Nagoya, Japan: Hopping Through the Seasons at Miwa Shrine

Find one shrine, get infinite floral art free.

While it isn’t unusual for Shinto shrines to be decorated with some flowers, Miwa Jinja Shrine in Nagoya has to be one of the most creative and generous. There is something new to discover every month and adding in the shrine’s interesting connection with rabbits, relationships, and happiness, it has become one of my most favorite finds in Japan.

October 2020

That was my first visit to Miwa Shrine and little did I know that many visits would follow. But before I show you the reason why this small shrine is my favorite, let me introduce you to its unique gate.

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Maybe it isn’t that obvious at first glance, but look at both of the torii gate pillars, behind the komainu lion-dog guardians. The torii gate at Miwa Shrine is a very rare example of a gate with additional protruding parts on the side. I don’t know where else we can find this kind of torii gate, but having traveled quite extensively in six out of eight regions in Japan so far, I only found it at Miwa Shrine.

I am pretty sure we can circle the small shrine precinct in under three minutes, but I am even more certain that everyone wants to spend more time there. Look at the decorations.

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To be honest, I only dropped by Miwa Shrine because the shrine was part of my walking route in the atmospherically local Osu Shopping Street and it was a historic shrine from the 16th century with a special torii gate and an interesting happiness-granting rabbit statue. So these little bunny statues and fall flowers were beautiful surprises. I have always been appreciative of the four seasons in Japan and Miwa Shrine does a cute job at showing the seasonal beauty. The shrine’s symbolic rabbits aside, chrysanthemum and cosmos are among the most beloved blooms in Japanese autumn. The shrine staff didn’t leave the pumpkins out either. It was October, after all.

February 2021

I didn’t think about visiting Miwa Shrine again until my birthday in 2021. I just submitted my last assignment of the semester the day before and had a very strong urge to reward myself. There were a few events that I wanted to check out in Osu Shopping Street and the nearby Sakae area before meeting my friends that evening, so I dropped by Miwa Shrine again.

It was actually Valentine’s Day, but I didn’t expect that the shrine would be decked out for the occasion.

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On my first visit a few months back, I did know that the flowers were seasonal decorations, but I somehow didn’t think that they would regularly create a new one. I was wrong. Plus the decorations at Miwa Shrine got an upgrade from the previous October. From the decorations being only in the old tree stump, they have expanded to the water basins. They are small, but can you spot the sleeping bunnies and cats floating among the flowers and the hearts?

The water basin decoration is a smart move. Before the pandemic, Shinto shrine visitors were traditionally required to purify themselves by cleansing hands and rinsing mouth with water dippers at the shrine water basins or fountains. Although no one actually rinses mouth directly from the dippers, we would still have to hold the dippers and it is a risky practice during the spread of COVID-19. For this reason, shrine visitors are currently requested to wash their hands using hand sanitizer instead and the shrines provide hand sanitizer near the spots that people still gather or touch.

Since the fountains and basins have become unused, a few shrines in Japan have taken to beautify them with both real and fake flowers and other materials, attracting more visitors to the shrines and providing healing views for visitors in return. This practice is called hanachozu (floral water basin). I read that a shrine in Kyoto has been decorating their water basin with flowers even before COVID-19, but hanachozu has become more widespread from the summer of 2020. How lucky I was to discover two shrines with hanachozu in the city I lived, and one of them being conveniently accessible.

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Rabbits among chocolate, camellia, and plum blossoms. The February staples in Japan.

April 2021

Since my festive finds at Miwa Shrine in February, I planned to return to the shrine every month for more. I was tired from doing my spring break travels out of Nagoya in March 2021 though and in the end, I decided to skip one month because I still had March 2022 left before coming home to Thailand.

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Early-April is the best time to view sakura or cherry blossoms in Japan. As the national flower, (fake) cherry blossom was used as part of the April decorations at Miwa Shrine too.

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The wedded rabbits appeared again. As mentioned in the introduction, Miwa Shrine also gives blessings for good relationships. It is one of the many shrines around in Japan that are dedicated to Okuninushi, one of the most ancient and revered Shinto gods and he is the deity of love and marriage.

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Rabbits are considered Okuninushi’s messenger because he once saved a suffering hare and the hare blessed him with his first wife. Ironically, the benevolent god of good matches would later court many women or even have children with them without the consent of his other wives, but that doesn’t stop people from praying to Okuninushi with the red threads of fate that appeared in his myth.

