Even in the ritzy Ginza district of Tokyo, quaint Shinto shrines aren’t uncommon; most of them, however, are placed on the rooftops of tall department store buildings and can hardly be viewed from street level. Hōdō Inari Shrine is a rare exception, but it’s almost as hard to find—perhaps even harder.
Originally founded at some point during the Edo period (1603-1867), the shrine was dedicated to Inari, the all-rounder fox god, and meant to be a place to pray for children’s health. It is said that it was built for the shogun after several of his children had died young, and that it was relocated to Ginza from the premises of Edo Castle (today’s Imperial Palace). The kanji for Hōdō stands for “treasure” and “child.”
Following the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate, Ginza rapidly began to develop into one of Tokyo’s foremost modern districts, turning into a luxurious, Westernized downtown. Some credit the successes of local businesses to Hōdō Inari and other shrines in the neighborhood, as people continued their tradition of praying to the fox god for good luck.
In 2016, the locally cherished shrine of Hōdō Inari, along with the narrow, mostly hidden alley leading to it, got a makeover with a modern twist, courtesy of sculptor Motoka Watanabe. To make it (at least a little) easier to spot, a stylized chimpanzee now stands at the alley’s entrance, pointing towards Hōdō Inari. At the end of the narrow alley is a series of metallic, futuristic torii arches, and a pair of chimpanzees seated across from the shrine.
While the chimpanzee sculptures are (likely) supposed to represent a family, they have since inspired a popular belief that visiting the shrine will also grant you good luck if you are single and looking for a romantic partner. If you look at it that way, it does seem like the chimpanzee at the entrance has gotten a partner after it entered the alley and reached the shrine.
But, you may be wondering, why chimpanzees in the first place? The answer is quite simple: 2016 was the Year of the Monkey in the Chinese zodiac.
Know Before You Go
To find the alley, take a turn onto Renga-Dori Street and keep an eye on your left hand: the chimpanzee is standing in front of an inconspicuous building. If you are getting off at Tokyo Metro’s Ginza Station, use the exit B2 or B4. The corner of Renga-Dori is marked by a statue of Cupid called the Angel of Ginza.