Seeking romance worthy of a fairy tale, young women from across Japan visit Imamiyajinja shrine here in Kyoto’s Nishijin district to buy a lucky amulet that might help them snag a rich husband.
The shrine is widely recognized as “Tamanokoshi shrine,” in honor of what is considered the most impressive Cinderella story in Japanese history.
Tamanokoshi literally means a litter decorated with marbles, a vehicle for the noble and wealthy, and now refers to a woman marrying a man of power and wealth.
The shrine is dedicated to Keishoin (1627-1705), the mother of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi (1646-1709), the fifth shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty.
The daughter of a local vegetable vendor, she was picked by the third shogun Iemitsu (1604-1651) to be one of his concubines.
After her son Tsunayoshi succeeded the throne in 1680, Keishoin moved to Edo Castle and became the most powerful woman of the inner palace. She was also granted the highest rank of nobility for a woman.
Devoutly religious, Keishoin donated a large farming plot to Imamiyajinja shrine, which at the time was run down from warfare and famine. But she died in the capital at the age of 79 without realizing her desire to one day return to her hometown.
In period novels and movies, she is usually depicted as a beautiful but jealous, menial and cunning woman. But according to Myokyo Ono, a 90-year-old priest and chief librarian at Tokyo’s Gokokuji temple, which has historical ties with Keishoin, she was actually far from the way she has been depicted.
“She was raised by austere and religious parents, and was taught strict manners. She was a person of diligence and self-reservation, abstaining from luxuries throughout her life,” he said.
While her contribution to the Imamiyajinja shrine has been forgotten over time, the shrine started rekindling its historic ties with Keishoin about a decade ago.
At the time, its annual Imamiya-matsuri festival, which traces its history back to the Heian Period (794–1185), was losing popularity, and the number of participants dwindled.
Local parishioners decided to include a special Tamanokoshi portable shrine, which would be carried only by female college students, among the festival’s procession of “mikoshi” portable shrines.
Initially, the women parading the mikoshi through the neighborhood and openly singing “we want a Cinderella story” turned off spectators. But it has since become an important event of the festival.
“It apparently struck a chord for young women,” said the chief priest of Imamiyajinja shrine.