Unique Tsukiji Experience at the Namiyoke Inari Shrine (and the Great Lion Heads)

Namiyoke Inari Shrine is a spiritual and cultural haven in Tsukiji Fish Market, yet I’m quite surprised that not much tourists go here when they visit Tsukiji. It’s literally a little-known gem tucked away in the bustling heart of Tsukiji, yet it’s one of the best things to do in Tsukiji Fish Market.

The Map of Tsukiji Fish Market that the folks over at Plat Tsukiji Tourist Information Center give to tourists highlights the presence of this shrine just a few steps from the market, but perhaps the hunger for street food and the vibe and energy of the market distracts everyone from ever coming.

Now this shrine may not be as famous as its neighbor, the Tsukiji Fish Market, but it’s definitely worth a visit so let’s spill some tea (or sake) about this place for future visitors to appreciate.

A little bit about Namiyoke Inari Shrine

Namiyoke Inari Shrine was established since the 17th century, rising from the ashes of the Great Fire of Meireki. Its name, “Namiyoke,” literally means “protection from waves.” That’s not just waves of the sea, but the waves of life itself. In the aftermath of the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake, the Tsukiji fish market found its new home here, and Namiyoke Inari Shrine became its unofficial protector.

Namiyoke Inari Shrine in Tsukiji

Namiyoke Inari Shrine plays a significant role in the daily lives of the people of Tsukiji. It’s a place where locals gather to offer their gratitude for safe journeys, good catches, and successful business endeavors. With Tsukiji’s historical and cultural ties to the sea, the shrine has become an intrinsic part of the community.

In addition to its cultural significance, the shrine provides a peaceful escape from the frenetic pace of Tsukiji. It’s a spot where you can take a deep breath, offer your own prayers, and soak in the serene atmosphere.

How to get to Namiyoke Inari Shrine

Namiyoke Inari Shrine is just a few minutes’ walk from the unofficial entrance of Tsukiji Fish Market – just walk straight along the main tourist street (Namiyoke Dori or Namiyoke Street), right through the many shops and stalls, and you’ll see the shrine at the end of the street.

The entrance of the shrine is a bit small and unassuming so it’s easy to miss, especially if you’re not deliberately looking for it (and probably another reason why there’s not a lot of visitors going there), so just look for it – you know you’re there when you reach the end of Namiyoke Dori.

Namiyoke Inari Shrine is located at 6 Chome-20-37 Tsukiji, Chuo City, Tokyo. The shrine is open 9AM to 5PM daily.

Front of the Namiyoke Inari Shrine in Tsukiji
Street view of the entrance at Namiyoke Inari Shrine

The Namiyoke Inari Shrine experience

Namiyoke Inari Shrine is not large – it’s a pocket-sized shrine, if you will, but it definitely packs a punch on how it presents itself and it’s filled with charm. It’s said that by visiting this shrine, you can ward off misfortune and bring prosperity to your endeavors. Many locals, especially those working in the fish market, come here to pay their respects and seek blessings for a safe and successful day at work. It’s also a popular spot for couples to pray for harmonious relationships.

Now, let’s talk about the real showstopper here – the statue of the Lion’s Heads gracing the shrine (and the Tsukiji Lion Festival that the shrine hosts every June). Local lore says that the lion’s roar tames the tigers and dragons ruling the wind and clouds. It’s basically the shrine’s main talking point – and the main point interest of the visitors that come here. Once you enter the shrine you’ll immediately see the big status of the Lion’s Head, all mighty and imposing.

When I went I got the pleasure to meet the two Lion’s Heads, one male – Japan’s largest lion “Ceiling large Lion to ward off evil spirits” with a height of 2.4m and width of 3.3m, and one female – “Large female black-toothed Lion” with a measurement of 2.5m in both height and width weighing at 700kg, it was surreal especially when I read more about the significance of the shrine and the Lion Head statues to Tsukiji and its people.

Namiyoke Inari Shrine in Tsukiji_Golden Male Lion's Head
The great male Lion’s Head with the golden tooth – the largest in Japan.

Now I don’t exactly know if the male lion head is literally called “Ceiling large lion” because I just used Google translate to decipher the Japanese text in the information board beside the Lion Head statue (below), but I feel it translates more to something like “big lion from the heavens” or “big lion from above” or something like that.

