Another trip we made during my recent visit to Japan was to see an unusual template named Toyokawa Inari, in the Akasaka district of Tokyo. This temple is a prime example of when Buddhism and Shinto religions blend. The blending of the two religions was more common in the early days of Japanese history, but during the early modern Meiji Period (1868-1912), the religions were forcibly separated by law.
Nevertheless, you can see that blending very much at Toyokawa Inari.
When I first got there, I honestly thought it was a Shinto shrine, but I asked one of the nuns that worked there, and she clarified it was actually a Soto Zen temple. It is technically a branch temple of the main Toyokawa Inari temple in Aichi Prefecture, which was supposedly founded by one Kangan Giin. The plaque says it all:
The temple itself isn’t terribly, but it is very dense with shrines and altars, many of them devoted to the Shino deity Inari. While Inari is a Shinto kami for agriculture, business, prosperity and so on, it was also adopted into Buddhism a long time ago as a kind of guardian spirit. This became known as a dakiniten (荼枳尼天) which comes from Indian-Buddhist dakini.
Inari’s primary symbol is the fox, which serves as a messenger for Inari. There were many such shrines in and around the premises:
You also saw the Seven Luck Gods too, such as this shrine to Benzaiten:1
We even found a small shrine to an obscure, esoteric Buddhist deity named Aizen Myō-ō hidden behind another shrine:
However, that’s not to say there weren’t Buddhist elements either. The temple was roughly divided into two areas: the mainly Shinto one, and the mainly Buddhist one. At this building, you could walk in any time, and we saw the priests there chanting the Heart Sutra.
Also, there was a devotional statue to Kannon Bodhisattva too.
Finally, we wandered just outside the temple and enjoyed some inari sushi (the kind with fried tofu).
Finally, I took a chance and did an omikuji fortune here, but to my surprise I got kyō (凶) or bad luck:
Per tradition, you can tie such fortunes onto a certain, designated wire fence so you can “leave behind” your bad luck at the temple. So, I did. It is already a yakudoshi year for me, and I didn’t need more bad luck. 😉
It was a pretty interesting trip and one of the more memorable Buddhist temples I’ve seen in Japan. The blending of so many different religious aspects into one temple may not appeal to everyone, but I like the idea of “something for everyone”. 🙂
P.S. This year I am full-on honyaku (本厄) which means I am in the middle of the most inauspicious time for a person in their life.
1 Again, you might be tempted to think that this is a Shinto thing, or local superstition, but if you visit Sojiji, one of head temples of Soto Zen Buddhism you will find a big altar to Daikokuten, one of the Seven Luck Gods, as well. Some Buddhists think this might be beneath them, but I do like this sense of community outreach. It also helps the coffers a bit too. 😉