Day 4 is a special day… a very special day.. it’s the day for… Washinomiya!
For those who’s not familiar with anime or otaku-dom, Washinomiya is one of the most sacred places for otakus. It is a small town an hour out north of Tokyo, it has one of the oldest shinto shrine in Kanto. So far so good.
What makes it so special is it being the backdrop setting for the manga & anime Lucky Star. Two of the main characters, the Hiiragi twins, work as mikos at their family’s shinto shrine. The shrine happens to be based on Washinomiya shrine, near the city of Kuki where the author lives.
Lucky Star became cult status and a symbol of otaku-dom due to its in-jokes about otaku-dom, thanks its main character lead Konata, a proud and self-professed otaku girl. Konata is so famous she has become deified by many, half-jokingly, sometimes referred to as Konata-sama (Goddess Konata).
The older Hiiragi twins, Kagami, is also worshipped, not least because of her name is a reference to mirrors, a symbol of high importance in shinto. Also because she’s a tsundere with yuri streak, and what otaku doesn’t love a tsundere yuri. (WARNING: if you’re under 18, don’t look up the term yuri)
With Lucky Star reaching unparalleled popularity, Washinomiya also became a holy place for otakus and holds a special place in our hearts. Like Mecca or Jeurasalem, thousands of otakus make the pilgrimage to visit and pray at the shrine each year.
At first the town was skeptical of this strangely bestowed status, but after a while warmed up to the influx of visitors and the boost to the local economy, hosting festivals and incorporating Lucky Star themes in their local shops.
Enough background, off to Washinomiya!
It’s barely 7, heading east from Ueno on the Asakusa-dori.
A leisurely morning walk, some 15min with few traffic and enjoyable neighborhood.
The Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate)
Kaminarimon up close
It’s still early, the shops in the main causeway still closed.
The main causeway
A ningyo-yaki shop started early. Ningyo-yaki is like tai-yaki but made with faces.
Leading up to the inner gate
I did not stay long at the shrine however, it’s more a pass through while on my way to Tobu rail’s station further east near the river.
Before I start though I have breakfast.
Mos Burger or Doutor, hmm
Doutor is cheaper with the coffee, coffee it is!
Tobu rail's carriage
Tobu rail’s trains are older than the fancy ones on Yamanote, but still very clean and comfy.
I had to change twice, once at Hikifune and once more at Kuki. I got a little confused at Hikifune, since the express I was on goes to the Tobu Zoo which is about 3/4 of the way to Washinomiya, while the train announcement seems to indicate I should transfer here for a rapid trains. Everyone got off and onto the rapid though so off I went. Turned out it was the correct choice and the train made few stops.
Countryside near Tobu Zoo
Once past the Tobu Zoo the train leaves suburbia and into farmlands. The fields are barren at this time of year.
The station is quiet and empty, almost desolate. I see a Lucky Star omikoshi, a vessel for the gods. People carry on it shoulders during festivals and bring the gods on a tour of their domain.
Lucky Star omikoshi
Lucky Star covered shop windows
Stream running through Washinomiya
Washinomiya feels very much a rural farming town. The buildings are a little more aged, and though I hate to say it, a little run down.
Lucky Star flags hanging from the power posts
The local commerce council does their best to capture the otakus, such a running an event where one can collect stamps by spending at various local shops. Once all the stamps have been collected you can then exchange for a special Lucky Star gift.
A poster about a Lucky Star promotion
Konata and Kagamin in various cosplay
Washinomiya main street
After a quick tour of the town, it’s time to at last pay my respect.
This scene appears in the opening credits of the anime
Paved footpath of the shrine
Ema stand here are drawn with anime characters
One professing love for Konata
Huge ema praying for the victims of the quake
Stand where people ties bad fortunes they received, leaving bad fortunes behind
The cleansing basin, not as fancy as the major shrines in Tokyo. Instead it gives a more down to earth, tranquil aura, as if the gods are truly watching and giving their blessings over the simple folks.
The main temple
I pay my respect and offer a prayer. I’m not sure whether one pull the bell before or after the prayer, I went offerings->pull bell->clap hands->prayer.
I also bought an omamori and an ema which I wrote my wish and hung up.
The inner sanctum
Almost lunch time. Back on the main street I decide to go into this place I passed earlier. The blackboard outside promised beef curry and coffee.
Inside the takoyaki
Poster advertising the town
An exchange notebook, like the one in Madoka cafe
The owner is a nice middle aged lady, who first mistook me for Japanese. After I explains that I’m from Taiwan she smiled even warmer, saying that she had been to Taiwan before as well and love the place. I am the only patron, so I was able to have some light conversations with her. My Japanese is lacking, but given some time I generally can discern the words she speaks. Generally I know enough nouns, it’s the adjectives and various polite forms in Japanese that makes it difficult, so if the speaker have the patience and time to simply their sentences I can understand them.
Being a small rural town I don’t imagine she gets much outside, outside the visiting otakus, and even then probably even less foreigners, either way she is the friendliest person I meet on my trip.
Curry beef rice
Coffee, I like the cup
I think she really warmed up to me when I complemented on her coffee cups. She points out the direction of the shrine, thinking that’s where I’m headed (though the shrine is a little hard to miss, hehe). I reply that I have already been there. Obviously she really want to show me where the fun is, she mentions that there’s a history archive on the other end of town.
She then shows me a poster of the hajisai festival, where the omikoshi gets carried into the shrine itself in a huge festival. After some rephrasing the question, I finds out that it happens on the first sunday of each September. I thanks her and says that I will be back next year at that time.
Lucky Star chilly sauce
When I leave, the lady even gave me a anime themed promotional paper fan. Such a nice lady. If anyone out there goes to Washinomiya, please remember to visit Takoyaki and support the lady and the town.
Thanks to the lady, the history archive turns out to be a very interesting place. Without her I would never have knew to visit the place.
The archive has a series of displays describing the birth and history of the town, its importance during the shogunate eras.
Because of the town’s position at the fork of a major river, the town held vital importance in both agriculture and travel. In the sengoku period the town also sits on the border of the local daimyo’s domain which makes it a place of high importance. The shrine enjoys patronage from high profile people including the shogun Togukawa.
Washinomiya history archive
I didn’t see any anime painted cars, sadly, I guess it is the quiet period before the New Year.
Feeling quite happy from my pilgrimage, I go in late afternoon, once again passing through Asakusa on the way.
Now that's a crowd
I took the back streets this time, and finds that there are actually a lot of hidden away temples, some are local protector shinto shrines. Some however are funeral temples, where the temple offers grave slots where people can purchase to be buried in.
A small local shinto shrine in Asakusa
After a short rest back in the hotel, it’s time for the night’s event. Shiodome!
My dinner is in Shiodome City Center, one of the complexes in Shiodome, at a ton-katsu restaurant called Katsukura.
After my first day’s encounter though I found the place to be a huge let down. Quite a bit more expensive and quite a bit worse. I guess large restaurant chains just can’t have the same quality as good single owner restaurants that passionate care about their dishes.
There’s a few Xmas displays scattered about Shiodome.
The polar express
The absolute stunner, the show piece that by itself warrants a visit to Tokyo during Xmas, an artistic presentation that conjures the most fantastic dreams. Is Carreta’s Blue Forest.