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Hie Shrine – Monkeys, gates, and escalators

Hie Shrine isn’t the biggest in Tokyo.  But, it is one of the best.  There is great architecture, lots of monkeys, and big red gates.  You can even take an escalator to it!  There is a lot to see.  It is bound to keep photographers very happy.  If that isn’t enough, it is home to an important festival – the Sanno.  How good is that?  You need to visit this place!

Hie Shrine Main worship hall
Hie Shrine's main worship hall.

A brief history of Hie Shrine

If you need a brief history of it, here it is.  Ota Dokan built the shrine within the grounds of Edo Castle (now Tokyo Imperial Palace).  When Ieyasu Tokugawa moved to Edo, he shifted it to its current location.  From 1871 to 1946, the government designated it as a Kanpei-Taisha.  That meant it received a lot of support.  In World War II, air raids destroyed the buildings, but they were rebuilt in 1958.  Short enough?

Hie Shrine red torii gates
The famous torii gates.

What is there for photographers?

  • There are five things about the shrine that should grab a first-time visitor’s attention.  First are the monkey statues.  There are a lot, and not every shrine has them.  So, why here?  The kami (god/spirit) of Hie shrine is Oyamakui-no-kami, and the primates are his messengers.  He needs them nearby (symbolically, at least)!  
  • Furthermore, they are considered patrons of harmonious marriages and safe childbirth.  That explains why many women pray there.  Walk around the shrine, and you’ll see the monkeys everywhere, including on the ema (votive tablets).  You can even buy protective amulets (omamori) of them too.
  • Number two!  Hie is also known for its “Senbon Torii” (the 1000 torii gates).  It would have to be one of the shrine’s most photographed features.  Not as famous as the ones at Fushimi Inari in Kyoto, but still very attractive for photos. 
  • The third is the escalators!  As the shrine is on top of a large hill with some very steep sides, this was a great idea.  I, for one, prefer it to the stairs as there are a lot of those!  Remember to look back and enjoy the urban view when you go up.  And how long does it take to take to the top?  I’ve timed it, and it took two minutes and four seconds!
  • And the fourth?  Hie is another shrine with classic Japanese architecture, like many others.  But it has one ace up its sleeve.  It is in the middle of an enormous city with some huge buildings nearby looking down on it.  So, you get that nice contrast between old and new.  The busy metropolis surrounds the quiet, classic shrine.  It is amazing! 
  • The shrine is also famous for its Sanno Festival, in June every year.  It’s a great event, but not quite as large as the Sanja at Sensoji.  Every second year it includes a procession that tours the city.  Along the way, one of its stops is at the Imperial Palace.  One of the big three festivals in Tokyo, it is enormously popular.
  • Weddings! You might get lucky on your visit and see a wedding procession.

Is there more?

Yes, there is.  On the grounds, you will also find a building named “Collection Hall.”  It is a mini-museum that houses a collection of Edo-period weapons, letters, and even a portable shrine.  There is even a lion mask covered with a shogun’s calligraphy practice.  But, you need to read Japanese to understand what is on the plaques.  It is a pity photography isn’t allowed.

Sanno Festival

Tokyo has many festivals, but the biggest three are the Kanda, the Sanja, and the Sanno.   The Sanno belongs to Hie Shrine.  The full version is in even-numbered years.  It extends over a week, but most of its events are relatively small.  Click here to see pictures of the 2016 event.  This is something I always look forward to attending when my schedule permits.  

 

During the even-numbered years, the festival’s main attraction is a parade.  It goes through central Tokyo.  Of course, it starts and ends at Hie.  I don’t have pictures of it, but you can see photographs of the shrine from the 2016 event here.

Where is Hie Shrine?

The shrine is in the center of the city.  It’s not far from the Imperial Palace and the National Diet Building.  Several subway stations are near the shrine:

  • Tameike-Sanno; 
  • Akasaka-Mitsuke;
  • Kokkai-Gijidomae, and;
  • Nagatacho.  

Here is a Google map:

Cost of admission

Free

Opening hours

  • 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.
  • The Collection Hall is open from 10 am to 4 pm and is closed Tuesday and Friday.

Other photo spots near Hie Shrine

Wrapping up

Hie is a great place.  To visit such a shrine amid some Tokyo skyscrapers is quite an experience.  But, if I had to pick a time for a visit, it would be for the Sanno Festival.

If you are looking for something unique in Tokyo, this shrine is for you.  I don’t know of any others with monkeys and escalators!  And if you poke into its nooks and crannies, you might also find a few other things to surprise you.

External websites with photos of Hie Shrine

Please leave your questions and comments below.

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