Hie shrine, while not as big as Meiji Jingu in Tokyo, is a shrine of enormous historical significance and bound to keep anyone with a camera, very happy. It has lots of monkeys, gates (torii) and an unusual escalator all located in the middle of the city. And if that isn’t enough for you, it is home to one of the most important festivals – the Sanno. Put all this in an urban setting and it is something you surely wouldn’t want to miss.
If you need a brief history of it, I think I could sum it up quickly for you. The shrine was originally established by Ota Dokan within the grounds of Edo castle (now the Imperial Palace). When Ieyasu Tokugawa moved to Edo, he moved it to its current location. From 1871 to 1946, it was designated as a Kanpei-taisha (官幣大社), meaning that it was top-ranked as a government supported shrine. In World War II it was destroyed in the bombings and rebuilt in 1958. Brief enough?
As for any visit to the shrine, I think, there are three things there that will grab anyone’s attention. First, are the monkey statues. Not that many shrines have them, so why here? The kami (god/spirit) of Hie shrine is Oyamakui-no-kami , from Mt. Hie in Shiga prefecture (from which the shrine gets its name). He used monkeys for his messengers and so as the temple is dedicated to him, there are many monkey statues instead of the usual koma-inu (lion-dogs) or foxes. And as these animals are considered patrons of harmonious marriages and safe childbirth, you see many women come to the shrine to pray. Walk around the shrine and you’ll see monkeys everywhere, including on the ema. You can even buy monkey protective amulets (omamori) there too.
Hie shrine is also known for its torii (gates at the entrance of Shinto shrines). If you enter from the west side, they make a tunnel on the stairs of the hill. It would have to be one of the most photographed places at the shrine. Not as famous as the torii at Fushimi Inari in Kyoto, but still very attractive, it’s such a popular photo spot.
Maybe a minor thing for many people, you’ll also find an outdoor escalator there. As the shrine is on top of a hill, a large hill, and on some sides very steep it was probably a good idea to build it . I for one prefer the escalator to walking up all the stairs!
The shrine is also famous for its festival, the Sanno, which is held in June every year. It’s a another great festival in Tokyo, but I think it’s not quite as large as the Sanja at Sensoji. Every second year it includes a procession that tours the city, including a stop at the Imperial Palace. It is one of the big three festivals in Tokyo and is enormously popular.
For me though, I love the shrine with its classic Japanese architecture. And as it is in the middle of an enormous city, there are a few equally enormous buildings looking down upon it. So, you get that nice contrast between old and new, the quiet shrine and busy city outside. It is very beautiful.
On the grounds you will also find a “Collection Hall” (like a mini-museum) that houses quite a few weapons, old omikoshi (portable shrines) from the Edo period, and even lion masks covered with a shogun’s calligraphy practice. It is all interesting, but you really need to be able to read Japanese to understand everything inside.
Whether you visit Hie just to experience a Japanese shrine, take a few pictures or attend the Sanno, I think you will find something there for you. You can see its website here.
How to get to Hie Shrine
There are several stations near the shrine: Tameike-Sanno (a five-minute walk); Akasaka-Mitsuke (also a five-minute walk), as well as Akasaka and Nagatacho. Here is a Google map:
Cost of admission
From April to September it is open from 5 am to 6 pm and from October to March it is open from 6 am to 5 pm.
If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy:
Fire Museum – the story of the Tokyo’s firefighters
Hibiya Park – a relaxing place in the center of the city
Imperial Palace – home to Japan’s emperor
Seaside Top – an old observatory with a great view of Tokyo Tower
Shibamata Taishakuten – the temple of carvings