For those who have used Haneda Airport before, especially if you drive, ever wonder why is there a giant Torii (shrine gate) at the Benten bridge (弁天橋) on the edge of the airport precinct, where Tama river (多摩川) and Ebitori river (海老取り川) cross, but not a shrine there? This time, we investigate the local legend known as the “Cursed Torii” (呪いの鳥居 / Noroi no Torii).
The History of Torii and the Shrine
Originally, the parking lot area of Haneda Airport was once a land that belonged to the Suzuki family (鈴木家 / Suzuki-ka). In 1804, an Inari shrine was built at the end of the Ebitori river (Inari-sama 稲荷様 is a god of rice and rice fields). It was believed that the god of rice would protect the rice fields, preventing the seawater from gushing into the fields. Previously, it was named “Anamori Inari-sha” (穴杜稲荷社), then later changed to the current name in 1886 by the Meiji Restoration Declaration, becoming Anamori Inari Jinja (穴守稲荷神社). It means the shrine of Inari who guards the hole.
The Phenomena of Moving the Torii
In 1931, the area was expropriated to be used as Haneda Airbase during World War II, however, the shrine was left intact. But as Japan lost the war in 1945, the US occupational force took over the airbase and gave an order for the locals to evacuate the area within 48 hours. Thus, the shrine was moved to the new location.
Anamori Inari Shrine
1st Strange Event: the mystery incident surrounding the US occupational force
Since the Torii was too large for the local villagers to move within 48 hours, the US force then rallied the troops to remove the Torii; using rope tied to a jeep to pull it down. But the rope snapped, causing the jeep car to turn over and ended with many injured. Many who were involved with this incident also mysteriously fell ill. Even the general of the Alliance’s Pacific force, Douglas MacArthur, could not manage the incident. The company responsible for removing the Torii also had a financial crisis later.
The locals believed that this was the wrath of the deity guarding over this Torii.
When the Alliance’s occupation ended, the airbase was returned to Japan’s administration. The Japanese government decided to build Haneda Airport but left the Torii in the original location in the parking lots area.
*from the Nikkei business newspaper 11 January 1995 evening edition, the Yomiuri newspaper 11 October 1995 evening edition, and the Weekly Post magazine 5 April 1996 edition.
2nd Strange Event: the mysterious incident surrounding the Haneda Airport’s first expansion
In 1992, the Japanese government had a plan to expand the airport, so it was decided at the beginning of the year to remove the Torii. But on the 9 February of the same year, there was an accident: Japan Airline Flight 350 from Fukuoka to Haneda crashed into the shallow water zone during the brake while landing. 24 died and 149 injured. The removal of Torii was postponed once again.
More importantly, this was the first plane crash of the ’90s in Japan. Besides, the plane’s model was McDonnel Douglas DC-8-61, which contains the name “Douglas” just like Douglas McArthur, the occupational force that failed to remove the Torii before.
Even today, the number 350 is a forbidden flight number in Japan Airline; the number is always skipped, just like how elevators in the western countries skip the number 13. The pilot of the flight was diagnosed with mental symptoms before the incident and received no charge in the court. He was sent to the hospital and made a full recovery; now living a normal life.
Later, there were many decisions to remove the Torii, but every time there would be some form of accidents during the operations, or workers falling sick. This had become a heated debate between the locals and the Ministry of Transportation. Nevertheless, any workers who were involved in the reconstruction of the old Terminal buildings would occasionally stop by to pay homage and apologize to the Torii.
*from Sport Nippon 3 August 1998 edition.
3rd Strange Event: the mysterious incident surrounding the first successful relocation of Torii
In 1999, more than half a year since the shrine was moved to the new location, there was another relocation of the Torii. This time, they invited a specialist in “Ki” medical to help.
The specialist, AOSHIMA Daimei (青島大明), wrote in his book, “The “Ki” medical that can heal any sickness” published in August 2002, stating that he was contacted by the officers in the Ministry of Transportation to oversee the ground operations in the Summer of 1998. He then visited the Torii in 7 August of that year.
Daimei said that he did not feel any evil from the Torii, so he attempted a test to seal the evil by lighting up three incense sticks. But after lighting up, a sudden gush of wind came by, causing the rightmost stick to extinguish. It was a sunny day with peaceful wind, there should not be any gust of wind there.
He tried again by switching the sticks around, but after lighting them up, another gust of wind came, and the rightmost stick was extinguished once again. This form of test can only be done thrice, but then, he suddenly felt the evil presence, but not from the Torii itself, rather, from the great tree next to Torii. When he looked closely, he felt the evil energy so much that he had to throw up.
To seal the evil energy, he performed the sealing ceremony, then a third test; in which all the incense sticks were lighted up normally.
Originally, the plan to relocate the Torii was in October 1998, but Daimei told those who were involved in the plan that if the relocation were done as the original plan, another tragedy would occur. He suggested postponing to February or March of the next year (1999) and avoid any actions that would harm the great tree, to prevent the incident. The relocation was carried out on the 4th of February 1999.
Even so, there was a strange incident. From the excavation, they found that the bases of the Torii were so deep and stable; it would be impossible to pull it down horizontally. They decided to use a crane to pull the Torii up vertically instead. It is said that once the Torii was pulled from the ground, the weather which was once clear suddenly turned into a storm, and gusts of wind came blowing so hard that the cranes behand to shake, But since then it was relocated downstream (not to the new shrine), which was only 800m away, the relocation was done within 2 days with no injury or loss.
* From the book "Medicine" that "can cure all illnesses" published in 2002.
Torii at the former Anamori Inari Shrine’s location
The Remaining: Why is there a Torii there without a Shrine?
Many still wonder that, if it can be relocated, then why not move it to the new shrine? Why simply move it downstream just to expand the airport? There are many hypotheses surrounding this.
The first hypothesis believes that all the strange incidents were the retribution of the Inari deity. Especially since the first two incidents were the “removal”, while the third was “relocation”, and was only moved within the former shrine’s precinct. But this may sound contradictory since if the deity moved to the new shrine, would he not prefer that the Torii moved to the new location? But we cannot fathom the desire of the deity; maybe the deity still inhibits the former precinct rather than moving to the new shrine, or maybe if the Torii was moved there, the area would be used by the airport completely.
The next hypothesis follows the writing of Daimei, who advised the successful relocation. As he said, the cause of the incidents was not from the Torii, rather the great tree nearby. By pulling down horizontally, the base of the Torii clashed with the roots, thus causing the calamity. But he did not say in his book why simply relocating the Torii out of the parking lots area to the new shrine would be impossible.
And there are many who believe that this involves the name of the shrine: Guardian of the Hole. It is believed that in the former shrine precinct, there was a strange hole that housed the evil spirit. The Torii was built to seal that evil, so it should not be moved out of the old precinct. Still, this hypothesis cannot explain while on the second incident, why there was a calamity that happened right after the plan was decided without any operation started.
But nonetheless, the area has not fully become a part of the airport, and probably never will for a long time: if people still believe in the curse and there are still strange incidents.
But to believe or not to believe, that is for you to decide. That is all for this episode.
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