Shrines are major installations in Japan. Whether amidst modern architecture or standing proud in its historical landmarks, shrines are both a local and international destination. And regardless of whether you are Japanese or not, you would know if a place you’ve arrived at is a shrine.
These shrines, such as the Hikawa Shrine in Omiya, are considered scared places in Shintoism, the belief system of Japan. Shinto, which literally translated are the words shin (“spirit”) and tou (“way”), means “Way of the Gods.” Shintoism is never actually referred to as a religion, but a way of life for Japanese people.
Shinto shrines are a place where the ancient Japanese believe sacred objects of the gods are kept. Shrines are considered a sacred space, which you will be able to tell based on the symbolic and physical structures build around the shrine, such as the torii gates, shimenawa (ropes with zigzagged paper strips) and statues. And while most of the exterior of the shrine is open to the public, the shrine’s interior only allows access to its priests.
Did you know? Shinto shrines are named differently according to their type and title (and there are many). This is why you would notice some shrines being referred to with one term such as jinja or jingu while another shrine would be referred to with another title like miya or taisha. The reason why we don’t notice this is because in English, the only translation available for these terms is “shrine.”
In any case, Hikawa Jinja or Hikawa Shrine is one of the most popular shrines, especially during hatsumode, the New Year’s celebration in Japan. There are many other activities that keep Hikawa Shrine busy, but on most days it is a relaxing place to visit and stroll around in. Visitors can pick up charms and omikuji (fortunes), as well as write their wishes on on an ema (wooden plates).
One of the things you will be able to spot here at Hikawa Shrine is some senbazuru hanging by the ema. Senbazuru is the term used for the “One Thousand Paper Cranes,” a belief that many Japan enthusiasts are familiar with.
According to the belief, a person that folds one thousand paper cranes can make and will be granted a wish by a crane, one of the mystical creatures in Japan. The belief in senbazuru was made even popular by the touching story of Sadako Sasaki, a girl that was exposed to radiation during the bombing of Hiroshima, who began folding paper cranes in order to wish that she would get well. Her story became so wide-spread among the Japanese, that every year on Obon Day, thousands upon thousands of paper cranes are left at her statue in Hiroshima.
At shrines like Hikawa, people also make their senbazuru wishes, leaving origami cranes hanging with the other wishes