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That said, romantic love isn’t the only type of love and Miwa Shrine visitors are encouraged to pray for other positive relationships too, from familial bond to friendship. We can also rub the shrine’s biggest rabbit statue for happiness (Shiawase no Nade Usagi). While all shrines in Japan can offer various blessings, each shrine tends to have specialized areas and relationships and happiness make up the brand of Miwa Shrine.

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Bonus: a small but beautiful patch of shibazakura or moss phlox with daisy.

May 2021

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Floating carnation for Mother’s Day (the second Sunday of May).

May is also the month of Boy’s Day (May 5) and the carp flags or koinobori are considered the hallmark. Some Japanese parents still install and fly these carp streamers at their houses, praying that their sons would grow up strong and can overcome hardships like the carps that can swim against the current and transform into dragons in the Chinese-inspired legend.

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Another symbol of Boy’s Day in Japan is Kintaro doll, based on the myth of Kintaro the golden boy with superhuman power. Japanese parents also decorate their houses with Kintaro dolls to pray for their health and strength.

June 2021

Among everything I have found at Miwa Shrine, my June finds are the most memorable.

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I talked about hydrangea being my most favorite flower before in my Chayagasaka travel guide. Unsurprisingly, I was happy to see hydrangea being the star of June at Miwa Shrine.

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Because early-June is the rainy season in Japan, teru teru bozu or Japanese fine weather dolls (dolls for warding off the rain) were hung around the shrine too.

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The eye-catching bunny face-shaped board for tying fortune telling lots (omikuji) with negative results is there in any season, but in June, it was also decorated the fine weather dolls.

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The most beautiful find for me, though, was my lucky encounter with a Japanese illustrator who opened up a booth selling her art at Miwa Shrine that day. Her illustrations featured mostly rabbits and although I had to communicate with her using my bad Japanese, she was very friendly and patient with me and we got to chat a bit about my life in Nagoya while I was choosing what to buy.

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I decided on a small rabbit art frame, but after I paid, the artist also handed me the bunny postcard above! It was one of the illustrations I was debating on (because the golden dolphin in the postcard or Shachihoko is Nagoya’s icon and it would be meaningful to have) before picking the art frame in the end. She told me that she was glad to meet a foreigner (while Japan was completely closed off to everyone except Japanese people and foreigners who had residence cards) and she also wished me luck with the remainder of my studies. I actually visited Miwa Shrine to unwind during my stressful thesis-related presentation period, so I was very touched by her kindness and felt encouraged at the right time. I never ran into the artist again at Miwa Shrine or anywhere else in Nagoya. Maybe it was a once-in-a-lifetime encounter. Maybe it won’t be. But I know for sure that it was a memory that I treasure.

July 2021

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Goldfish, frogs, and lotus are among the signs of summertime in Japan.

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Morning glory also blooms and suikawari or the watermelon splitting game returns. I had a chance to witness the game in 2019 at the university dorm that I used to live in. The player has to wear blindfold and spin themselves a few times, so that they lose sense of directions. With stick for splitting the watermelon in their hands, they have to find their way to the watermelon purely by relying on the audience’s words. It is very interesting and pretty funny to watch.

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July 7 is Tanabata or the Star Festival, hence the star-themed decorations. Japanese people also write down their wishes on colorful pieces of paper and hang them on bamboo stalks.

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And it isn’t summer without the sounds of furin or Japanese wind chimes.

August 2021

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August is the start of summer break in Japan, so the beaches get busiest in this month.

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It is the best time to visit sunflower fields too, though I didn’t get to visit any while I was in Japan.

September 2021

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It was autumn again. The Japanese moon viewing festival is held around mid-September every year and the bunnies were celebrating the Harvest Moon too.

After visiting the shrine for many months, I finally decided to try writing my wishes on an ema wooden plaque. The ema at Miwa Shrine is designed to look like a rabbit, but the face is left blank for wishmakers to draw on.

Here comes the fun part. I had noticed for months that many wishmakers at Miwa Shrine drew their favorite J-pop, K-pop, and anime and manga characters on the ema. In the case of J-pop and K-pop artists, it seems the wishmakers made a wish to be able to get the concert tickets and attend their live concerts. This is a very understandable wish. You need even more luck than usual to get concert tickets in Japan because the lottery system is used for all artists who perform there, regardless of the artists’ nationalities. (I do like the fairness of this system though and it reduces scalpers too.) There are even a couple of shrines in Japan that specialize in concert ticket lottery-related blessings.

