For over a thousand years, Akasaka Hikawa Shrine has been a center of belief, particularly for those seeking protection from misfortunes and for those yearning to forge bonds in relationships.
Remarkably, the shrine has withstood numerous natural disasters and wars, preserving its original structure to this day. The lush, verdant grounds contain remnants from the Edo period, including torii gates, guardian lion-dog statues, and lanterns, offering a unique glimpse into Tokyo’s past.
The Deities of the Shrine
An audacious deity, Susano-o is renowned in Japanese mythology for vanquishing the eight-headed serpent, Yamata-no-Orochi. The divine sword he gained from this conquest, Ame-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi, is regarded as one of the Three Sacred Treasures of Japan.
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Symbolizing “a rice field that bears grain,” Kushinadahime is the deity of fertility and abundance. She was saved from becoming Yamata-no-Orochi’s sacrifice by Susano-o. Following their encounter, the two deities wed and settled in Izumo province.
Okuninushi-no-Mikoto (also known as Ōnamuchi)
A descendant of Susano-o and Kushinadahime, Okuninushi is equated with the deity worshipped at Izumo Taisha Shrine. He, along with his partner deity Sukunabikona, brought prosperity to the land by imparting wisdom on agriculture, fishing, medicine, and other essential skills.
The Blessings Bestowed
The shrine is especially sought after for its blessings in warding off evil and forming bonds. This stems from the legendary feats of Susano-o and his association with Kushinadahime and Okuninushi. These deities not only symbolize romantic bonds but also friendships, business ties, and child blessings.
A Glimpse into its Past
The name Hikawa originates from the Hii River in modern-day Shimane Prefecture. It’s believed that the river’s upper stream was the setting for Susano-o’s battle with Yamata-no-Orochi.
The shrine’s inception dates back to 951 A.D. when a monk established it after receiving a divine revelation in a dream. A century later, during a severe drought, villagers’ prayers for rain at the shrine were miraculously answered, further solidifying its importance.
During the mid-Edo period, the shrine gained prominence with the Tokugawa shogunate. It relocated to its current location in 1730 under the orders of the eighth shogun, Yoshimune. Subsequent shoguns continued to honor the shrine, enhancing its reputation for protecting from misfortunes and aiding in forming bonds.
In the Meiji era, the shrine was designated to guard Tokyo and ensure its citizens’ well-being. It stands today as one of the ten major shrines in Tokyo, a testament to its enduring significance.
The shrine complex, surviving calamities like the 1945 Tokyo air raids, was designated as a tangible cultural asset by Tokyo in 1976. Visitors can experience history firsthand with various relics scattered throughout the lush grounds.
Festivals at Akasaka Hikawa Shrine
Festivals or “matsuri” in Japanese, hold a significant place in the country’s culture. The Akasaka Hikawa Shrine, with its deep-rooted history, is no exception and has a vibrant tradition of hosting several festivals that resonate with the essence of Japan’s spirituality and culture.
Hikawa Festival (Hikawa-sai)
Date: September 15th
The shrine’s most celebrated annual festival, the Hikawa-sai is a grand event attracting both locals and tourists. A traditional parade featuring ornate floats, traditional music, and dancing traverses the streets of Akasaka. At its heart is a mikoshi (portable shrine) procession, wherein the deities of the shrine are carried through the neighborhood, believed to bless the community. This event not only showcases the deep spiritual beliefs of the residents but also provides a glimpse into Japan’s rich cultural traditions.
New Year’s Celebrations (Shōgatsu)
Date: January 1st
Like many shrines across Japan, Akasaka Hikawa Shrine witnesses a throng of visitors on the first day of the New Year. The event is known as Hatsumōde, the first shrine visit of the year. Attendees seek blessings for the year ahead, express gratitude, and partake in rituals such as ringing the shrine’s bell.
Date: February 3rd or 4th
Setsubun, marking the division between winter and spring, is celebrated with enthusiasm at the shrine. Visitors come to participate in the ritual of bean throwing (mamemaki), believed to ward off evil spirits and invite good fortune. Often, local celebrities or sumo wrestlers are invited to the shrine to partake in the bean-throwing event, adding an element of excitement for the attendees.
For those eager to soak in the tranquility and history, the shrine opens its gates at 6:00 AM. The main office welcomes inquiries from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, and the shrine closes at 5:30 PM.