Kameido Tenjin, shitamachi, turtles and the God of Education

If you can believe information found on Google, there are over 100,000 Shinto shrines in Japan. I got my first omikuji (fortune slip) at Asakusa Shrine, took part in a Shinto mass of sorts at Narita shrine, celebrated New Year in Zojoji Shrine, and took long walks around Meiji Jingu Shrine. They’re beautiful and you can really feel a super unique spiritual atmosphere. When you cross the gates of a shrine, it suddenly feels like everything becomes really quiet and you may even forget that you’re actually in the heart of the largest city in the world.

This time I visited Kameido Shrine, which is said to enshrine the God of Education. Apparently it is very crowded during the juken period (or rather shiken jigoku = exam hell….) when thousands of high-schoolers take their grueling university entrance exams. People of any age and any background come here to ask for positive results on any type of exam. You never know if that one point was just a fluke or if it was actually some higher power looking out for you! With the Japanese Language Proficiency Test coming in July, my boyfriend and I decided to go there and ask the God of Education for a little help.

Kameido Tenjin 亀戸天神

Tokyo, Oedo-ku, Kameido3−6−1

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Tokyo shitamachi is an interesting area. Everybody says it’s terribly corny…and well, I won’t say it isn’t, but I have some kind of romantic sentiment towards it, I guess. Shitamachi 下町 (literally 下 = down, 町= town) doesn’t mean ‘downtown’ here, actually, my dear readers, it means quite the opposite. Historically, Tokyo was divided into two parts: Yamanote = richmen, cool kids, glitter, money and high fashion, and Shitamachi = old people, small gangsters, dodgy clubs, cheap alcohol and stray cats.

Today I’m taking you to the latter.

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One might say that it’s some real ghetto stuff we have in here, I’d say in some countries the chairs would be long gone already. So who’s the real winner here?

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But! The other bits of shitamachi are not my topic today but instead I’d like to share a real oasis of peace in the middle of a megalopolis.

Kameido Tenjin is hidden behind trees and bushes, and it’s difficult to believe how close it is from the pride of Tokyo – Tokyo Sky Tree. It’s really quiet here, and if you couldn’t see that sleek giant silhouette thrusting towards the sky in the background, you could easily forget you’re still in Tokyo.

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The name of the shrine (亀戸) suggests that the God of Education may have some little neighbours (亀 = kame, turtle). The pond surrounding the shrine was full of these little creatures. They all know that people = snacks, and they will gather as soon as they see you, so you better prepare some turtle snacks!

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Majestic Kameido Shrine

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This has to be my favourite part of each shinto shrine. There are hundreds and hundreds of little wooden plates with wishes written on them. They’re called ema (絵馬) and they come in tons of cute designs and shapes. I know that maybe I shouldn’t really do it I guess, but I like to sneak a peek or two at what other people write on their ema. I have seen the loveliest of wishes, for health, for love, for a baby, for a happy marriage…

But since the main resident here is the God of Education, there’s one word you can see on almost all emas at Kameido Tenjin — 合格 goukaku = pass [an exam].

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Upon arrival at any shinto shrine, there is some purification stuff to be done. You’ll easily find a water basin called temizuya where you should perform the temizu ritual.

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Hold the scoop with your left hand, fill it with water and pour some of the cool water on to your right hand…

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…change hands and repeat…

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…cup the water with your hand and rinse your mouth with it,  but don’t drink it!  Then rinse the scoop with the remaining water and place it where you previously found it. Simple as that!

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My second favourite thing about shinto shrines has to be omikuji and omamori! I love browsing through the variety of lucky charms, even if I don’t actually end up buying them since I already own a bunch. There’s something for everyone: safety on the road, safe labor and delivery, lucky charms bringing health, love, success and happiness. If you’d like to know something more about your love life, you can get a special love fortune slip for 300 yen (regular ones cost 100 yen). They’re all written in Old Japanese though, so most of the time I just hope there’s something nice written on them.

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Time to leave my own ema at Kameido Tenjin!

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Since I was a child, I have always heard “Don’t reveal your wishes, otherwise they won’t come true!” so just in case I wrote them in my native Polish, so I could be sure that nobody who visits the shrine (and who has a habit of reading other people’s ema…) knows what’s on my mind.

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So peaceful and harmonic…

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My boyfriend and I got regular omikuji for 100 yen and as we expected, they were written in Old Japanese with lots of metaphors and stuff, so we gave up on trying to read them. Anyway, the most important thing is whether they’re actually good fortune slips or bad fortune slips. Here’s a useful glossary:

大吉 daikichi — great fortune

中吉 chuukichi — moderate fortune

小吉 shoukichi – not so amazing but still fortune

吉 kichi – not amazing at all, but better than 凶

凶  kyou — you better be careful

大凶 daikyou – very bad luck aka you’re screwed

But no worries! If you have a misfortune of getting a 凶 or a 大凶, you can simply tie the slip on a special string provided and this way you can break the jinx. This time I got the 中吉, so I guess I have no reasons to worry.

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The JLPT test is on the 6th of July. It’s not me who is gonna take the test this time, though one day I might, just to check myself. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for the boyfriend though, he will challenge the top N1 level. Dear God of Education, we’re counting on you.

Thanks for reading ♥

***

BONUS!

A happy catfish has some news.

Japan.

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15 thoughts on “Kameido Tenjin, shitamachi, turtles and the God of Education

    • Szczerze powiedziawszy były to moje pierwsze odwiedziny w Kameido Tenjin, ale słyszałam o festiwalu i wybiorę się może za rok 🙂

  1. When you got an “bad fortune”, could you buy a second omikuji? like a second chance? I always had a good or great fortune ^^ so i dont know what i could do, when i get a “bad” one.

    great blog! thanks for the translation of the kanji!

    • I haven’t had a bad fortune omikuji yet either, but if I had one, I would just tie it on that string, I think omikuji shows your current luck and things that are going on around you now, so I don’t buy two omikuji in one day. Basically I get an omikuji once in 6 months or so 🙂

  2. This shrine is featured in old ukiyoe prints sometimes….still looks the same today as it did back then—except instead of the Sky Tree in the background, Mt Fuji used to be visible.

  3. This was really cool 🙂 My husband was raised as a Shintoist in Japan, but he’s kind of agnostic now. He visits temples when he goes back to Japan though. I hope your boyfriend passes the test! My husband is Japanese, but I don’t know much :/ I need to get off my butt and learn 😄 We live in America, so there’s not a huge impetus for me to learn it right now.

    • I guess shrines are fun to visit regardless of religion 🙂 It’s never too late to start learning something new, you have a native speaker at home so it might be fun! :3

  4. I’ve never visited this shrine but it looks lovely, very peaceful. Argh the JLPT :O, good luck to your boyfriend, I’m doing the N4 one. I need to study more. I love the catfish at the end :D, so random.

  5. I’ve never heard of this place, but it looks lovely! Good luck to your boyfriend on the N1, too! I passed and still don’t understand old Japanese, so I’m sure he’ll be fine (:

  6. Always a pleasure to read your posts. The picture with you on that bridge was stunning, in the background the street somehow reminded me of anime a lot, i dont know why haha, but yeah, Thank you so much for the post ^~^

    • Thank you very much for reading and leaving a comment 🙂 I agree, Tokyo looks so unreal sometimes, I feel as if I was inside of a manga or anime 🙂

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