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I don’t know if Miwa Shrine also specializes in concert ticketing or if the visitors/fans started the trend themselves, but I tried anyway. I drew Doyoung, my ultimate bias in NCT 127 and K-pop who also happens to be compared to bunnies a lot, and made a wish to be able to see him at live concerts again before I had to leave Japan and after I am back in Thailand too. Although I had to come back to Thailand just a few months before NCT 127 had their biggest concert yet in Japan, I hope the deity still doesn’t forget my wish and will help me with the upcoming NCT 127 concert ticketing in Bangkok… It has just been confirmed this week that they will return to Bangkok later this year for a concert and I coincidentally chose to write about my finds at Miwa Shrine before their concert confirmation. As delusional as this sounds, I will take this as a sign that I will be able to secure ticket(s) for their upcoming show(s) in Thailand… Also manifesting that I, my university friend who is planning to go to the concert with me, as well as all the members in NCT 127, will be healthy and be able to attend the concert. Even since live events like this are allowed again in Thailand, there have been cases where some fans or the artists themselves caught covid and couldn’t attend. We really need a lot more luck than usual to be able to join live events and for the events to proceed smoothly, huh.

October 2021

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Another visit in October, but this time, the water basins were decorated (although water was removed from one of the basins this time).

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Pumpkins and persimmons went well together.

November 2021

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November is the month when autumn colors are officially on in Nagoya.

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Most autumn leaves like maple leaves actually start turning red from late-November, but the rabbits were enjoying them all month long.

December 2021

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Merry Flowery Bunny Christmas.

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Autumn colors in Nagoya are still viewable until early- or mid-December though. I visited Miwa Shrine before mid-December and this was a lovely creation by the shrine staff.

January 2022

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For the month of new beginnings, Miwa Shrine came with a full range of New Year’s traditional decorations for good luck like the red cow dolls, bamboo, mochi, etc.

February 2022

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Apart from Valentine’s Day-themed displays, this February came with Setsubun Festival decor. Falling on February 3 every year, Japanese people join the bean-throwing festival at temples to drive away evil spirits and bad luck before spring.

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Setsubun Festival was one of the Japanese festivals that I wanted to join the most, but due to COVID-19, it has been cancelled. At least, I got to feel the Setsubun spirit through these demon masks.

March 2022

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March 3 is Hinamatsuri or Girl’s Day, also known as Japanese doll festival. Houses in Japan are decorated with hina dolls, which are usually heirlooms and parents display them during the festival by parents to pray for their daughters’ health and happiness.

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Typically, the hina dolls are human dolls, but special variations do exist. Miwa Shrine stayed in character and had rabbit hina dolls on display.

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Chocolate and candies were there too for White Day.

It was my last month in Nagoya and after visiting Miwa Shrine over ten times, I have grown so attached to it that I wanted to buy something from the shrine to take home (in addition to the countless photos I have taken and the rabbit arts I got back in July).

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Like all the other shrines in Japan, Miwa Shrine sells omamori or amulets for various purposes. Love omamori is especially famous. I want something else though and after considering the longevity factor, I decided to buy a tiny rabbit doll for happiness. All omamori traditionally should be returned to a shrine every year and after asking the shrine staff, the happiness rabbit dolls are the only item that doesn’t need to be replaced.

As I look at that little rabbit doll on the shelf behind my laptop while finishing up this post, it suddenly dawned on me that this might be the most fitting choice of souvenir for me. Since I made many happy memories at Miwa Shrine, the rabbit doll also feels like a symbol of the happiness I found there.

Guide

Miwa Shrine
When to visit: 9am-5pm, daily
How to get there: Take the Meijo Subway Line to Kamimaezu Station or Yabacho Station. From there, walk for about five minutes.

* I am sorry for being even slower with replying and catching up with everyone’s beautiful photos and posts lately. I have been very busy IRL, but I hope I can come back to your posts tomorrow or within a few days from now. Please take care.

This post is also part of the Lens-Artists (week #214: Favorite Finds), Flower of the Day (recent challenge), Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge (Man-made Items), Water Water Everywhere (recent challenge), Photographing Public Art Challenge (recent challenge), Thursday Doors (recent challenge), and Which Way (recent challenge) Photo Challenges.

16 thoughts on “Nagoya, Japan: Hopping Through the Seasons at Miwa Shrine

  1. What an amazing place, Gift. Your photos are excellent and you have woven them together into a marvelous post. Someone spends a lot of creative time and money on creating these shrine decorations. Such fun.

    Like

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