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[A Photographer’s Notes] Oasis in the Concrete Jungle: Nezu Shrine

The Tokyo shrine’s park-like setting and narrow path of vermilion torii gates offer some of the best photo opportunities around.

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When I lived in Kyoto one of my favorite places to visit was the world famous Fushimi Inari Taisha. I just loved the long paths of brightly colored vermilion gates, or torii (鳥居), that seemed to go on forever though the hills behind the shrine. 

Although not quite to the scale of Fushimi Inari Taisha, Tokyo’s Nezu Shrine is a beautiful site with what I think is the nicest path of torii to be found in the city, and one of my favorite places for a couple hours of photography.

Located in Tokyo’s Bunkyo ward, Nezu Shrine is just a short walk away from Ueno Park, with quick access by train from Nezu Station (根津駅). Having been moved to its current location in 1705, it is known as one of the oldest places of worship in Tokyo. 

Inside Nezu Shrine: Otome Inari Shrine

Although the shrine grounds in general are very nice, with both a Honden (本殿) or large main building as well as a beautiful Romon (楼門 ) or large two story gate, it is the Otome Inari Shrine ーlocated inside Nezu Shrineー and its path of torii that keep the photographer in me coming back time and time again. I am not sure what it is about these Japanese vermillion gates that attracts me so much, but I always love having the opportunity to photograph them, or use them as a background for my photography.

The path of torii can be found going up a slight hill on the left side of the Romon when entering through the Nezu Shrine’s main entrance. Following the path uphill, you are taken through what seems like several hundred torii, until you come out at a small elevated stage-like area where you will find a nice view of the Honden. 

Unlike the larger sized torii in Fushimi Inari Taisha, these torii are quite small and the path quite narrow. If you are tall like me, you will need to be careful while walking through so that you don’t bump your head on the torii, like I have done too many times. 

Also, as you walk though there is a good chance someone will walk towards you from the opposite side. Because of the narrow path you might have to pop out the side to let other people by.

Virtue of Patience

When photographing the torii or using the torii path as a backdrop for portraits of a friend, be aware that it is a popular spot. Because of the narrowness just mentioned, you can easily be in the way of other people who are visiting the shrine. In other words, you may need to be quite patient at times if you wish to capture images without anyone else walking down the path. 

Also, if it is your first time seeing these kinds of torii you might notice that one side of the torii is very simple, with only a couple Japanese characters painted on it, while the other side is very busy with a lot of Japanese written on it. These Japanese characters are actually conveying the name and date of the person or company that donated the money required to build the torii in the first place. 

All of these Japanese characters can look pretty cool in a photo, but it’s best to be aware that they are just the names of the people donating to the shrine and not anything like ancient poetry or legends. I used to like photographing the sides with all the Japanese characters on them, but now that I know what it means I tend to focus on the more simple front sides of the torii in most of my images. 

Respecting the Shrine

Personally I have visited Nezu Shrine on many occasions and have never had any problem when photographing inside the shrine. However, looking at their website, there are specific rules regarding what kind of photography is allowed. If you are considering using the shrine for any commercial shooting purposes please check the rules on their official website before proceeding. 

In short, Nezu Shrine has been one of my most revisited locations in Tokyo for photography, coming in second only to the Shibuya crossing. So if you like the colors and shapes of Japanese torii and want to get out of the concrete jungle of Tokyo for a bit, I highly recommend stopping by Nezu Shrine. 

Jason Halayko is a professional photographer specializing in action sports and portrait photography. Follow him on Twitter (@jason_halayko), and on Instagram (@jason_halayko), and find his work here on JAPAN Forward

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