One of the three main entrances (Photo: Joe Robinson)

Hanazono Shrine, Shinjuku

A quiet escape from metropolitan life

One of the three main entrances (Photo: Joe Robinson)
Joe Robinson   - 3 min read

There are often no tourists at Hanazono Shrine (Hanazono-jina). At around midday, its handful of visitors consists mainly of retired Japanese or local salarymen on their lunch break, praying for fortune in their business endeavours. Hanazono Shrine is dedicated to Inari, the kami of worldly success and fertility, so it’s no surprise that such a shrine situated in a busy and modern hub like Shinjuku attracts interest from those seeking profit. The shrine has a history stretching back to the earliest days of the Edo period, though numerous reconstructions (including one taking place now) have kept it looking as pristine as the day it was built. Its name literally means “flower garden” and while there aren’t many flowers to be seen, there are plenty of trees providing shade from the sun and an escape from busy Tokyo life.

Dwarfed by the multi-storey modern buildings surrounding it, Hanazono Shrine is small and inconspicuous compared to other sites like the Tennoji or Meiji shrines. An easy walk from Shinjuku station’s east exit, or to/from the nearby Golden Gai drinking area, it is an oasis of red and green in an urban desert of grey and brown. There are entrances from three directions, each with a different torii gate. Kitsune (fox) guardians are the traditional companions of Inari and can be found around the shrine, mainly clustered around a small auxiliary shrine situated at the end of a tunnel of torii. The main hall is unimposing but immaculate, containing offerings of sake and a stunning set of golden steps.

The shrine is the site of traditional festivals almost every month, and at the time of my visit I had just missed the Shinto purification festival that takes place in June. On Sundays, I’m told the wide space in the center of the shrine opens itself up to stalls selling antiques and other wares. Even if you can’t make it to a special event, when you find yourself with an hour or two of free time in Shinjuku and feel like taking a few deep breaths somewhere peaceful, then you should definitely visit. Hanazono Shrine is a pocket of peace and greenery, the relative tranquility of which is only added to by the constant horns and engines of the roads around it. Much like how rain makes you doubly appreciate being indoors, it is the metropolitan surroundings of Hanazono Shrine that make it all the more charming despite its humble appearance.

Joe Robinson

Joe Robinson @joe.robinson

21 year old Chinese Studies student at the University of Sheffield, UK Keen photographer (film and digital) and lover of all things East Asian In Tokyo for July 2016!