Places of worship in Mito: Mitohachimangu

After my trip into the countryside last Saturday, I was looking forward to a nice slow Sunday to rest my feet. And so the day started to waste away, until I was rudely interrupted by some religious freaks trying to persuade me. Yes even in Japan they exist. It is a group of somewhat Buddhist people coming to our homes now for a couple of weeks. It starts to get really annoying and it is almost impossible to get rid of them. Imagine them to be like Jehovas Witnesses, but Buddhist. I believe our house tutors are thinking of invoking the police since it is borderline harassment. But enough for this.
That was about noon. Since the weather was nice, I decided to not let the afternoon go to waste. Rather than doing grocery shopping, laundry, and cleaning, I escaped my cave for another adventure.

A couple of weeks ago, when I was looking up something on the map around Daikumachi in Mito, I noticed that there is a shrine I have never noticed, but from its location I must have passed well over a hundred times by now. Admittedly most of these times were by bus, but also I have not noticed it in any information material I gathered over the years. Mito Hachimangu (水戸八幡宮み, とはちまんぐう) is located close to the above mentioned street and is still considered to be in the “romantic zone”. It is south-east of Howaen park, just a few minutes by foot. It will also partake in the Ajisai Matsuri later this year.
I do now know, why I failed to notice the shrine before; it is quite well hidden. Even though I was following the map, I took a wrong turn and ended up on the other side of it, the side without an entrance. Backing up a bit I noticed the signs that are common in all of the romantic zone and I found the front gate.

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The shrine is surrounded by many trees and you don’t have to walk far, to have a view towards the fields outside of the city. Yes, those taht are the reason why people call Ibaraki the countryside. Although it was quite sunny that day, it was relaxing and cool below the trees in the shadows.
Outside, right in front of the main torii, there are five smaller shrines. The closest to the entrance was open and you could see a statue of a horse inside. I don’t really know the meaning of this; I can only guess; it appears that different shrines are open at different times of the year.

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The shrine itself is quite old and it is now designated a national important cultural property. As usual you can only see into the front part, while the sanctum of the main building is a lot more beautiful.

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The main building is called Honden and is the most important part of the shrine, it was originally built in 1598. Until today it was taken apart and rebuilt two more times. It is in traditional lucid red with golden applications. You can see it from afar and you can peek through the fence a bit. Since I don’t like to be intrusive, I did not take any additional pictures from that building. For a closer look I suggest checking the website of Mito Hachimangu.

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The property is quite large and spacious. It needs to be for the various festivals, which are held here throughout the year. Surrounding the main building there are twenty or probably more smaller shrines. It is one of the largest collections I have come across during my travels. Some of them appear to be located deep in the forest.

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One of the smaller shrines stuck out, because of its red gate. The rest was well hidden behind bushes and trees. It is a bit like entering a different world.

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One shrine appeared to be dedicated towards learning or scholars. The little statue in front of it was wearing glasses and holding a book reading.

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It took me quite some time that I realised that the animal statues surrounding the main building are not random at all. They represent the twelve Japanese zodiac signs. It is based on the Chinese zodiac with two substitutions (see gallery for more information). Also the Japanese celebrate the new year according to the Gregorian Calender at January 1st. This year, 2016, is the year of the monkey. The statue has the famous three wise monkeys  🙈🙉🙊.

On the shrine grounds is a (female) Ginko tree, that is believed to be  about 700 years old. It is roughly 35 metres high and has a diameter of 6 metres. A plaque outside of the shrine says: “As it is so big and vibrant, it is one of the most valuable natural monuments of science.”

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On the parking lot outside of the shrine I found a little cat relaxing in the sun. I believe cats are beautiful and I was happy to see one so calm that I could take a picture.

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My trip did not end there. After the shrine closed at five o’clock I continued walking around. I was simply curious about the surroundings. Since I could already see the Art Tower, I just generally headed in this direction. I passed another, not operated, small shrine and a little fish pond. From the map that was located there I assume that it marks the entrance to the romantic zone. There is also a signpost to mark the way to Howaen and Hachimangu.
To my surprise I also passed the Mito catholic centre. I did not know that Mito has one. It looked like a modern church in Europe. When I looked it up on my phone there was a nun coming out of the main entrance. She smiled at me, but thankfully did not to try to engage in conversation.
It was actually quite a short walk and I was already at the Art Tower. I checked if they had any new exhibitions planned and went on my way to Keisei. It was only about half past five and I decided to stroll around the shopping centre for a little while. After sic o’clock the food court offers discounts of up to 50% and I decided to wait until then to take home some delicious bento.
Since I ruined my shoes on the last trip while walking over the fields, I decided to make one final stop at Mega Donki. I finally bought a new rucksack (backpack), because my old one is about to fall apart. I did not find suitable shoes though. Well, that’s a trip for next weekend.

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