The Werewolf Shrine

 

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High on top of a snowy mountain in Chichibu – so far from any train station that you’ll be eligible for a senior citizen discount by the time you get off the bus – is the Mitsumine Jinja. At first it looks like a typical Shinto shrine with fox messengers at the gate…

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…but a closer look reveals the resident messengers-of-the-gods to be WEREWOLVES!

And how can you tell it's a werewolf? Because it looks like a dog, but it NEVER skips abs day at the gym

And how can you tell it’s a werewolf? Because it looks like a dog, but it NEVER skips abs day at the gym. EVER.

Unlike the shapeshifting Western versions who could use a good back hair waxing, oh-kami – the Japanese spirits that can take the form of men or wolves –are known for choosing to either devour lost travelers or lead them safely home. (So, uh, if you’ve chosen a career as an evildoer? Best not to take a shortcut on that deserted road through the mountains JUST SAYIN)

They're even on the prayer plaques

Write a wish on the back of these ema to ask the oh-kami to lead you out of your own particular muddle. They also specialize in curing loneliness.

All over this shrine are dog guardians, everywhere you'd expect to see foxes

Dog guardians are everywhere you’d expect to see foxes

Hey, wash your hands!

Hey! You! Wash your hands before you toss those coins in the offering box! Sheesh, were you raised by wolves?

And if the water is frozen (as it's likely to be, on a remote mountaintop in Chiba-ken during the winter) you can swish these wands made of cedar shavings over your hands instead

If the water at the purifying station is frozen (as it’s likely to be, at a shrine perched on a remote mountaintop in Saitama-ken during the winter) you can swish these wands made of cedar shavings over your hands instead

The most mysterious thing about the Mitsumine Shrine is that despite its seriously off-the-beaten-path location, the oh-kami do not seem to lack for generous donor action. Apparently, this is because the shrine is a renowned “power spot” (like the Fox Shrine To End All Fox Shrines in Kamakura) and it attracts boatloads of pilgrims with the spring thaw.

Check out how beautifully these buildings are restored!

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The shrine itself was founded over 2,000 years ago, and there are carvings inside that date from the 1400s. The buildings themselves were constructed in the 1800s.

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Want to visit the Mitsumine Jinja the next time you’re in Japan? It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible either. The best way is to drive (the Chichibu area is in Saitama prefecture, and it takes about two hours from metro Tokyo) but you can also take the Seibu Testsudo train to Chichibu Station, then get on an express bus from there to the Mitsumine Shrine.

Jonelle Patrick writes mysteries set in Tokyo. Her fourth book – Painted Doll – is just out in paperback 

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