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Sacred Sights

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"Monkey Shrines"

Hie Shrine, Akasaka, Tokyo, Japan


When you see a gateway at a temple or shrine that has bays on either side, you expect them to be occupied by human figures.  Well, not in this gate at Hie Jinja in Tokyo:

This shrine is dedicated to Sanno (meaning "Mountain King") Gongen.  He dwells on Mt. Hiei, between Kyoto and Lake Biwa.  This is also the home mountain of Tendai Chinese Tien-tai,  Buddhism so many of Japan's 3400 Hie Jinjas are built in proximity to Tendai temples, meant to protect them.

Sanno's messenger is a monkey.  So, although the bays on the outside of the gate above contain the typical warrior figures, here are the occupants of the bays on the inside:

That's right: monkeys.  Clothed, kind of creepy-looking monkeys.  The female on the left cradles a baby in her arms; male and female both hold implements used in Shinto rituals.  The monkeys--especially the female--are patrons of harmonious marriage (my best friend Reiko was married at this shrine) and safe childbirth.

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