It is part of the Japanese new year’s tradition to visit shrines and temples for Hatsumode (the practice of visiting a shrine or a temple during the New Year). There, people pray for a safe year and peace. There are, of course, many lucky Hatsumode spots that we definitely recommend visiting in Minato-ku Tokyo. In the past, Minato-ku Tokyo used to be the entrance into Edo (the present-day Tokyo) from Tokaido. Here, there are shrines/Buddhist temples that played essential roles in history scattered throughout the area. For example, there are Tokugawa family’s temples, Bodaiji Temple/Zojoji Temple. There is also the Atago Shrine, where you find stone steps with legends of career success. When you experience how lucky each spot is, there is no question you will be luckier. Right⁉︎ Use Hatsumode as an excellent opportunity to start the recently popular activity: collecting stamps of shrines and temples. Feel refreshed and make a fresh start of the year by visiting Minato-ku’s shrines/Buddhist temples!
Atago Shrine an important shrine from the Edo/late Edo period with the legend, “career success stone steps”
Ieyasu Tokugawa ordered the construction of the Atago Shrine in 1603 (Keicho 8). It is enshrined on the peak of the tallest mountain in Tokyo, Mt. Atagoyama, standing 25.7 meters above the sea level. In the past, you could see Tokyo Bay and Boso Peninsula from the mountain peak.
When Lord Ieyasu decided to establish the Edo Shogunate, he enshrined the spirit of fire, Homusubi no Mikoto as the worshipped deity in this land. He devotedly protected the deity as the guardian against disasters in Edo. The Shogunate presented the first shrine pavilion, Niomon, and Sakashitasomon in 1610 (Keicho 15). Although usually not public, Lord Ieyasu’s possession, “Kachigun Jizo Bosatsu,” is also enshrined here. The shrine was reconstructed after each of the three disasters that struck it, including the Great Kanto earthquake. The current shrine pavilion was built in 1958 (Showa 33). For many years over 400 years, it has been the place of worship for Edo’s ordinary people.
Atago Shrine played an essential part in history books during the late Edo/Meiji Restoration period. In 1860 (Ansei 7), before the “Incident outside the Sakurada Gate,” Mito Roushi samurais prayed here before attacking the Chief Minister Naosuke Ii. Then in 1868 (Keio 4), the staff officer of the new government army, Takamori Saigo, and the former Shogunate army’s authority Katsu Kaishu visited here during their discussion for the bloodless surrender of the Edo castle. The story goes that they talked about the future of Japan as they looked on at the Edo cityscape from the mountaintop.
After you step through the large torii gate, there is a steep slope that is also known as “career success stone steps.” It is the steeper of the two uphill paths to the top. Its history originates from the story of Heikuro Magaki, an equestrian in the early Edo period. In 1631 (Kan'ei 11), the third shogun Lord Iemitsu looked up at Mt. Atagoyama on the way back from Zojoji Temple. He found some plum flowers blooming at the mountaintop and ordered one of his men to dash up and retrieve the flowers on horseback. However, seeing how steep the slope was, no one dared to go, and Lord Iemitsu’s mood started to deteriorate… That’s when Heikuro Magaki stepped up. Heikuro hurried the horse up the slope without any fear and presented the plum branch he brought back to Lord Iemitsu. His boldness made Lord Iemitsu praise him as the “best equestrian in Japan.” With that praise, Heikuro quickly became well known all over the country. Even now, many people visit the place to get some of Heikuro’s luck in career success. Particularly in early mornings, there are are many businessmen who take this route to commute to work.
When you go up the 86 stone steps, you realize it is much steeper than it looked from the bottom. When you go up to a certain point and look behind you, it is so steep your feet almost go weak at the knees. Next to the steeper hill is a less steep slope, so if you are not confident with the power of your legs, we recommend you take this slope instead.
After you go up the career success stone steps, you go through the first solemn torii gate to get to the Temizuya (place for ritual cleansing of hands and mouth with water when visiting shrines) where visitors cleanse their bodies. After that, you go through the vermilion painted shrine gate and pray at the shrine pavilion. Inside the shrine, you will find a lucky stone, a stone that people say brings you luck when you rub it, as well as the Shogun-ume, a plum tree that Heikuro got the branch from. This space with ponds and greens makes you feel like you are in an urban oasis.
