Washinomiya Shrine (previously Washimiya Shrine) is known as the oldest shrine in the Kanto region. It is located in Kuki City, Saitama Prefecture, just North of Tokyo. There is a lot a debate over the age of the shrine. Some put it at 1900 years old, which actually wouldn’t make it the oldest. But the general consensus is that it is more than 2000 years old. Nobody contests, no matter what its age, that it is most definitely one of the oldest in the greater Tokyo area. Furthermore, the shrine is home to a designated important intangible folk cultural property of Japan; Washimiya Saibara Kagura. (🔗Youtube, English language video from Kuki City).
The deities worshipped at Washinomiya shrine are Amenohohi no mikoto. Amenohohi is the second child of Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess. Amenonohi’s child Takehinatori no mikoto and Ohonamuji no mikoto are also enshrined at Washinomiya. The benevolence of the shrine is said to be prosperity and luck in love / relationships. Apart from being home to the protected cultural asset Saibara Kagura, the shrine is also home to several cultural assets such as ancient documents, swords and mirrors.
I visited in February to see the nearby kawazu zakura (early blooming cherry blossoms). I had featured Washinomiya on the blog before for their summer festival event, so I had a rough idea about what to expect before my visit. However, the shrine far surpassed my expectations. For example, the precincts are larger than I expected. In addition, there are several smaller shrines in the precincts. Furthermore, there’s lot of open space, which accommodates the festival stalls and thousands of pilgrims for the annual celebrations. Moreover, there is more lush wood and it is more tranquil than I how I had imagined it.
By the by, I only do that with events – share information even though I haven’t been there myself. With hundreds of events around Saitama its impossible to get to them all in one year, but I aim to see all the biggest ones before I’m 50! Furthermore, in order to disseminate the information in advance, I share the information available. Moreover, often events are new or once off. But there is a point to this. What made me work on this post (of 192 posts still sitting in drafts) today, is that aforementioned summer festival should have been coming up this Saturday. It is held every year on July 31st. Furthermore, it is timely as tomorrow I am featuring Kuki City on the In Saitama Facebook page! Every day I feature a different city, town or village.
The first prayers at a shrine (or temple) are called “hatsumode“. Hatsumode is celebrated in January, with shrines generally having special ceremonies between January 1st and 3rd. Smaller shrines may only have something on the 1st of January, but Washinomiya Shrine is a prominent shrine. Moreover, it is the second most visited shrine in all of Saitama during the New Year period. During the period there are festival stalls and several special events including one of six annual kagura performances.
Washinomiya Summer Festival
The Washinomiya Shrine summer festival involves some quintessential Japanese rites and traditional customs. The festival is held on July 31st annually (except during the pandemic). One of the rarer practices is Shinto priests on a boat floating paper dolls down the Tonegawa river. Moreover, the famous Saibara kagura is performed. For the summer festival this involves shinto priests arriving on horses. In addition, portable shrines are carried around the precincts. Moreover, in recent years, they’ve also incorporated the Lucky Star anime into the festival with handmade Lucky Star ‘mikoshi’ portable shrines.
The Lucky Star Shrine
While, history lovers are familiar with this shrine because of its age and several other historical hallmarks, anime fans know it as the Takanomiya Shrine from “Lucky Star”. Lucky Star is an anime that follows the daily lives of high school girls. The Takanomiya Shrine, where two of the characters are Shrine Maidens, is based on Washinomiya Shrine. The shrine has cashed in on the marketing opportunity. You can buy all sorts of Lucky Star paraphernalia at the shrine, such as Lucky Star ’ema’ prayer plaques. People even draw their own Lucky Star pictures on the ema. They are currently “Road of Olympic Returns” version for 2021. Often anime fans visit the shrine on Seichi Junri – a type of pilgrimage of real life scenery that features in anime. Washinomiya shrine goes above and beyond to cater the fans – even the manhole covers in the precincts have Lucky Star characters on them!
Mike Hattsu has three different posts showing Lucky Star anime scenes vs the real life scenery. Here is the first one from back in 2014. I have linked Mike Hattsu’s Anime Journeys blog on this blog quite a few times. His blog is my go-to for real life anime scenery. I am not overly familiar with anime (except Ghibli and Moomin!), so I find Mike’s blog a great resource when I’m writing posts like this. I sometimes visit a shrine or attraction that I know are famous among anime lovers, but I am not familiar with the anime myself. If you like anime and would like to visit anime locations, please do check out his anime journeys. You will find a wealth of information there.
In the News
The shrine often features in the news or at least newspapers. For several different reasons. For example, in 2019 after the horrendous attack on Kyoto Animation, fans flocked to Washinomiya shrine to pray for the victims. Another fairly recent newsworthy occurrence at the shrine was the collapse of the torii in August 2018. On my visit in 2021 the torii still hadn’t been replaced, but when I visited again in March 2022 the new torii was up.
Washinomiya Shrine Information
The cherry blossoms are very picturesque at this shrine too. They bloom from around the end of March until early April.
|Address:||1 Chome-6-1 Washinomiya, Kuki, Saitama 340-0217|
|Hours:||The precincts are open 24 hours, but the shrine is only open from 9 am to 4 pm at the moment.|
|Cost:||For just a visit; an offering in one (or all) of the prayer boxes. Amulets, prayer votives and religious ceremonies all have varying costs.|
The nearest station is Washinomiya Station on the Tobu Isesaki Line.
By car: the nearest interchange is “Kuki” on the Tohoku Expressway. Parking for 50 cars.