Gokoku Jinja (護國神社, ごこくじんじゃ) is one of my favourite shrines in Mito. It is located across from Kairakuen. Right next to it is Sakura Yama (桜山, さくらやま), which is most beautiful when the cherry trees bloom. It is one of the best places to have Hanami. During that time of year it is usually very crowded with a lot of street vendors. However, the place is not known to Google maps, and sometimes not even the locals know it. Yet again, there are plenty of signs in Kairakuen and I think there is also a bus stop.
The shrine itself is rather small, but it is surrounded by a lot of trees, which makes it feel like it is within a forest. The good thing about this place is, that it is not overcrowded and you can take in all of its beauty. The place in front of the main building is great with some paved walk ways. Those shrines are usually for fallen warriors or soldiers of the prefecture. You can find a lot of stales engraved with many names at places like these.
During this time of the year the shrine is also home to an exhibition of dolls. Reason for this is the upcoming girl’s day. The dolls are displayed in homes all across Japan until the 3rd of March, the day of Hinamatsuri. I really need to catch up on some reading about this tradition.
All I know so far is that they represent the emperor and empress, and it is said that they contain bad spirits. That is why they are sent of on Hinamatsuri in a boat or burnt or both. It is custom to take them down immediately on the 3rd, as it is believed, that otherwise the daughter of the house will marry late. (Well, that’s more knowledge than nothing.) However, the dolls are really beautiful and come in various sizes. The smallest are about five centimetres and the largest are about thirty centimetres. You can see a couple of photographs in the gallery.
A very interesting article, especially about food, about the Hinamatsuri has been released today on savvytokyo.com. Hence also this post coming a bit earlier than originally intended.
When visiting shrines in Mito, or only Kairakuen, make sure to plan that this one is on the route. Especially during cherry season and in autumn, when it is home to the Chrysanthemum festival.