“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

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

Feel what it’s like to be a Shinto shrine maiden with shrine’s experience package for foreigners

Chief priest cites popularity of miko heroine in anime hit Your Name for increased interest in traditional role.

The title of miko, or Shinto shrine maiden, definitely sounds impressive. However, becoming a miko doesn’t involve the sort of solemn, life-long decision as many other religious roles. In modern Japan, many young women work part-time as miko while leading otherwise secular lives, and there’s even a shrine which offers foreign travelers and residents the chance to sample what it’s like to be a shrine maiden with a miko-for-a-day program (well, technically miko-for-an-hour).

Nobuo Otagaki is the head priest of Amagasaki Ebisu Shrine, located in Amagasaki City in Hyogo Prefecture. The town sees a number of foreign travelers staying overnight on their way to or from sightseeing destinations in Kyoto and Osaka, and last year the Amagasaki Hospitality Group approached Otagaki with the idea of starting a miko experience package.

Having run a similar, successful program in New York, Otagaki agreed, and now interested individuals and groups can participate in one-hour sessions held at Amagasaki Ebisu Shrine where they dress in miko attire, learn about the activities the maidens do to keep the shrine running, and even try their hand at kaguramai, a traditional dance accompanied by bells and chimes, which was featured in a memorable scene of hit anime film Your Name.

Otagaki credits the popularity of the anime with sparking an interest in miko among foreign visitors, particularly those from Taiwan. Participants hail from a number of countries, though. This month, for example, a group of 10 exchange students from Australia and Fiji who are currently studying at Amagasaki’s Sonoda Women’s University took part in the one-hour program.

To date, over 150 groups have done the program, and the shrine plans to continue offering it for the foreseeable future. Reservations are required, with directions available here on he shrine’s website.

Related: Amagasaki Ebisu Shrine
Source: Sankei West via Otakomu
Top image: Pixabay/Kenny_G

Mr. Sato visits the “shrine of money” in Kyoto

Turns out, if you want to pray for money, there’s a really long line.

Like many of us, Mr. Sato is unsatisfied with his current financial situation. And with another term of Abenomics on the horizon things are not looking promising. Of course, it’s not like there was much alternative, but at least “Yurinomics” would have given him a more fun way to grumble about it.

So our reporter decided to look to the gods for help with his monetary affairs and found the best place in Japan to do so: Mikane Shrine. Sure, there are many shrines believed to be especially lucky when it comes to praying for cash, but it’s hard to beat a place whose name literally means “Money Shrine.”

So, Mr, Sato hopped a plane to Osaka and then traveled by bus to Kyoto in order to find this mecca of money.

From Kyoto Station it was about a 10-minute subway ride to Karasuma Oike Station. Mr. Sato sat on the train envisioning the luxury and opulence that Mikane Shrine must be steeped in; a towering monument to wealth unlike any he’s ever seen.

However, after exiting the station no palatial place of worship could be seen. He was beginning to think that he had the wrong place when suddenly he spotted Mikane Shrine nestled next to a large apartment building.

It was smaller than Mr. Sato expected – a lot smaller. But there was no mistaking that this was it, because Mikane Shrine has something few, if any, other shrines have: a golden torii! These gates that typically stand in front of shrines are usually wooden or in some cases stone, but a golden one was a rare sight indeed.

While the place wasn’t exactly Xanadu, that was certainly a classy touch, so Mr. Sato went inside. A sign explained that this shrine holds the spirits of Kaneyamahiko gods, Izanagi and Izanami. The gods are generally worshipped for all matters related to metals, most popular of which is unsurprisingly money, but the shrine also happily accepts prayers for matters of real estate and other assets.

Interestingly, this shrine was also originally a person’s house, but around 1900 was converted into a religious facility.

Mr. Sato dug into his pockets to search for change to make an offering but he had none. He had invested the last of it on a pack of cigarettes and only had 1,000 yen (US$8.80) bills on him.

“Ugh, why do I never have the money I need?” cried Mr. Sato silently as he clutched his pack of Marlboros. However, there was no turning back, so he figured if he’s going to do it at Mikane Shrine, he should do it big. And so, he offered the full bill to the Kaneyamahiko No Kame. It was more than he had ever spent on the supernatural, but you have to spend money to make money.

Mr. Sato walked through the precincts to the merchandise counter which offered fortunes for 300 yen ($2.65). However, having been burnt especially bad by a poor fortune at another shrine, Mr. Sato was soured on the whole thing and took a pass this time around.

There were also ema for sale for 500 yen ($4.40) each. These are wooden placards on which you can write a wish and hang in the shrine for the gods to hear. They’re a common sight in many shrines and visitors can look at the rack on which a dozen or so tablets hang at any given time.

Mikane Shrine, however, was a whole other league of desire…

The rack itself could barely be seen behind the mountain of hundreds of ginkgo-leaf-shaped wishes from visitors wanting more money in their lives.

It would take about as long and be about as interesting as watching Wall Street 2, as it would to read through all of them but the ones that Mr. Sato could catch from a glance were:

“For me to win the lottery.”
“Salary up!”
“For my debt to be eliminated.”
“For me to have money.”
“I love money!”
“I don’t have enough money.”

Although these messages were seemingly shallow for a place of spiritual enlightenment, Mr. Sato shared pretty much all of their sentiments and would be hard pressed to find anyone who didn’t. However, salt of the earth he is, Mr. Sato has no desire to be filthy rich…just moderately rich would suffice.

