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…
…but a closer look reveals the resident messengers-of-the-gods to be WEREWOLVES!
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)
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!
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.
And just for fun, here are the eleven strangest shrines in Tokyo, with all the inside scoop on the resident gods’ superpowers
The Last Tea Bowl Thief was chosen as an Editor’s Pick for Best Mystery, Thriller & Suspense on Amazon
“A fascinating mix of history and mystery.” —Booklist