Jun 7, 2018

Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine: a forgotten place of worship fallen to the tourist industry

Gallery - Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine

Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine is to many the place with the seasonal wind chimes, pinwheels and stunning cherry blossoms out back. It is this to me too, but it is also my place of worship since I moved to Saitama in 2008.

Back then, in 2008, it did not enjoy the fame it does today. Sure it was a famous shinto shrine and has enjoyed flurries of worshipers for hundreds of years, but its status as a popular tourist attraction is actually a more recent development. The jump from popular place of worship to a hot spot on the Kawagoe tourist circuit was no accident. Kawagoe Hikawa shrine carefully orchestrates a social media campaign, that evidently has succeeded, possibly beyond their expectations.

It is wonderful for the shrine’s business and the buzz during popular seasonal attractions is electrifying. However, on the flip-side for regular long-standing worshipers who want to conduct shinto rituals at the shrine, the increase in spectating tourists is not without its consequences. Due to the throngs of tourists the shrine has become more difficult to worship at and / or to conduct seasonal rituals. A point in case is my visit yesterday, Friday the 1st of June.

I took the short drive to the shrine to pick up an amulet and get it blessed for a friend, something I have done often over the years. Usually a Friday, particularly in a month like June, the shrine grounds are quite tranquil. However, the previous day, the shrine had posted on social media that their annual pinwheel display was open. A social media frenzy pursued and what greeted me yesterday was an incursion of noise; foreign tourists in particular (calling it as it was) squealing, shouting, exhilarating in the colored mini windmills spinning in the breeze.

The place was jammed, but nothing like at New Year this year. Hikawa shrine is always busy at New Year, especially in the first week of January when people do “hatsumode” the first worship of the year. That is exactly what I wanted to do on January 3rd this year, but when I saw a queue of people waiting to do the ceremony at least 300 meters long, I drove on. Never in all the years we have been going to Hikawa shrine have I ever seen a queue that went out of the shrine’s grounds, even one within the grounds is rare, until this year.

Since the social media blitz of Hikawa Kawagoe Shrine started I have got in the habit of parking in the “dai ni” (2nd) car park where until last year I could easily park without waiting and with plenty of spaces left around me. However, there are now times of the year that even “dai ni” parking is full and cars lined up where they shouldn’t be wreak havoc and threaten road safety. I have since found somewhere else to park to avoid the chaos, particularly when thousands come to capture a photo of a traditional boat steered down the Shingashi river under stunning mature cherry blossoms.
Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine: a forgotten place of worship fallen to the tourist industry photo

All that being said; the shrine is attracting thousands of tourists for a reason. It is not just because they have a strong social media marketing campaign, but because the place really is worth a visit particularly when they have some of their seasonal charms. I may have to find a new place of worship, but I will keep going back to enjoy the tourist attractions!



Level 8 LocalGuide with Google. Blogging about life in Japan as an Irish WAHM to 4 kids on insaitama.com.