Shrine information
Mikane Shrine / 御金神社
Address: Kyoto-fu, Kyoto-shi, Nakagyo-ku, Oshinishinotouincho 614 Nishinotoin-dori Oike-agaru

Photos: SoraNews24
[ Read in Japanese ]

Japanese sign uses the power of spirits to strike fear into passers-by and stop them from littering

Forget putting the fear of God into someone; this graveside sign calls on spirits to ensure people mind their manners.

When you visit Japan, one thing you notice is how clean the country is. Storefronts often look cleanly swept, and residential areas are so well-maintained you’d think a professional team was in charge of keeping the area clean.

Still, it’s actually the residents themselves who are responsible for the constant upkeep, with daily cleaning chores extending out of the house and on to the street, where flowerbeds are weeded, pavements washed with water, and litter collected and taken away.

To help maintain this sense of cleanliness, you’ll often find signs on the streets asking people not to litter in the area. For some residents, though, when ordinary street signs just aren’t doing enough to get the message across, it’s time to take matters into your own hands, and that’s exactly what our Japanese-language reporter found when he visited an area in Okinawa recently.

Here, on a street next to a small collection of gravestones in the capital city Naha, is a sign designed to strike fear into anyone who might be thinking of littering.

The literal translation of the sign reads:

We hope spirits don’t posses people who litter with things like empty bottles, cans and trash.

While the message itself might not sound overly ominous in English, in a country like Japan, where many people follow the Shinto religion, gods and spirits are ever-present in everyday surroundings. Even in Okinawa, where the indigenous Ryukyuan religion is prominent, the gods and spirits of the natural world are not to be messed with, so this mention of spirits would have people anxiously looking over their shoulders and holding on tight to their trash.

To add to the ominous nature of the message, the kanji for “person” and “spirit” appear in bright red to really make the message stand out, while a red torii Shinto gate can be seen in the top right-hand corner to remind people of the Shinto religion.

The clasped hands at the end of the message work to reinforce the sense of hope for the trash-throwers, as the words “ように” (you ni) are often used when making a request in prayer.

Given all the additional symbolism and nuance contained within the sign, for a Japanese passer-by this message reads more like:

Beware the spirits that threaten to posses those who litter here.

Our Japanese-language reporter who stumbled upon the sign had chills as soon as he saw it, and after stopping for a moment to snap the above photo, he immediately wondered who had erected the sign. Given that he could see a collection of graves to the left of it, he headed to the nearby cemetery office and asked them if they had put up the sign on the street.

According to the staff at the office, they weren’t responsible for the sign and had just assumed it was a local individual who had placed it there. While they hadn’t put it up themselves, they said it had been an effective deterrent as levels of trash in the surrounding area had noticeably decreased.

After speaking to the staff, our reporter went on his way, intrigued by the local initiative and impressed by the effective result. But as he walked along the trash-free street, he couldn’t help but wonder whether it was an individual or a spirit that should really be thanked for conjuring up the sign and ensuring the cleanliness of the town.

Photos © SoraNews24
[ Read in Japanese ]

Photographer captures fantastical images of a fire-walking festival in northern Japan【Photos】

These photos offer a stunning look at one of Japan’s many festivals.

Japan has no shortage of festivals for every season, from the weird and wacky, to the absolutely magical. One such festival that would fall into the latter category is the Tengu no Hi-watari (天狗の火渡り), which takes place annually in Japan’s northern-most prefecture of Hokkaido. The festival – held at the Ebisu Shrine in the town of Furubira – features a tengu, among others, running through a bonfire of towering flames. Tengu, if you’re not familiar, are creatures found in Japanese folklore, usually localized as “goblins” in English, and often depicted with a red face and distinctively long nose.

Many cultures throughout the world have their own fire walks, which normally involves participants walking across hot coals or embers. The towering flames involved at this fire walk in Hokkaido certainly make for a more impressive spectacle, which was captured and shared on Twitter by musician and photographer Katsu (克), who goes by @katuka2 online. In the photos, Katsu captures the intense contrast between the dark shadows of night against the bright blazing flames, as the masked fire walker emerges from the fire in a hellish scene. The photos immediately received the attention of the Twitter community – and rightfully so – wracking up 37,000 retweets and nearly 70,000 likes since they were published on September 12.

▼ “It’s more like ‘an amazing, crazy festival where a tengu leaps into a blazing inferno’ than a ‘fire walk’” Katsu says of the event.

▼ His explanation describes the scene perfectly.

▼ Look at those sparks fly!

After the tengu’s walk came the shishi-mai (lion’s dance), which produced an even more magical display of flying sparks. Perhaps most impressive, though, is the fact that the ones running the lion costume through the flames were young boys.

Earlier this year in July, Katsu shared similarly breathtaking photos from another festival held in the same town of Furubira, featuring the Tengu no Hi-watari event.

Photography isn’t Katsu’s only talent – he is also the guitarist, engineer, and sound producer for the music project laufen, which aims to create music with a “Hokkaido-esque sound” that “will still be around in 10, even 20 years.” Along with creating music and participating in live musical events, Katsu works with those trying to share Hokkaido’s charm and appeal, by photographing the prefecture’s gorgeous sights and covering events.

▼ The official theme song for the Shiretoko Fantasia – Aurora Fantasy event, by laufen

Japan has so much more to offer outside of Tokyo, and maybe after seeing Katsu’s work you’ll think about taking a trip up north to Hokkaido for your next visit to Japan!

Source, images: Twitter/@katuka2