Namiyoke Inari Shrine_Lion Head Information

Below is the Google translated information from the signboard for your reference:

It has been said since ancient times that dragons follow the clouds, and tigers follow the wind, and when dragons and tigers rampage, they create waves and winds, and it is the lion that subdues them with a single roar. When the shrine was built, the head of a dragon and tiger was also used as a giant male. A pair of felmale lion heads were dedicated.

Since the Edo period, in Tsukiji, those who have plenty of money can do it alone, or those who can’t afford it, can make a group of people. There are about 30 pairs of male and female lion heads around the town, and the lion heads are displayed at summer festivals. It is said that many people gathered at the shrine all at once, and this was the beginning of the Tsukiji Lion Festival, which is still held today.

Unfortunately, most of the large male and female lions at the shrine were destroyed in a fire during the Edo period, and most of the other lion heads were destroyed in the great Kanto Earthquake, leaving only the pair that was sent for repair. Currently, it is enshrined in the main hall of the shrine as a cultural property of Chuo Ward. The currently “Ceiling Large Lion (Male Lion)” was created in 1990 to commemorate the 330th anniversary of the shrine’s enshrinement, and was made from approximately 3,000-year-old black cypress wood, making it the largest lion in Japan. The Great Lion was revived by Mr. Seiun Chida, a modern master craftsman from Kaga Tsurugi, Ishikawa Prefecture, and his workshop, and is known as the “Toyouke Okami” at the Geku of the Ise Jingu, The Seven Lucky Gods known for “Takemikazuchi no Mikoto (Bishamonten)”, “White Beard Okami (Jurojin)”, “Sarutahiko no Mikoto (Fukurokuju)” The lion that enshrined the main building where the Eight Wills and Gods (Hoteison)” is enshrined.

Also, since ancient times, there has been an event called dedicating a “wish skewer” and pray to it, the lion will swallow your wish and make it come true. Many people come to pray. The “wish skewers” are stored in a special box, and a year’s supply is held on the third Saturday of December. It will be lit during the “Ohi-taki Festival”.

Now aside from the magical myth and profound significance of the shrine and the giant Lion’s Head, it’s the “wish skewer” that got me here. Who knew that you can visit the market and also make a wish to a mythical Lion’s Head and have it come true while at it?

Namiyoke Inari Shrine in Tsukiji_Red Female Lion's Head with Black Teeth
The red female Lion’s Head statue, adorned with gold and black teeth.
Namiyoke Inari Shrine in Tsukiji_Red Female Lion's Head with Black Teeth_info

As for the great female Lion’s Head statue that’s painted red and gold with black teeth, based on what I could come up with the Google translated information, it was destroyed by fire and was rebuilt in 2002. The statue is made of a single piece of wood and painted with red skin and black teeth and golden locks stamped with gold leaf. The statue of Benzaiten holding an amethyst crystal as a sacred spirit in the jewel on its head, as practiced in ancient times, is also carried in the summer’s great festival “Tsukiji Lion Festival”.

Aside from the information I gathered at the shrine, there’s not much information online about this place and the significance of the shrine and the great Lion’s Heads (good thing there’s the info board beside the Lion’s Head statues which were enlightening), so this might have contributed to the fact that this work of art is not known to many tourists, who are busy munching on street food just a few steps away from the shrine.

When I went I only saw one local family (looked like they had a special family event as they’re dressed to the nines, possible reason for the visit) and one lone tourist there who asked me to take his photo and then left, and that was it – after they all left, the place was entirely mine to enjoy.

Namiyoke Inari Shrine in Tsukiji_Lion's Head trinkets and souvenirs
There is also a manned booth at the shrine where you can ask questions and get Omikuji and souvenirs such as these mini handcrafted Lion’s Heads that are made out of wood and so kawaii!!! 🙂 Expensive yes, but they’re handcrafted and exclusive to the shrine so there’s that.

If you ever find yourself wandering the streets of Tsukiji Fish Market, please don’t miss out on a visit to Namiyoke Inari Shrine. It’s so nearby anyway and won’t take much of your energy and time to get there, but it’s definitely worth a visit (and worth a photo-op). It’s a charming, vibrant pocket of history and spirituality that will add a unique dimension to your Tokyo adventure. Plus, who wouldn’t want a little extra good fortune in their life?

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