Okunitama Shrine in the western Tokyo suburb of Fuchu sits at the end of a long, broad shopping street lined with towering zelkova trees. After passing under the massive, ten-meter-high concrete torii gate, one sees two smaller shrine structures, two gorgeous wooden gates, a covered sumo ring, and an elegant temizusha (hand washing basin). Here, commercial bustle fades behind as a long history of Shinto worship stretches ahead.
I live just a bike ride away from the shrine and enjoy its busy rhythms. In September, the Chestnut Festival is quiet and folksy, with several hundred charming paper lanterns slowing everyone down for an evening stroll along the main approach to the shrine. In November, excited children wearing ceremony apparel add color to the shrine’s grounds for shichi-go-san (the family celebration of children reaching the ages of 7, 5 and 3). In January, nearly 500,000 visitors come to the shrine over a five-day period to stand in very long lines before observing their rites of hatsumōde for the new year.