Kameido-Tenjin Shrine is one of the most popular shrines in Tokyo, dedicated to the deified spirit of 9th-century poet and politician, Sugawara-no-Michizane. Every year, students come here to pray to Michizane, now revered as the god of scholarship and education, for good luck on their entrance exams. The shrine is also known for its traditional-style vermillion bridges, as well as its wisteria garden that comes into full bloom in late April.
Like many big shrines in Japan, Kameido-Tenjin is also home to several lesser shrines called setsumatsusha, including one dedicated to the water goddess Benzaiten and another of a sacred bull statue that is said to possess healing properties. However, there is another little god at the back of the great shrine, hidden in the corner but not quite forgotten.
Known as Oinusama, the enshrined statue appears to be that of a dog, not unlike those standing guard at the entrances of most Japanese shrines. Covered with salt from head to paw, he may look like he’s freezing in the cold snow of winter, but locals believe that rubbing salt onto him will make one’s wishes come true, especially if they wish to be cured of some disease.
While the origin of this good-boy god is barely known even to the priests of Kameido, it’s been theorized that a small shrine once stood on the premises and was lost to an air raid during World War II, Oinusama being one of the pair of guardian dog statues at its entrance. When the war ended, the statue was found among the rubble, damaged beyond repair and was placed in the corner of the shrine. Over time, people considered it a minor deity and even built a miniature shrine to honor him.
Whatever the truth is, Oinusama continues to be a subject of worship and cared for by the local people, a fairly recent addition to the ever-growing Japanese pantheon of folk gods.
Know Before You Go
The Kameido-tenjin shrine is open 24/7, though the section that sells fortunes and omamori amulets closes at 5 pm.