Around the year-end and new year periods, there is a New Year’s Eve festival from 11:45 p.m. on New year’s eve. At 8:00 a.m. on the new year’s day, there is the New Year’s Day festival. At the New Year’s Day festival, people pray for the safe new year, peace and security of the nation, and a plentiful harvest. Also, every year on the 7th, there is the Nanakusa Hitaki festival.
Zojoji Temple Tokugawa Shogunate’s Bodaiji Temple
Zojoji Temple- More than a million people visit the Tokugawa family’s Bodaiji Temple every year
After you walk for about 10 minutes on foot from the north exit of JR Hamamatsucho Station, you will reach a large front gate, and past the road approaching the temple, is the Zojoji Temple. Needless to say that this is the famous Tokugawa Shogunate’s Bodaiji Temple. It is a grand temple where over 1 million people visit every year.
Past the road approaching the temple is a large red gate that was built in 1622 (Genna 8) called Sange-datsumon. It is a 21 meters high historical architecture that was built with a subsidy from Ieyasu Tokugawa. It is the only remaining architecture that still resembles the substantial construction of the Zojoji Temple in the early Edo period. It is a nationally designated important cultural property. Sange-datsumon refers to worldly passions: gluttony, wrath, and ignorance. The gate offers relief from such desires. At the top, there are Shakyamuni triad and the sixteen arhats.
Zojoji Temple was built during the Muromachi Period in 1393 (Meitoku 4) around the present-day Hirakawacho, Chiyoda-ku to Kojimachi. From there, powerful families in the Kanto region, such as Chiba and Satake clans provided guardianship, which led the temple to expand. Then in 1590 (Tensho 18), Lord Ieyasu, who was in Edo at the time, entered into a Shidan relationship with the Chief Priest of the time, the holy priest Genyo Zonno. As a result of this, the temple became the Tokugawa family’s Bodaiji Temple in the Kanto region. After that, with the expansion of the Edo castle, the temple moved to its current location. After a large construction in 1605 (Keicho 10), it developed into one of the most prominent temples. It is one of the Jodo sect’s seven major temples, and it continued to be an important temple for the ordinary people, not just for the Shogunate family.
During the Edo period, the records say Zojoji Temple had over 120 halls and 100 student dormitories. Through damages from wars, its size changed significantly. Even then, once you step into the temple from Sange-datsumon, the vast size is sure to catch your eye. In the enormous temple territory, there is the main temple hall at the center where the Amida Nyorai statue is placed. There is also a scripture house, built by Lord Ieyasu’s San Daizokyo contribution, a place with the temple bell that is said to be one of the three best bells of Edo, the Shoro-do, Jiunkaku, and Ankokuden. By the way, the distance and number of steps on the road approaching the temple from the large front gate to the Main temple hall have a meaning. They are based on the worldview of Lord Ieyasu’s flag emblem “Onriedo-Gongujodo” (the act of leaving this world full of pain to a paradise of purity).
At the back of the main temple hall, is the grave of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Buried here are, the six shogun, including the second Shogun Hidetada, as well as Hidetada’s seishitsu (official wife), Sugenin (Ogo), and Princess Kazu, who married into the Shogunate family from the imperial family as a symbol of the Kobu gattai policy during the turmoil in the Late Edo period.
From 11:00 p.m. on the new year’s eve, there is the Jobone, a temple bonfire that provides memorial service for old charms and scrolls. After that, the grand temple bell, which used to cover 70% of the entire Edo will ring the bells of New Year’s Eve to let people know that the new year has come.
On the new year’s day, many visitors crowd the vast temple space. At the main hall, there is a Shushoe to pray for peace for the year. Festival stalls also do business during this season, and the scenery looks more lively than usual.
Tower Dai Shrine – at 150m, the highest shrine in all of 23 wards
In 1977 (Showa 52), to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Tokyo Tower opening, and to pray for the safety and health of visitors, the Tower Dai Shrine was constructed. This shrine is on the 2nd floor of the Tokyo Tower’s main deck. For over 40 years, Tokyo Tower visitors have taken refuge at this shrine. Recently this year, with a major renovation in the observatory, the shrine also built a new shrine pavilion as well.
