Yasukuni Shrine

The shrine with a sumo ring!
The shrine with a sumo ring!

This is a gorgeous, lively, maddeningly nationalistic, must-see Imperial shrine.

If you follow Japanese news at all, every year you’ll hear about the Yasukuni Shrine. It’s the place where the souls of all soldiers who fought for Japan since the samurai era are enshrined. It always makes the news if the prime minister decides to appear and make an offering on Japan’s version of Memorial Day, because certain souls enshrined there are considered WWII war criminals by other countries. But that’s not all there is to this grand shrine!

Like the Meiji Shrine, the Yasukuni Shrine is built of un-lacquered cedar, with golden decorations, the sign of a shrine dedicated to the Imperial family.

It turns out that sumo started out as the Shinto practice of “wrestling with the gods,” so the Yasukuni Shrine still hosts a FREE amateur & professional tournament once a year in the outdoor sumo amphitheatre.

Age group sumo tournament at the Yasukuni Shrine outdoor sumo amphitheater, on the first Friday in April.
During cherry blossom season, the shrine is occasionally open in the evenings, but rollicking food stands are set up on the promenade leading up to the main gate, so revelers can have a cold beer and eat a whole fish (I was assured that the head is the best part) in the warm spring evenings even on days the shrine closes at the regular time.
During cherry blossom season and the annual Mitama Festival in July, food stands are set up on the promenade leading up to the main gate, so revelers can have a cold beer and eat a whole fish. (The head is SUPPOSEDLY the best part.)
Festival food is Japan is fresh, delicious and safe – it's your big chance to try some octopus balls or barbequed sweetfish or squid on a stick!
Festival food is Japan is fresh and delicious and safe – it’s your big chance to try some octopus balls or squid on a stick!
During the three-day spring and fall festivals, traditional dance, music, juggling, taiko drumming, and more are performed on the outdoor Noh stage. Entertainment is all free, and there’s lots of good, cheap festival food to try.
The garden has a wonderful koi pond, and is especially nice during cherry blossom season.
The shrine has a wonderful koi pond and garden, and is especially nice during cherry blossom season.
The museum on the grounds has an impressive collection of Japanese WWII memorabilia, displayed in a chronological retelling of the action from the Japanese perspective. English explanations are few and far between, and you should be aware that this shrine is the favorite of those with a nationalist bent, so the POV is distinctly different from Western takes on that war.
All in all, worth seeing, any season of the year.


Nearby destinations: Ikebukuro, Japan Traditional Craft Center, Koraku-en Garden, Shinjuku

The Last Tea Bowl Thief was chosen as an Editor’s Pick for Best Mystery, Thriller & Suspense on Amazon

 For three hundred years, a missing tea bowl passes from one fortune-seeker to the next, changing the lives of all who possess it…read more

“A fascinating mix of history and mystery.” —Booklist

Jonelle Patrick writes novels set in Japan, produces the monthly e-magazine Japanagram, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had

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