It never stops to amaze me how each shrine I encounter in Tokyo has its own particular history and is linked to something rather important. In the Fukugawa area of Tokyo, near Monzen-Nakacho station, you can find the Tomioka Hachiman Shrine, established in 1627. This shrine is the birth place of Sumo wrestling tournaments and home to one of the largest Shinto festivals in Tokyo.
The shrine was bombed during World War II and the current shrine building dates from 1956. It is the largest shrine in Tokyo dedicated to Hachiman, the god of martial arts and war who was especially popular during the rule of the military clans in the past. Hachiman shrines are the second most numerous shrine type after Inari shrines. The shrine used to face the sea, but land fillings have made the sea shore recede.
The festival associated with this shrine is considered as one of the three great festivals of Edo (old name of Tokyo), the other 2 are Kanda Matsuri and Sannō Matsuri. It is held every three years (2017, 2020, 2023) on and around 15 August. During this festival, around 120 omikoshi (portable shrines) are carried around (54 of which are big ones), while the onlookers throw bucketfuls of water over them to combat the sweltering mid-summer heat, giving it the name of Mizukake Matsuri (Waterpouring Festival). The Omikoshi are kept in each neighborhood and then carried around during the festival. On the grounds of this shrine two of these omikoshi are on display, one of them is said to be the largest in the Kanto region and valued over one billion yen, as it is full of gold, diamonds and rubies. After you enter the shrine grounds and passed through the stone torii, on your left side there is a building in which the omikoshi are exhibited: ichi-no-miya (the big one weighing 4.5 tons, built in 1991) and ni-no-miya (2 tons, built in 1997).
There is also a bit of a sad story connected to this festival. In the early 19th century, after the shogunate banned the festival for twelve years, the crowds eager to celebrate the festival crossed in scores the Sumida river to get to Fukagawa. But the Eitai bridge could not support the weight of the people and collapsed, leading to the death of hundreds.
Sumo monument at the right back of the shrine
Tomioka Hachiman Shrine is most know as the birthplace of Sumo wrestling tournaments. The story goes that for a fundraiser for the shrine (called Kanjin-zumō), they held the first ever Sumo tournament. While Sumo itself is much older (8th century), the sport tournaments only started in 1684 at this shrine. Many Sumo related elements can be find at the shrine, the most obvious being the monument (created in 1900) at the right back of the shrine on which the names of all Yokozuna are transcribed. Yokozuna is the highest rank in sumo and as of May 2017 only 73 wrestlers have earned this rank. You can enter the monument and at the right back you can see the names of the latest Yokozuna (only in Japanese though).
Another Sumo link is that they have Ema with a sumo wrestler on it, definitely a must have for every Sumo fan. However, I found that the Ema with horses and chickens were way more popular during my visit in April 2017, I counted only one Ema with a Sumo wrestler. There is also a stone slab with the sizes of feet and hands of some giant Sumo wrestlers in order that you can grasp how big some of them were.
Names of the latest Yokozuna on the stone monument (right back side). The name of the latest one is Kakuryō Rikisaburō (鶴竜力三郎) who became Yokozuna in May 2014. My visit was in April 2017, but the name of Sekinosato Yutaka who became Yokozuna in March 2017 is not yet included.
Tomioka Hachiman Shrine still holds a lot of relevance to Sumo nowadays:
- Sumo wrestlers in Tokyo come to this shrine twice a year to pray before the season
- When a sumo wrestler attains the rank of yokozuna, a dedication is done at the shrine
If you still want to explore more at this shrine, you can go right of the Sumo monument and find yourself in a another small shrine, with pond containing koi fish. If you go out, you will find a couple of old wooden warehouses and cool bridge, the oldest iron bridge in Tokyo and designated as a Nationally Important Cultural Asset. If you go the the back left of the shrine you have an additional 3 small shrines.
Small additional shrine at the back
The shrine also sports a rather large flea market every 15th and 28th of every month, and an antique market where you can find some true gems every first (Western goods) and second Sunday (Asian goods)) on every month. However, when I visited on the last Sunday of the month (30th of April 2017), I found myself on the Asian antique market, so check the calendar of the shrine if this would be the goal of your visit.
Antique market, held every first and second Sunday of the month.
1-20-3 Tomioka, Koto-ku, Tokyo
Monzen-Nakacho Station – 2 minutes walk (Tozai line, Toei Oedo Line)
Opening hours: always open
Entrance fee: free
When to best visit?
every 15th and 28th of each month: flea market
every first Sunday of the month: Western style antique market
every second Sunday of the month: Asian style antique market
mid-August: Fukagawa Hachiman Matsuri Festival (very crowded!)
Why visit? No other shrine in Tokyo has such an intricate connection with Sumo.
Name in Japanese: 富岡八幡宮