Don’t take the shrine lightly just because it is part of a famous tourist spot. The shrine invited its deity from Japan’s tutelary god, Ise Jingu/Ise Grand Shrine, to bring the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu Omikami, to be the worshipped deity. The Tower Dai Shrine is a famous spot for spiritual experience and spiritual energy. At 150m, it is the highest shrine in all of 23 wards, and people say it brings good luck in “upping” work and school performances.
The grand shrine stands on the 2nd floor of the main deck south side. As the shrine stands as if it is looking down at the Tokyo cityscape, the aura is so divine that people passing by naturally make a stop here. After your prayer, you may look back to find the gentle and beautiful slopes of Mt. Fuji on sunny days. That is sure to make you feel refreshed.
Tower Dai Shrine also provides luck in matchmaking. Next to the shrine pavilion, you will find an area packed with heart and tower-shaped ema (votive picture of a horse) with matchmaking and fruitful love wishes.
On new year’s day, it is open from 6:00 a.m. for seeing the first sunrise of the year. You can enjoy the collaboration of the view from the main deck and the first sunrise of the year. After that, people usually do a Hatsumode at the shrine. Tokyo Tower staff also recommends, “the early morning of the new year’s day seems to make the air more transparent than usual. The chance of being able to see Mt. Fuji is very high, so I think it will make you feel like celebrating.”
On the new year’s day, commemorative medals are given out on a first-come, first-serve basis. Throughout the first three days of the new year, there are unique new year performances that increases the voltage very much. If you want to aim for the top in school or work, make sure to visit the Tower Dai Shrine and receive the good fortune of being the highest shrine in all of 23 wards.
Tower Dai Shrine
Address: 4 -2-8 Shibakoen, Minato-ku, Tokyo (inside the main deck of Tokyo Tower)
Hours: 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. (last entry 10:30 p.m.）
Admission: \1,200/adult, \700/kids (primary/junior high school), \500/infants (4 years old or older)
Opened in 1958, this symbol of Tokyo, and of Japan itself, saw its 60th anniversary back in 2018.
Located in Tokyo's Yamanote area, this 333m tall radio tower has both a main deck (150m high) and top deck (250m high) from which you can look out over Mt. Fuji, Mt. Tsukuba, and all of the Tokyo metropolis itself, making it a popular tourist spot not just among the Japanese, but with tourists from all around the world.
The tower's 'Landmark Light' is widely acknowledged to have completely transformed Tokyo's nightscape, and together with the 'Diamond Veil' illuminations launched to mark the tower's 50th anniversary, they're able to paint all manner of pictures in Tokyo's night skyline.
The tower's 'Foot Town' building is replete with services including cafes and souvenir shops, and also hosts a variety of events throughout the year, making the tower the perfect spot for a fun-filled day trip.
The number of visitors to the tower's observation decks has surpassed the total population of Japan, breaking the 180 million people milestone in 2018. In June of 2013 the tower was officially recognized as tangible cultural property of Japan.
Azabuhikawa Shrine – One of the Minato Shichifukujin and Roppongi/Azabu’s total guardianship
It’s about a 10-minute walk on foot from the Azabu-juban Station, walking up Daikokuzaka and Ipponmatsu-zaka. Azabuhikawa Shrine is enshrined in an area where there are embassies and apartment buildings. The construction of the shrine dates back to the Heian period in 938 (Tengyo 1). The records say that the beginning of the shrine was created around Azabu Ipponmatsu, by Seiwa Genji’s founder Minamoto no Tsunemoto, when he marched east during the Taira-no-Masakado Rebellion. On the other hand, there is also a theory that it was Dokan Ota, who built the Edo castle, that made the shrine to be a guardian against disasters in Edo.
