Altered Views at a Shinjuku Shrine: “Kumano Jūnisha Shrine at Tsunohazu”
From Waterfalls to Commercial Center
During the Edo period (1603–1868) the area west of what is today the bustling Shinjuku Sanchōme intersection was known as Tsunohazu.
One of the best-known sights of the area was Kumano Jūnisha Shrine, located in what is today the corner of Shinjuku Central Park. The shrine was reportedly founded during the Ōei era (1394–1428) by a merchant named Suzuki Kurō. Suzuki was himself from Kumano in modern-day Wakayama Prefecture, and arranged for the propagation from the original shrine of the three avatars of the Kumano mountains (sansho gongen), four deities (yonsho myōjin), and five princes (gosho ōji). Three plus four plus five is twelve, so the shrine was popularly known as the jūnisha or “twelve shrines.”
In Hiroshige’s day, Kumano Jūnisha Shrine had an upper and a lower pond to the west, several minor waterfalls to the east, and teahouses and restaurants all around it. It was a popular destination for urbanites looking to cool off in summer. Hiroshige’s print shows the structures of the shrine at bottom left and the larger, higher pond on the right, with visitors enjoying the refreshing air at the water’s edge. Those ponds have long since been filled in and paved over with roads, but the east side of Shinjuku Central Park still has a water plaza complete with cascading fountain where local office workers go to enjoy lunch.
It seemed to me that the view from the top of the park’s Eco Gallery would match Hiroshige’s perspective, so I got permission from the administrative offices and went to take a look. Unfortunately, the trees had grown so large that the shrine was entirely obscured, so I had to approach a bit closer to get a shot where the building could be seen at bottom like the original print.
About the Location
Despite being a forest of high-rise buildings today, west Shinjuku is actually one of Tokyo’s younger commercial districts. It was not until the Meiji era (1868–1912) that the scenic village of Tsunohazu began to see serious development. Until then, Edo’s water supply had come from the Tamagawa and Kanda aqueducts, but water quality issues meant that a modern purification plant was needed. In 1894, Tsunohazu officially became home to the Yodobashi Water Treatment Plant, which eliminated most of the waterfalls to the east of the shrine.
Shinjuku grew into a transport hub, and plans were soon drawn up to make it a secondary city center. After the Yodobashi plant was relocated in 1965, the skyscrapers of Shinjuku began to rise, with the Keiō Plaza Hotel leading the way in 1971. In 1991, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government moved its offices to the area, cementing the area’s status as one of the city’s largest commercial centers.
One Hundred Famous Views of Edo by Kichiya, the Ukiyo Photographer: Today’s Tokyo Through Hiroshige’s Eyes
Meisho Edo hyakkei, known in the West as One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, was one of ukiyo-e artist Utagawa Hiroshige’s most celebrated works, influencing even Western artists like Van Gogh and Monet. Drawn in Hiroshige’s final years and published from 1856 to 1861, the series depicted the sights of Edo (as Tokyo was then known) through the changing seasons. Audiences around the world admired Hiroshige’s inventive use of bold compositions, bird’s-eye-view perspectives, and vivid colors. A century and a half later, “ukiyo photographer” Kichiya has set himself the task of recreating each of these views with a photograph taken in the same place, at the same time of year, from the same angle. Join us in this new series at Nippon.com on a tour of these “famous views” in Edo and modern-day Tokyo, guided by Kichiya’s artistry and his knowledge of old maps and life in Edo.