You won’t find torii shrine gates like this anywhere else.

Tokyo’s neighbouring prefectures sometimes get overlooked by tourists who favour the bright lights and excitement of the capital city. These places really are worth exploring on a day trip, though, as there are plenty of unique treasures to be found tucked away in serene pockets of nature hidden well off the beaten path.

Over in Chiba Prefecture, for instance, about two-and-a-half hours from Tokyo Station by car or train, is a rare spot where you can worship the sunrise before others on the mainland, excluding those on mountain tops.

The place is Chobokuri Inari Shrine, located in Choshi City on a small hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and our reporter Masanuki Sunakoma made the trip out there recently, after a friend told him there was something there he wouldn’t be able to see anywhere else.

▼ After a five-minute bicycle ride from Tokawa Station, the terminal station of Choshi Electric Railway, a red torii gate beckoned Masanuki to enter a mysterious-looking forest.

As the lush greenery swallowed up the light, Masanuki felt as if he were entering another world, with the path leading him to a place unknown.

After making it out the other side of the forest and into a clearing, Masanuki blinked under the brightness, wondering what sort of weird world he’d entered.

“Is that…a fish staring at me??”

Masanuki cautiously approached the giant fish, half expecting it to talk to him and impart some wise words of wisdom.

Masanuki cleared his mind, in case the big bream decided to communicate with him telepathically. Sea bream like this one, or “tai” as they’re known in Japan, are considered to be auspicious, so Masanuki chose to view this as a benevolent beast, despite the fact that it was tied down by ropes as if to stop it from swimming violently towards visitors.

The fish kept its eye on Masanuki the whole time as he slowly walked around to the front of the gates, and that’s when Masanuki’s gaze fell upon…a sardine and a saury.

Up until that point, Masanuki had resisted the urge to research the spot, but now he was compelled to find out what was going on here. Why on Earth were there fish taking the place of the horizontal beams on these torii gates?

▼ Each fish was roughly six metres (19.7 feet) long.

▼ And to top it all off, there were conger eels rising up on either side of the front gate.

After doing a bit of research online, Masanuki discovered that this spot is considered to be the best location in Japan for catching fish, where various fish can be caught year-round. What’s less well-known is the fact that, at the beginning of the Edo period (1603-1867), a fisherman named Chokuro fell in love with the sea around ​​Choshi and built a shrine here in hopes of a big catch and to wish for the prosperity of his descendants.

▼ Well, his hopes of a big catch have come true…in a way.

Back in 2011, at the time of the Great East Japan Earthquake, the shrine that was being repaired here collapsed, and it was decided that a saury and sardine torii would be constructed to help revitalise the town. When the unusual gate started attracting a bit of attention online, the giant bream was added.

▼ It’s said that the bream is tied down to help keep it in place during strong winds, but Masanuki felt the real reason it was tied down was to stop it from returning to the sea.

While torii gates are usually located at the front of shrines, this trio of gates appeared to be standing in front of a red shed of sorts, with a basketball hoop attached to it, above the words “kokoro no ooatari” (“big hit in the heart”) handwritten in yellow paint.

▼ Masanuki wasn’t sure what this was supposed to mean, so he asked the big fish, who continued to stare back at him silently.

Like a seasoned sage, the fish’s gaze pierced Masanuki’s heart, and that’s when he understood what it’s like to receive a “big hit in the heart”. Big fish will have that effect on you, especially when they’re sat atop torii gates overlooking the ocean.

As Masanuki bid farewell to the fish, he saw a rusty metal box with handwritten messages on it that read, “Begone, poverty of the heart” (“心の貧乏出ていけ”) and “I’m sick of it” (“もういやだ”). Like the message on the shed, these scrawled notes would no doubt hold deeper significance for visitors looking for meaning in life…or maybe they really were directed at Masanuki, who’s recently become known as the dark senbero lord of the office.

As if knowing Masanuki needed something familiar and comforting to set him off on a good journey back home, this torii came into his line of sight. This “Golden Torii” gleams on a sunny day, and is a popular spot for viewing the first sunrise of the year, as it’s perfectly positioned towards the rising sun.

▼ Luckily for us, Masanuki had his drone with him on the day of his visit, so he was able to capture the unique site in all its glory.

Despite all its quirks, this seaside site really is a shrine, and people who visit it are said to be blessed with all sorts of benefits like fertility, safety, business prosperity, good luck in studies, and the chance to net all sorts of big catches.

That’s definitely good news for Masanuki and our team, seeing as he’s been helping us search for treasure at the cheap countryside house we bought for just one million yen (US$9,100).

Site Information
Chobokuri Inari Shrine / 長九郎稲荷神社
Address: Near Chiba-ken, Choshi-shi, Nagasakimachi 10744

Photos © SoraNews24
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