The worshipped deities are Susanoo no Mikoto and Yamatotakerunomikoto. The shrine is the total guardianship of Roppongi/Azabu and had claimed strong faith from the Tokugawa Shogunate as well. Generations of shogun made frequent visits here. Also, a character from the Japanese historical drama series in the past, the second shogun lord Hidetada’s seishitsu (official wife), Sugenin (Ogo), prayed for safe delivery here. The history tells that she became the guardian deity of her son, the third shogun Iemitsu.
It was in 1659 (Manji 2) when the shrine moved to the current location. While enjoying the faith of the Shogunate family, it was also one of the seven most popularly believed shrines in Edo, the Hikawa Shrine “Edonana Hikawa.” The shrine offered the soul’s refuge to the ordinary people. In the modern era, the shrine became the inspiration of the shrine that main characters from the anime “Sailor Moon” lived in, and many foreign travelers also visit this shrine.
Inside the shrine past the large torii gate, you find yourself in a solemn space that sets itself apart from the surrounding modern sceneries. The shrine offers good fortune in gambling, becoming luckier, protection against misfortune, and many other wishes. Why not visit the shrine with family and friends, each making a wish?
Also, Azabuhikawa Shrine, along with Hisakuni-jinja Shrine (Hoteison) and Kumano Shrine (Ebisu), is one of the Minato Shichifukujin (seven lucky deities of Minato-ku), the Bishamonten. The roughly 6 km pilgrimage course visiting the Shichifukujin and Juban Inari-jinja Shrine (treasure ship) is a popular Minato-ku tourist course. Every year, from January 1st to the Coming-of-age-day, stamp rallies of shrines and temples using special colored paper are held. You can get the special colored paper at various places of worship, including the Azabuhikawa Shrine. We also recommend that you start a lucky walk at the beginning of the year too.
According to the shrine's history, it is one of several ancient shrines in the city used to house the divided spirits (bunrei) of the Ise Shrine during the middle of the Heian Period. It got its name of Shiba-daijingu starting from the Meiji Period, before which it was called by other names including Iikura-shinmeigu and Shiba-shinmeigu. The name of Shiba-shinmeigu is known for the famous "Megumi Fight" that took place in March 1805 inside the shrine, where Kanjin-sumo wrestlers such as Yotsuguruma Daihachi and Mizuhiki Seigorou fought with the Megumi-no-tobi, a group of firefighters who considered the area their territory. Even back then, the Minato ward lying in front of the shrine's gates was a lively business district. During the Edo Period, the shrine was a thriving venue for entertainment such as sumo matches and theatrical performances, which were allowed in the shrine grounds. The theater was a type of Edo-sannomiya theater, and is said to have been first held inside Shiba-shinmei in 1645. In September of every year, the "Daradara Festival", an event supposedly named due to its long duration (daradara means lengthy), is held, during which ginger is widely sold inside the shrine and its vicinity, giving the shrine its nickname as the "Ginger Market". As famous as the "Betterazuke market" of Kodenma-cho, the festival was such an enjoyable event for Edo commoners that it was even depicted in ukiyo-e art. During the festival, ginger, chigibako, and amazake are sold. Chigibakos are oval boxes made of cypress, said to bring additional clothing when put into a cabinet, a good luck charm of sorts, whose name comes from the idea of a thousand pieces of wood (chigi) leading to a thousand pieces of clothing (chigi). Beneath the stairway is a savings mound built to commemorate Makino Motojirou's achievements in establishing the Real-estate and Savings Bank (Fudo-chokin-ginkou).
This temple was founded by the Buddhist monk Kōbō Daishi in the year 824, the first year of the Tencho era of the Heian period. Shinran, a monk designated bodhisattva, visited this temple in the Kamakura period. The priest Ryoukai who received him had such esteem for Shinran's virtue that he converted the entire temple complex to Jodo Shinshu (True Pure Land School) Buddhism. During the Bakufu (the closing days of the Tokugawa Shogunate), the first American envoy, Townsend Harris, was received here. This temple, where the bonds of Japanese-American friendship were deepened, was also frequently visited by such eminent figures as Yukichi Fukuzawa and Masuda Takashi, who built the foundation of modern Japan. On the temple grounds, the "Ginkgo Tree at Zenpukuji" has been designated as a protected natural monument, it is over 750 years old.