Exploring Japan’s Historical Landmarks and Shrines in the Middle of Streets

If you’ve ever driven in Japan you may have come across an unfamiliar scene: a small shrine right in the middle of the road. Sometimes the road curves to one side to avoid the shrine and give it some space. Other times the shrine rests literally in the middle of the road, unbothered by the passing traffic as if the cars are just a blip in time. And sometimes they aren’t even formal shrines. Just a sacred rock or tree.

a tiny jijinto along the backstreets of Yokohama (google map link)

These tiny shrines, sometimes referred to as jijinto (地神塔, literally “earth god tower”) take many shapes and forms. Some are cared for and have official names and purposes such a bringing good harvests. Others have fallen into disrepair and have been overgrown by shrubs and weeds, their stories slowly erased by time. Some have roofs over them and others are simply a stone or a tree. Ask a local why it’s still there and you’re likely to hear a legend about someone who tried to remove it and then fell victim to an unfortunate event such as illness, accident or even death.

For whatever reason, there are hundreds of these tiny shrines scattered across Japan and stumbling upon them is one of the many joys of traversing the country. Thanks to modern satellite and street imagery, we were able to pinpoint the exact location of several. If you know of others, feel free to leave a comment below!

this jijinto in Tokyo’s Nerima Ward seems relatively well-looked after (google map link)


a mound and sacred stone rest in the middle of this road in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward. One legend has it that it’s the place where Minamoto no Yoritomo’s horse died (google map link)


this shrine in Tokyo’s Nerima Ward actually has a name: Tokumeijizo-son (google map link)


this stone altar in Mie prefecture actually has a date that indicates it was built in the year 1700 (google map link)


in Shiga prefecture this large boulder is said to commemorate a sacred tree that once stood here (google map link)


in the middle of the street in Nara rests two adjacent shrines (google map link)


along a mountainous road in Ibaraki prefecture sits this lone sacred sugi tree. For one reason or another, no one wants to go near it. (google map link)


in Gunma prefecture, this tiny shrine with its own tiny torii gate sits in the middle of a crossroads (google map link)


in Hiroshima, a tiny entrance to a tiny shrine is nestled in the back street of town (google map link)


in Saitama prefecture, a fairly elaborate jijinto with slatted wooden walls and a roof (google map link)


along the backstreets of Tokyo’s Shinjuku district, a lone sacred tree that nobody wanted to remove (google map link)


In Osaka, a tiny shrine and trees sit along this busy road (google map link)

3 Comments

  1. Wonderful little article with those map links. Nice sleuthing.

    Here’s one near me in Matsubara, Setagaya ward, alled Tokumei Jizoson: https://www.google.co.jp/maps/@35.6607133,139.6521784,3a,40y,250.3h,96.85t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sAF1QipPGnxx6ErYQXUArrgjYEwHPa6XUs6xXetDD0FY_!2e10!7i1920!8i1080?hl=en

    https://www.google.co.jp/maps/place/Tokumei+Jizo-son/@35.660656,139.6521256,20.25z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x6018f30af7022df3:0x41c4d8c63943c0f0!8m2!3d35.660675!4d139.6520657?hl=en

    According to one reviewer, there is a legend that this Jizo statue was returned to its original position because there was a curse when it was temporarily moved to another place when a road that went north in front of the Kitazawa police station was built.

  2. This is delightful! It’s one reason why so many of us westerners love Japan. The modern, car-centric world is reminded by these tiny shrines that there’s still a part us that can’t be paved over.

  3. Interesting. Are these different from normal roadside shrines? I pulled up the Wikipedia for 地神塔 (https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/地神塔), but it seems to be talking about something different (my Japanese isn’t the best) so I’m confused.

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