Tokyo Shrine That Is A Weather Vane Whether It Rains Or Shines

Tokyo shrine that is a weather vane whether it rains or shines

In 1944, with the war turning against Japan, officers attached to the Imperial Japanese Army's weather department in Tokyo's Suginami Ward decided to build a shrine to pray for the accuracy of weather forecasts.

Their intention was to find the right omens to stage fighter plane sorties.

The Shinto shrine, since relocated to the capital's Koenji district, is the only known sanctuary in Japan dedicated to weather.

But these days, people visit Kishojinja (weather shrine) to pray for the success of events and good business.

In April 2018, Mikako Matsui, 53, became chief priest of Kishojinja, taking over the position that had been held by her father.

Matsui, an only child, said she hopes that the weather, come rain or shine, will provide a gateway for people to forge ties with Shintoism in this age of secularization.

Wooden votive tablets hang at many spots in Kishojinja, which stands in the precincts of Koenji Hikawajinja shrine. All the wishes expressed on them are about weather.

"May our wedding day be sunny," reads one. "May our trip be blessed with fine weather," says another ... and so on.

On a recent day, there was even one that cryptically said, "Good-bye to being a rain man."

The tablets, which cost 500 yen ($4.60), are shaped like geta, or wooden clogs, which were often thrown in the air in bygone years to divine the weather. Up to 600 tablets are offered every month, shrine officials said.

"Many people return to our shrine to offer their thanks, saying that their prayer worked," said Daishin Kontani, a 39-year-old priest.

The shrine also provides three to four devotional services every month. Officials of the Yokohama DeNA BayStars professional baseball team, including the senior managing director, have visited Kishojinja annually since 2015 to pray for fine weather.

"Yokohama Stadium, our home field, is an open-air ballpark, where the turnout depends on the weather," a BayStars representative said.

Visitors to the shrine also include organizers of outdoor events, such as fireworks festivals, and officials of air conditioner and tire manufacturers, whose sales figures are affected by weather, shrine officials added.

In 1948, after the war had ended, Kishojinja was relocated to the grounds of Koenji Hikawajinja shrine. The move was orchestrated by the chief priest who had many acquaintances in the weather department.

For decades, Kishojinja went almost unnoticed by crowds in Koenji Hikawajinja’s precincts.

And then, 10 or 20 years ago, things took an unexpected turn: Suddenly, there was a surge of visitors planning to sit a national exam to become certified weather forecasters who wanted the blessings of the deities.

Most came to pray for their success in the exam.

This led to a flood of media reports, and so word about the shrine's association spread, and later through social networking about the shrine's unusual association with the weather.

"As I was growing up, it was taken for granted, since my childhood, that I would take over these duties," Matsui said.

She used to assist with purification services at ground-breaking ceremonies and did clerical work for the shrine. She took over the chief priesthood after her father fell ill.

The shrine’s fame has spread beyond national borders in recent years, and nowadays many visitors are from overseas, Matsui said.

"It is believed that there are around 80,000 Shinto shrines across Japan, but ours is the only one dedicated to weather," she said. "It is on the itinerary of dating couples, too."