I call this the “funeral goods district,” but there’s nothing depressing about the street where they sell intricately-pieced Shinto shrines and incredibly expensive Buddhist altars.
First, let me explain why most Japanese describe themselves as both Buddhist and Shinto: the eight million Shinto gods take care of everything they need while alive (safe childbirth, good exam results, happy weddings, good health, etc.) and Buddhism takes care of them in the afterlife.
Shops that cater to the Shinto gods and Buddhist observance line the streets of Inari-cho, but how will we know which is which?
First, the stores that sell Buddhist home altars (butsudan
)It’s easy to recognize Buddhist home altars because they’ve all got a pair of doors that open to reveal framed photos of ancestors, a place to light incense, a vase for flowers, a bell sitting on a brocade cushion, and a place where the memorial tablets are stored. Many butsudan also include a figure of Kannon (the saint of mercy and kindness) or the Buddha. (Shinto shrines never have a figure in them.)
The Shinto gods, on the other hand…
…love their little unvarnished cedar wood buildings, unchanged in design for centuries. Every New Years, the sacred paper representing the resident god must be bought anew at the local shrine, installed in the personal version, and the old paper cremated in the main shrine’s holy bonfire.