Yesterday was a rainy day so my plans for a picnic in Shinjuku Gyoen with friends were postponed. Instead, Dan and Alyssa came to my ku (my "hood"). We took a stroll through the back streets and wound up on a sweet little brick path. There were colorful decorated tiles on either side of the walkway. A stray cat slunk around avoiding my camera as he flitted from one great photo opp to another but hardly pausing long enough for me to snap a shot. Typical of a cat! I finally got one of him sitting on a shark tile but it wasn't nearly as nice as the one I could have gotten of him sitting next to a cat tile. A short time later, we came across a statue of Tanuki. He's a shape shifting character from Japanese folklore who is supposed to be a kind of raccoon dog (what!? I know, but it's what the dictionary says) This statue must have been somewhat old because it depicted his, ahem, um rather large "appendages" which are omitted from most of the more recent Tanuki statues. Look him up on wikipedia and you'll know what I mean, it's fun.
As we walked along, I had some inner sense that this path was there for a reason. I figured there would probably be some kind of neighborhood shrine up ahead and I wasn't disappointed. After about 10-15 minutes of walking, we found ourselves at the base of an Inari Shrine. At the time I had no idea what kind of shrine it was but it piqued my interest and I went home and did my research. Inari Shrines were built to pay respect to the god, Inari, who is the Kami (Shinto god) of rice. The shrine is guarded by foxes who are typically represented as the messengers of Inari. Before you arrive at the torii (orange/black/or red gates in front of the shrine) you are usually greeted by some ferocious looking statues (komainu).. usually lions or dogs. The guardians of this shrine were lions. This tree shaded area was so peaceful, I felt very calm and quiet as I looked at the various statues and paper crane offerings. I feel happy that there is something like this in my neighborhood. Good "thinking places" are hard to find.