Who can resist a new year pilgrimage? The days directly following New Year’s Day are quiet in Tokyo. You can get exercise, fresh air and reflection traveling to the Seven Lucky Gods, housed in seven different temples in Yanaka. It is a mini pilgrimage set up by these temples in the Edo Era. It has became popular enough to have been copied all over Japan.
If you start from Ueno the first of the seven you encounter is Benten Sama, Benzaiten, the most dangerous and suspect of the seven. She is the only woman in the group and she is a foreigner, from India. She champions things that flow - water, time, words and music, no safety there.
Benten Sama is on a little island in the middle of Ueno Pond.
Edo suffered from Kyoto envy. The great Kaneiji Temple that was located where Ueno Park is now built a temple to imitate Kyoto’s famous Kyomizu Dera. It still stands up the hill. That temple looks down through a pine tree bent into a circle to Benten on her island, a tip of the hat to the Benten on the Chikubu Islands in Lake Biwa, northeast of Kyoto, just as Ueno is northeast of the Edo Castle.
Unlike the Edo Castle the Kyomizu imitaton and Benten still stand and are fun to visit at the start or the end of your pilgrimage.
The usual procedure to acquire luck, fresh air and elucidation on a sunny winter’s day is to get your paper signed and stamped at the first temple then walk from temple to temple and collect the stamps. It will take 3 or 4 hours depending upon how often you get lost and what you stop to do along the way.
The stamps and signatures of the temples used to cost 500 yen each and are remarkable in themselves some may require time in line as this is a popular pilgrimage. The popularity may keep you from getting lost, as people generally move in the same direction.
The pilgrimage is practiced during the first half of January. I would start with Toukakuji Temple 東覚寺 - Fukurokuju, near Tabata JR station. It is the usual course and leaves you at Benten in Ueno at the end, close to shopping, food and drink.
Start early in the day and if you get lost, enjoy that too.