Torigoe Shrine

Warriors, birds and flaming rice cakes

By Sleiman Azizi    - 2 min read

One of Tokyo's oldest shrines, Torigoe Shrine is also one of its least known. With a history stretching back over 1300 years to the earliest days of the nascent Japanese nation, this Shinto shrine in southern Taito found its birth when the legendary warrior Yamato Takeru no Mikoto stopped by to rest and the locals set up a shrine in his honour.

Centuries later, another warrior found his way into the area and whose prayers for victory lead to the naming of the shrine. Searching for a way to defeat the enemy, Minamoto no Yoshiie received advice from a bird who told him of a sandbar over which he could manoeuvre his troops. The advice proved valuable and to this day, the shrine goes by the name of Torigoe, or 'bird going over.'

Torigoe Shrine in Taito City (Photo: <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener nofollow">Akeiro Torii / CC BY-SA 3.0</a>)
Torigoe Shrine in Taito City (Photo: Akeiro Torii / CC BY-SA 3.0)

The sandbars that the shrine's name refers to are long gone thanks to land reclamation projects that began in the Edo period and the hill that the shrine once stood on was removed to make way for the shogun's rice granaries. The current split-level construction stems from that period.

Unlike the shrine's main Torigoe Night Festival in June that sees a portable four-tonne mikoshi shrine paraded through the neighbourhood, it is perhaps the many rituals held throughout the year that give this shrine its life. None more so than the tondo-yaki ritual held on the 8th of January where mochi rice cakes are baked in the flames of a bonfire lit with flintstones and fed with New Years decorations.

Spiritual blessings before the lighting of the tondo-yaki ritual (Photo: <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener nofollow">江戸村のとくぞう (Edomura no Tokuzo) / CC BY-SA 3.0</a>)
Spiritual blessings before the lighting of the tondo-yaki ritual (Photo: 江戸村のとくぞう (Edomura no Tokuzo) / CC BY-SA 3.0)

The only remaining example of this ritual in all of Tokyo, it turns out that Torigoe Shrine has inadvertently become a repository of Tokyo - and Japanese - history and along with its pleasant surroundings, makes for an enjoyable visit, away from the bustle of more famous shrines.

Getting there

The shrine is a 6-minute walk from Exit A1 of Kuramae Station on the Toei Asakusa Line, an 8-minute walk from the East Exit of Asakusabashi Station on the JR Chuo-Sobu Line or an 11-minute walk from Exit A6 of Kuramae Station on the Toei Oedo Line.

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Sleiman Azizi

Sleiman Azizi @sleiman.azizi

A Japanese Permanent Resident, I have over 400 published articles on Japan as well as 5 English language books written in a traditional Japanese style. I happen enjoy writing. Funny that...I'm also the Regional Partner for Tokyo, Japan's never ending capital, so if you've anything to say about Tokyo - or Japan in general - don't be shy and contact with me via

Join the discussion

Kim B a year ago
The tondo-yaki ritual sounds so interesting!
Sébastien Duval a year ago
Let us know if there is a chance to meet during your stay in Japan 🗾
Elizabeth S a year ago
That's deeply elemental and primal - baking the new year rice cakes using fuel from the old year's ritual ornaments.

Any time of year, the "ujiko", or parishioners of the shrine, who run businesses there, are pretty cool people.
Sleiman Azizi Author a year ago
The flame has me entranced.