Fast track to the top at Tokyo's success shrine

Fast track to the top at Tokyo's success shrine

Climbing the corporate ladder with a little help from above at Atago Shrine for highfliers
Atago Shrine
Stairway to heaven or just another dead-end job? Only one way to find out ...

At Tokyo’s Atago Shrine in central Minato Ward, the steps to career success are just that -- steps. Lots and lots of them, climbing almost vertically from the street to the shrine 26 meters away atop Atago Hill.

Though this rise is named Otoko Zaka, literally “Man Hill,” the steps themselves are known as the Shussei no Ishiden, or “Stone Steps to Success,” and there’s a very practical reason for their current significance.

Atago was built in 1603 by order of super shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, whose legacy lasted centuries. It was the highest point in the old city and also served as a fire lookout.

Atago ShrineThe horse took 45 minutes to skitter back down again. Can't say we blame him.Legend says that a young 17th-century samurai rode his horse straight up that impossible incline to deliver a beautiful plum-blossom branch to the shogun.

Samurai were touchy-feely about things like flowers when they weren't slicing and dicing each other and the odd peasant, you see.

The shogun was so impressed that the young man’s future was assured. No mention of what became of the horse that actually did all the work, but them’s the breaks when you're not at the top of the food chain.

Still, there’s a wooden cutout of the samurai and his horse that you can stick your face through for a photo op. Who wants to be the horse, you have to wonder.

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Atago ShrineThe zen and ripped calves (not shown) of a man who climbs stairs for a living.This story of devotion to duty is lovingly documented at the shrine (in English and Japanese) and corporate climbers in Tokyo take it very seriously.

Coming here before starting those all-important job interviews prior to college graduation is a rite of passage for many young Japanese people.

And it’s not just a one-time visit.

Though Hie Shrine in Akasaka is one of the most popular business-luck shrines among companies and corporations of any size, visiting Atago regularly is important to an individual's continued success.

You’ve earned it

Atago ShrinePlease, please let me graduate from pouring the office green tea.People of every age in somber suits and carrying briefcases haul themselves panting to the top of the stairs and then through the little red torii gate to this simple Shinto shrine.

There they bow, asking for a little divine help from that big board of directors in the sky.

Incongruously, yet oh-so-Tokyo, there's a charming Italian bistro right in the grounds of the shrine.

On a fine day, the terrace tables make a great place to celebrate future success or that special promotion with a glass of sparkling wine.

Or maybe just to catch your breath. Those stone steps definitely put the “physical” in metaphysical, after all.

Atago ShrineIf you wind up jobless and on skid row, there's always the forget-it-all power of strong, fermented grape juice.If you want to follow in Tokugawa's footsteps, quite literally, take a deep breath and go for it.

Just remember to walk only on the left or the right -- the center of the steps is reserved for the gods.

Getting there: Atago Shrine, Atago 1-5-3, Mintao-ku, Tokyo, +81 (0) 3 3431 0327, atago-jinja.com

Atago Shrine (or “jinja” in Japanese) is five minutes from Onarimon Station on the Toei Mita line. At Excelsior coffee shop, bear right and keep the park across the street on your left.

Turn right at the next corner and walk past the Atago Green Hills complex. You need to get on that side of the street. Just before the Atago Tokyu Inn is the entrance to the stone steps.

Shrines are seldom user-friendly to the disabled, but there is an elevator to the top of the hill. It’s next to the tunnel just beyond the Atago Green Hills complex, ten or twenty meters before the entrance to the steps.

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