Lisa's In And Around Tokyo: Naritasan Shinshoji - - How Narita Airport Got Its Name

Lisa's In and Around Tokyo: Naritasan Shinshoji--How Narita Airport got its name

When you hear the word "Narita," the first association to pop up for most people is probably the airport. But what's second?

I asked four people (this is a really scientific survey), and they all said Naritasan or Shinshoji. So that must be it.

As I approached Naritasan, I saw banners with "1080" everywhere. In my mind, this number refers to 1080 HDTVs, which for the uninitiated, is a television screen that looks darn magnificent.

However, when I got up close to look at the fine print beneath "1080," I read that this year is the 1,080th anniversary of the founding of Naritasan.

That’s pretty impressive.

The "omotesando" thoroughfare that takes you from JR Narita Station to Naritasan Shinshoji temple is reminiscent of streets and alleys that lead to shrines and temples in Kyoto. It looks nothing like the Omotesando area in the Harajuku-Aoyama district that today is a nirvana for fashionistas.

Narita’s omotesando retains an Edo Period (1603-1867) look. Between souvenir shops, there are "unagi" restaurants left and right. A pilgrimage to the temple and eating eel seem to go hand in hand.

I went to the "chozuya" water pavilion located in front of the temple grounds to purify my mouth and hands. Set there was an old monument with the words "Lantern donated in perpetuity (eitai kentou)" followed by the engraved words "HOT DOG." What the ...? I googled high and low but could find no explanation about this. How curious.

Before me stood the graceful and magnificent temple with the vibrant five-color Buddhist flag, "goshikimaku," flapping in the breeze. (Which was vibrant like the 1080 TV. Follow me?)

Shinshoji temple is of the Shingon Buddhist sect, and the five colors represent the Five Wisdom Buddhas ("gochi nyorai") and the four directions plus the center. The three-storied pagoda to the side is adorned with the same five-color motif and has fine carvings of ocean waves and clouds. The brightness and contrast of the colors are quite powerful!

Unlike many temples in Japan, there is very little subtlety. Bright white vending machines dispensing divinations dot the area where amulets can be purchased. Near the Nio-Mon Gate is a small pond with an anybody can clearly see "that’s a turtle stone" in the center. And, I’ve never seen so many stones and walls with sponsorships etched in them.

The famous Kabuki family of Ichikawa Danjuro is known as Naritaya. The first Danjuro hailed from this area and gave a spine-chilling performance of Fudo-Myou, a deity enshrined here, and successive generations all remain strongly connected to the temple.

A colorful, "vivid 1080" temple with ties to flashy Kabuki--that’s Naritasan Shinshoji.


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This article by Lisa Vogt, a Washington-born and Tokyo-based photographer, originally appeared in the April 1 issue of Asahi Weekly. It is part of the series "Lisa’s In and Around Tokyo," which depicts the capital and its surroundings through the perspective of the author, a professor at Meiji University.