Mushashi Mitake Jinja in the mountains of Okutama in western Tokyo is known as a (rather rare) wolf shrine, but if you walk past the main building, you’ll find a sub-shrine with two pig guardians.
The tiny building will attract a fair share of visitors in 2019, since it’s the year of the pig or wild boar according to Chinese astrology.
The shrine is 1200 years old, and the exact origin of the two statues isn’t clear. They don’t even match: one seems to be a domestic pig; the other one could be a wild boar, which is associated with mountain gods.
Mount Mitake is highly recommended as a day trip from Tokyo. I prefer to hike from nearby Mitake Station, but you can also take a bus and cable car to the top of the mountain. Read more here.
According to Chinese astrology 2019 is the year of the pig or wild boar, which means that temples associated with this zodiac sign will be extra popular. It’s not a common animal at places of worship; I could find only one temple in central Tokyo that’s linked to it.*
Marishiten Tokudai-ji (摩利支天徳大寺) in Ueno is named after Marishiten, which is a transliteration of the Sanskrit word Marici, a Buddhist goddess whose name means “light” or “mirage”. She’s often depicted as travelling on a wild boar. She protects you against danger from all misfortune and evil, robbers and natural disasters; and she cures possession by spirits, relieves difficult deliveries and helps in resolving differences.
The temple in Ueno has a statue of a wild boar that was allegedly hand-carved in 1708 by Prince Shōtoku (聖徳太子), who’s been called the founder of Buddhism in Japan. You can’t view the statue, but according to the temple’s website it looks like that up ↑ there.
Read more about Marishiten here, and about the prince here.
The temple is in the heart of the street market Ameya Yokochō near Okachimachi Station. If you visit it, remember to pop into the famous Niki no Kashi (二木の菓子) across the street: they’ve been a sweets vendor in this area since 1947.
*There’s another one in Okutama, Musashi Mitake Jinja.
Mikii Inari Jinja (美喜井稲荷神社) is a delightfully obscure shrine that’s hidden between tall buildings in Akasaka. It has a cat statue instead of Inari’s usual foxes, and wooden carvings of a cat playing with a bird and another cat apparently eating a magatama, which symbolizes the human soul.
Try as I might, I couldn’t find a reliable explanation. I read that there used to be a house that took care of stray cats, but the house burned down. I also read that the owner had a cat called Mikii-chan, but the cat didn’t die in the fire, so after the cat’s death, a shrine was erected.
Let’s not forget this sign at the shrine: この神さまにお願いする方は蛸を召し上がらぬこと。この神さまを信仰される方はなにも心配いりません。Those who pray to this god do not (or shall not; it’s old Japanese) eat octopus. Those who believe in this god don’t have to worry about a damn thing.
I paraphrase with considerable poetic licence, but that’s the gist of it.
It was at this point that I gave up. Octopus? What does octopus have to do with cats?! “Cats!” I muttered to myself. “Who understands cats? It’s pointless. Just worship them.”
PS: I did ascertain that cats should not eat raw seafood, because it can cause a thiamine deficiency, which can cause neurological problems, but I still can’t explain the whence, whither and wherefore of this shrine.
I spotted this Statue of Liberty in Ueno Park this morning. According to its plaque, it was originally located in Ishinomaki, damaged in the big quake and then restored by a student at Geidai (the Tokyo University of the Arts, which is just around the corner).