit to your local shrine is the most important New Year’s tradition, but there are also many beliefs about how you should spend your time at home, because what you do in the first three days of the new year may determine the luck of the year-to-come. Here are six things to avoid during that time to bring the best fortune to your home, according to Japanese tradition.

1. Don’t clean 

This is one we can get behind: don’t do housework in the first three days of the new year! Supposedly the Japanese New Year’s god, Toshigami-sama, comes for a visit sometime in those three days to bring luck to each family, and if you’re cleaning. it drives him away. Plus, by doing laundry, and cleaning sinks, bathtubs, and toilets, you’re flushing a lot of good luck down the drain with all that water. In short, waiting patiently for Toshigami-sama to come and bring you good luck is much better than bustling around cleaning your house, and we really couldn’t agree more.

2. Don’t use knives

Knives are dangerous…you could cut yourself! And by cutting yourself in the first three days of the new year, you may also cut off your good luck for the year. To prevent this, in Japan, people typically cook a great deal of osechi ryori, a lucky New year’s meal, and ozoni, a hearty soup with meat and mochi, on December 31, so they don’t have to cook at all in the first three days of the year (if you’re not that ambitious, we recommend popping into your local convenience store and picking up some bento instead) In some regions, t’s also considered unlucky to cut your fingernails during the first three days, so it’s probably just best to be safe and just avoid cutting (hair, paper, etc.) altogether.

3. Don’t use fire to cook, and don’t boil food

The first three days of the new year are a time for rest, and that includes the gods too. So avoid cooking with fire, because the god of the cooking stove, Ojin-sama, will get angry, and one thing you don’t want in the new year is an angry god on your hands.

The reason why you shouldn’t boil food, besides angering the cooking stove god by using the stove, is because boiling food produces scum on the surface of the liquid. Aside from being gross, scum is a symbol for the bad things in life, so by boiling food you’re allowing the bad things to come to the surface, and that’s no good.

But you’re not supposed be cut anything anyway, so you should be fine with this rule!

4. Don’t eat four-legged animals

This specifically refers to beef, pork, and horsemeat, though it may be extended to other animals as well. The reasons behind this tradition are unknown, but it’s thought to be a custom influenced by Buddhism, which holds a policy of killing no living creatures and eating no meat. There aren’t any known spiritual repercussions to eating hamburgers in the new year, but if you’re worried about it, go vegetarian for three days. Chicken is also fine to eat (although we’re not sure why two legs are better than four), so you can get some karaage (Japanese fried chicken) instead, if you wish. Eggs and fish also have no legs, so you can eat those as well, but we’re honestly not sure where squid fall on the spectrum. Do they have four arms, or four legs? Do their tentacles count? These are the important questions.

5. Don’t fight

Getting along with your friends and family in the first few days of the new year sets you up for good relations for the rest of the year. While fighting with someone won’t ruin your entire year, and it may not affect your relationship with the gods, it will affect your relationships with the people around you. Really, it just starts the year off on the wrong foot, and can bring about bad juju for the year ahead.

6. Don’t spend a lot of money

Oops…we already broke this rule. While New Year’s is the best time to shop because you can get awesome lucky bags, you should actually try to avoid spending too much money, if at all, in the first few days. It is believed that if you spend too much in the new year, you won’t be able to save money throughout the year. Honestly, superstitions aside, that’s pretty solid advice; the less money you spend now is more money in the bank later! Naturally, though, the gods won’t begrudge you if you drop a few coins in the shrine donation box, you know what I’m sayin’?

The bottom line is: take it easy, leave the chores for later, and spend light, and the gods will bring you good luck! We have to admit though…we’ve pretty much failed all of these, except maybe number five. But to be fair we’ve cleaned, cooked, and spent money in the new year pretty much every year, and we’re doing all right! Besides, there are lots of ways to boost your luck, like eating these lucky (and cute!) Cozy Corner osechi desserts. Just be sure to split it with friends…because it might count as spending too much if you just buy it for yourself.

Source: Livedoor News via Hachimakiko
Top image: Pakutaso
Images: Pakutaso (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)