№ 15: Rabbits

Rabbits at the gate of Tsuki Shrine, Saitama City, Japan
Rabbits at the gate of Tsuki Shrine, Saitama City, Japan

35°51’12.0″N 139°39’18.8″E

There are many rabbits in this place. It is a shrine dominated by them. Some of them are doing jobs more commonly held by foxes or lion-dogs, while others hide in corners of carvings or sit under shelters, relaxing in their old age.

A family of rabbits stands guard at the entrance, flanking the path and keeping watch from above. Another, much larger rabbit sits patiently above a carved stone trough filled with cold, clear water.

The water that flows from this rabbit’s mouth is used to cleanse and purify. Early in the morning, when most people are still asleep, the shrine is hushed, and the flow of the water joins the rustle of the trees to gently fill the air with sound.

Every day, people come to be purified with this water and to pray. On some days, only a few dozen come. On festival days, throngs of thousands too numerous to count crowd and jostle one another.

One by one, they pick up long-handled dippers and scoop water from the trough. They rinse their hands and their mouths with it, before continuing on to the worship hall to pray.

At every hour, by daylight and starlight alike, the rabbits watch over this place. Humans come and go, and appear to run the shrine, but in the end it belongs to the rabbits.

Stone rabbit at the chozuya at Tsuki Jinja, Saitama City, Japan
Stone rabbit at the chozuya at Tsuki Jinja, Saitama City, Japan

The shrine near my apartment is Tsuki Shrine, or Tsuki Jinja. Though written with different kanji, this tsuki (調)and the word for moon (月) are homophones. Japanese folklore includes the story of the rabbit in the moon, which (as best I can tell) is how this shrine wound up with rabbits instead of the much more common foxes or dogs. It is my favorite shrine, and the rabbits are one of my favorite things about it.

The featured image of this post is available as a print. Get a 50% discount off list price with the code “SOMEWHERE” at checkout.

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David R Munson

David R Munson

Photographer, essayist, wanderer, weirdo. Everything is interesting if you give it an honest chance to be.

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