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
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Writing mystery books set in Tokyo is mostly what I do, but I also blog about the odd stuff I see every day in Japan. I'm a graduate of Stanford University and the Sendagaya Japanese Institute in Tokyo, and a member of the International Thriller Writers, the Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters In Crime. When I'm not in Tokyo, I live in San Francisco. I also host a travel site called The Tokyo Guide I Wish I'd Had, so if you're headed to Japan and want to check out the places I take my friends when they're in town, take a look!