This Shinto Shrine in Tokyo Appeals to Runners, Foodies, and Manga Fans

This Shinto Shrine in Tokyo Appeals to Runners, Foodies, and Manga Fans

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Runner's Shrine - Kameari Katori Shrine
Pictures: Gengorou; プラナ / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
Planning a run? One shrine in Tokyo, made famous by a long-running manga, has a protective charm just for you. Plus , you can carb up on pastries while you're there.

It’s getting harder for Shinto shrines in Japan to keep and attract visitors. One shrine in Tokyo is pulling out all the stops to appeal to a diverse crowd of worshippers. If you like running, eating sweets, and manga/anime, read about the shrine that has the potential to grant all your wishes.  

Runner’s luck

Kameari Katori Shrine
Picture: Gengorou / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

Kameari Katori Shrine, in Tokyo’s Katsushika, is the place for superstitious runners, manga/anime fans, pastry lovers, or all of the above. For over 300 years, people have prayed for healthy legs and hips here. The shrine also appears in the manga and anime Kochikame: Tokyo Beat Cops.

For just over four years, visitors have also indulged in European pastries. In 2018, chief priest Karamastu Norio and patisserie chef Igarashi Hiroshi brought their professions together to achieve their common goal––strengthening community ties.

La Rose des Japonais lines the pathway stretching inwards from the torii gate where thousands of marathon runners pass to deliver prayers before racing.

“It gets especially busy on the weekends after the Tokyo Marathon selection results and before the race. The runners themselves visit, of course, but their families and friends come to support them, too. In just this one season, there are probably 1,000 worshippers,” Karamatsu tells reporters.

Protecting legs and hips for centuries

The Kameari Katori Shrine is part of the Katori shrine group, comprising some 300 shrines in the Kanto region. Katori shrines answer sacred prayers for modern-day athletes. It has its roots in the martial arts: it’s the only Katori shrine that is home to the Dōso-kamisama (道祖神様), which protects worshippers from bad luck on the road.

“These are home to the gods of martial arts––also called the gods of battle. Nowadays, people see them as the gods of sports in general. Of all the Katori Shrines, Kameari Katori Shrine is specifically where everyone comes to pray for healthy legs and hips.”

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Before Tokyo became the hub of ginormous maze-like train stations and shinkansen stops, people about to embark on journeys prayed at Kameari Shrine to prevent leg and hip injuries as they had to travel on foot.

“When public transport didn’t exist as it does today, people setting out for travels would weave straw sandals, offer it to Dōso-kamisama’s shrine, and pray for safety on the road ahead.”

The shrine sells amulets that carry good luck for legs and hips with pictures of a runner’s legs on them.

“Every year in February, before the Tokyo Marathon, there are a lot of people who visit to buy it.”

Many amulets have straw sandal designs. Those in the form of bracelets are popular for those who want to run with the lucky charm.

Cakes and manga

Ema at Kameari Katori shrine depicting the main character, Roy-san, from the manga Kochikame: Tokyo Beat cops

Karamatsu initiated what is likely the first and only merger of Shinto religion and stollen cake after assuming the role of chief priest in 2003. He was in his late twenties and took on the great responsibility unexpectedly and under unfortunate circumstances. His predecessor, also his father, suddenly passed away.

The difficulties of changing management were exacerbated by the declining number of worshippers, which Karamatsu was determined to turn around.

Asking Igarashi to move his store from Kanamachi to the shrine was part of that attempt. The store was an immediate success at its first location and still has a steady customer base today. The “pixy” cake is the most popular, according to Igarashi.

Another initiative to increase community participation at the shrine was to highlight its appearance in manga and anime.

In 2010, Karamatsu installed a statue of Kochikame’s main character Ryō-san and began making wooden plaques called ema (絵馬) with Ryō-san’s drawing. This attracts both foreign and domestic tourists to this day.

“We gained recognition as a holy place for anime. That gradually increased the number of worshippers. But the next issue was the shrine’s insufficient and aging facilities.”

Kameari Katori’s efforts reflect a larger push among Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples to adapt to changing times. For example, many shrines and temples are now starting to accept cashless donations to avoid the costs incurred by depositing large amounts of physical money.

Sources

ランナーが集結する神社?足腰の健康を祈願する東京・葛飾区「亀有香取神社」. Tarzan

東京・亀有の神社に「世界的パティシエの店」がある理由. 毎日新聞  

さい銭へのキャッシュレス決済導入 外国人客減でも相次ぐワケ. Mainichi Shimbun

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