[From October Issue 2013]
When you mention Shinto shrines, an image of old looking wooden buildings sitting in spacious grounds comes to mind. However, these days more and more stylish shrines can be found all over Japan. More and more shrines architecturally differ from the traditional model, for example, there are shrines with modern designs that look just like hotels.
The Akagi Shrine is in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo. Due to wear and tear, it was replaced between 2009 and 2010. KUMA Kengo devised the design. Kuma is also known for designing the new version of the Kabuki-za Theatre, which was constructed this year. He put himself forward to oversee the project because his nephew and niece were going to a kindergarten that stood on the grounds of the shrine. The main building is glass fronted and there’s an Italian-style cafe on the grounds.
“It is a modern design, but the shape of the old building has been preserved. Between the Edo era (17-19 centuries) and the prewar years, there used to be a teahouse in the grounds for visitors to relax in, we’ve revived this as a cafe. It looks modern, but it’s based on the old design. The design has attracted increasing numbers of foreign and young visitors,” says KAZEYAMA Hideo, the chief priest of the Akagi Shrine.
A flea market called “Akagi Marche” is held every month in its grounds. With stalls selling handmade goods, china, and confectionery, this flea market is mostly popular with young women and is one of the reasons why the number of visitors has increased.
Some shrines are housed in office blocks. Among these is Yatsumitake Shrine in Nakano Ward, Tokyo. A branch of a sect that is based in Yamanashi Prefecture, this shrine was built in an office block and is so small that was impossible to install an altar.
“By using marble rather than woods such as cypress, we improved the acoustics for gagaku (a traditional form of Japanese music) and norito (chanted Shinto prayers to obtain divine protection). I’ve been told by other chief priests that it ought to be a template for big city shrines. It’s been featured with more and more frequency in magazines aimed at women, like “Hanako,” as a power spot (site with powerful mystical energies),” chief priest YAMAMOTO Yukinori says with a smile.
As many buildings fall into disrepair, opportunities to remodel or totally redesign shrines have increased. This has motivated people who previously had little interest in shrines to visit them. In the future, the number of these sophisticated, modern shrines may increase within Tokyo.
Text: TSUCHIYA Emi