A shrine dedicated to legendary tanuki spirits and featured in a Studio Ghibli movie is under threat in Japan – but you can make your opposition heard.
Have you ever seen the 1994 Studio Ghibli anime Pom Poko? If not, I recommend it. Directed by the late Isao Takahata, it’s about a tribe of tanuki (known as raccoon dogs in English) whose way of life in the Japanese countryside is threatened by urban development. The tanuki must use their magical powers of transformation to try and scare the humans away. It’s a film that touches on the common Ghibli themes of environmentalism and folklore. There’s also a great deal of references to Shinto beliefs and and practices throughout.
Now, the story of the film might just become reality. A Shinto shrine dedicated to tanuki that was featured in Pom Poko is under threat of demolition, to make room for a parking lot.
Kincho Shrine is a small Shinto shrine located Hinomine Omiko Park in Komatsushima, a city in Japan’s island of Shikoku. The tanuki has become something of a totem animal for the city, and hundreds of tanuki statues can be seen in the town.
Kincho Shrine itself is dedicated to a legendary tanuki who was once saved by a general who saw it being tormented by children. In gratitude, the tanuki himself became a general and led local armies to a number of victories. He became known as Kincho (金長), which means “Golden General”. This is almost certainly a reference to the oversized testicles of mythical tanuki; the word for “testicle” in Japanese, kintama (金玉） literally means “golden balls!”
Appropriately enough, Kincho Shrine is filled with stone statues of tanuki, including one measuring 15ft high. When visitors stand in front of this tanuki and clap their hands (the traditional way to pray at a Shinto shrine), this activates a water fountain behind the statue.
But now, the tanuki shrine faces a real-life threat of demolition.
The park where the shrine is located owned by the municipal government. The local government have plans to turn this park into an emergency management facility by 2023. And the shrine is apparently in the perfect place for a parking lot. So the proposal is to demolish the shrine and turn it into a parking lot.
There are currently two things that may possibly save this iconic and beloved shrine from destruction. The first is that, while the park is on public land, the shrine itself is private property. It was built in 1956 using money from a donation from a film company executive who’d made a successful movie based on local tanuki folklore.
This means that the municipal government cannot independently make a decision to knock it down. But who actually owns the shrine now is something of a mystery. This isn’t too unusual in Japan; shrine ownership is often a complex issue. So the shrine’s fate may be resting in the hands of the property owner, once the municipal government can track them down.
The second thing that may just stand in the way of the shrine being lost is the public outcry. The locals are devastated that they may lose this wonderful piece of local heritage that attracts visitors to their city. Concerned locals formed the Citizen’s Committee to Protect Kincho Shrine was formed, which created a petition to protect the shrine. According to the the committee chairman, the goal of the petition was “not to protest the plan for redevelopment, but to encourage the city to put its best efforts towards preservation.”
And it hasn’t just been locals who’ve protested against the plans to demolish Kincho Shrine. Fans of Ghibli, anime and Japanese culture from around the world have joined the movement to protect the shrine. Between April and June the petition received 3,092 signatures, while an online petition started in March gathered 7,094 signatures from people around the world. In total over 10,000 people have signed the petitions to protect the shrine.
But while a decision has yet to be made, Kincho Shrine’s future hangs in the balance.
And that’s where you come in. The online petition is still available – please sign it and voice out against the demolition of Kincho Shrine, and please share it!