[A Photographer’s Notes] Oasis in the Concrete Jungle: Nezu Shrine
When I lived in Kyoto, one of my favorite places to visit was the famous Fushimi Inari Taisha. I loved the long paths of brightly colored vermilion gates, or torii (鳥居), that seemed to stretch endlessly up the hills behind the shrine.
Although not quite the scale of Fushimi Inari Taisha, Tokyo Nezu Shrine is a stunning site with what I think is the most beautiful torii path in town, and one of my favorite spots for a few hours of photography.
Located in the Bunkyo district of Tokyo, Nezu Shrine is a short walk from Ueno Park, with quick access by train from Nezu Station (根津駅). Having been moved to its current location in 1705, it is known as one of Tokyo’s oldest places of worship.
Inside Nezu Shrine: Otome Inari Shrine
Although the grounds of the shrine in general are very nice, with both a Honden (本殿) or large main building as well as a beautiful Romon (楼門) or large two-story gate, this is the Otome Inari Shrine.ー located inside Nezu Shrine ー and its torii path that brings the photographer in me back again and again. I don’t know what attracts me so much to these Japanese vermilion doors, but I always love having the opportunity to photograph them or use them as a background for my photographs.
The way to the torii can be found by climbing a slight hill on the left side of the Romon when entering through the main entrance of the Nezu Shrine. As you follow the path uphill, you cross what appears to be several hundred torii gates, until you come to a small raised area shaped like a stage where you will find a good view of the Honden.
Unlike the larger torii of Fushimi Inari Taisha, these torii are quite small and the path quite narrow. If you’re tall like me, you’ll have to be careful while walking so you don’t hit your head on the torii like I’ve done too many times.
Also, while you are walking there is a good chance that someone is walking towards you from the opposite side. Due to the narrow path, you may have to step out the side to let other people pass.
virtue of patience
When photographing the torii or using the torii path as a backdrop for a friend’s portraits, be aware that this is a popular spot. Due to the tightness mentioned above, you can easily get in the way of other people visiting the shrine. In other words, sometimes you may need to be quite patient if you want to capture footage without anyone else walking in the way.
Also, if this is your first time seeing this type of torii, you might notice that one side of the torii is very plain with only a few Japanese characters painted on it, while the other side is very busy. with lots of Japanese written on it. this. These Japanese characters actually convey the name and date of the person or company that donated the money needed to build the torii in the first place.
All of these Japanese characters might look pretty cool in a photo, but it’s best to know that these are just the names of the people who donate to the shrine and not poetry or ancient legends. I used to love photographing the sides with all the Japanese characters on them, but now that I know what that means, I tend to focus on the simpler front sides of the torii in most of my images.
Respect the sanctuary
Personally, I have visited the Nezu Shrine many times and never had a problem photographing inside the shrine. However, looking at their website, there are specific rules regarding the type of photography allowed. If you plan to use the sanctuary for commercial purposes, please check the rules on their official site before proceeding.
In short, Nezu Shrine was one of my most revisited spots in Tokyo for photography, right behind Shibuya Crossing. So if you love the colors and shapes of Japanese torii gates and want to get away from the concrete jungle of Tokyo for a bit, I highly recommend stopping by Nezu Shrine.
Jason Halayko is a professional photographer specializing in action sports and portrait photography. Follow him on Twitter (@jason_halayko), and on Instagram (@jason_halayko), and find his work here on JAPAN.