11/10/18

&: Onoterusaki Shrine


Around these Negishi streets, there once lived bunjin and artists, daimyo set up in their second homes, courtesans retired or furloughed from the brothels at Yoshiwara, townsmen and clergymen, attracted by a new community balanced between the respectable quarters of Edo and the wild open spaces that ran out to the red light district and beyond to the wasteland occupied by madmen and outcastes. The bush warblers imported from Kyoto's western hills that used to sing in Uguisudani have been replaced by the sound of JR trains coming into the station, and the villas were leveled long ago, replaced with unlovely shitamachi slums and then love hotels and apartment blocks and handsome recent infill development and parking lots. Masaoka Shiki, the master of the modern haiku, his house still stands not far away from here; and Higuchi Ichiyo and Nagai Kafu both wrote about the place, and even this shrine—Onoterusaki Shrine—has made it into accounts of the area. In the summer, this shrine is an oasis of chilly shade; and now, in the late autumn, the yard has turned to mud and its smell dank weedy smell mixes with incense and the cooking smells of nearby apartments. The ema decorated with a painting of a bush warbler perched on a brush hint at the literary air of the place, devoted to a Heian scholar known for his brash literary exploits that included climbing a ladder down to hell to clerk for King Yama as he made his judgements on mortal men. And beyond the iron gates stand a miniature Mount Fuji, one of the few left behind by the cult started by an ascetic that starved himself in protest of a hike in the price of rice. They hoped for the return of the deity of the mountain to arrive like Maitreya or mashiach to rule over millennia of peace and prosperity. The iron gates and the monkey guards protect the mound during most of the year, but on the final day of June and the first day of July, they are opened and the faithful or curious can hike up the rough lava rocks. But on a cold day at the beginning of November, the mound is camouflaged against the rest of the hardscape by weeds.