Sendai's Gokoku Jinja
Gourd-shaped ema caught my eye at this Shinto shrine
I'm not particularly religious -- in fact, by some reckonings, I'm not at all religious -- yet on my travels, I often find myself paying a visit to a religious establishment (or much more) even on days when they actually weren't on the agenda. Take, as an example, day one of my recent Japan trip: while I knew that I wanted to head up to Mount Aoba after arriving in Sendai, I didn't know until I got there that the 100 meter hill had a Shinto shrine atop it!
Initially, I figured I wouldn't be missing much if I didn't go check out that not particularly big jinja. And, in fact, I went and admired the vistas to be had from that scenic viewpoint and the equestrian statue of Date Masamune as well as had my Zunda Shake and lunch along with a leisurely stroll around the pleasantly green hilltop area before I turned my attention to the modest but colorful shrine that also occupies a section of what used to be the grounds of Aoba Castle.
Upon spying some unusual looking ema in the grounds though, I decided to go in for a closer look and saw that they were actual gourds -- which I've tended to associate with Chinese Buddhist temples (probably because I first came across them on the path leading up to the Kek Lok Si Temple in Penang) more so than Japanese Shinto shrines. All in all, the clusters of them -- along with all the red and gold to be found on the shrine buildings -- made for a photogenic sight that helped to brighten up my day.
I must admit though that my view of Gokoku Jinja darkened somewhat upon my learning that it's the prefectural branch shrine of Tokyo's controversial Yasukuni Jinja, with a museum focusing on Japan's modern military history. Perhaps it's just as well that I didn't actually realize what this shrine (which was only established in the early years of the 20th century) is dedicated to when I visited -- as, in all honesty, that's a part of the Japanese past that I don't care as much for as so much else about it.
Years ago in Kyoto, I similarly stumbled across a shrine for the military dead -- only the Ryozen Kannon Temple actually had memorials to the Allied dead as well as the souls of the Japanese soldiers, pilots and sailors who perished during the Second World War. From what I've since read though of the Gokoku Jinja (of which the one is Sendai is but one prefectural representative), they strictly enshrine Japanese souls (or those considered Japanese by officials). And even if these are not exclusively of those people who had fought in, and perished over the course of, World War II, I actually wonder in retrospect if the lack of explanatory signage for this shrine was purely accidental.