In 2014, the Disney animated feature Big Hero 6 made its world premiere at the 27th Tokyo International Film Festival. It was an obvious choice for this film to debut in Japan’s capital, given that Japanese culture played such a heavy influence on the film’s production design.
The film’s setting is “San Fransokyo,” and while the name itself might be a rather clunky portmanteau, the basic idea of a mash-up city blending elements of San Francisco and Tokyo did lead to some interesting visuals. Case in point: a Golden Gate Bridge where the famous orange towers were reimagined as two high stacks of Japanese torii gates.
One place where you can see such torii gates in the real Tokyo is at Hanazono Shrine.
But where this shrine is concerned, the Big Hero 6 connection runs deeper than that.
According to Tokyo Location Guide, a free app released by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government for searching movie locations in the metropolis, the face of the film’s huggable robot, Baymax, was inspired by the bells of Hanazono.
To commune with the spirit of Baymax in his birthplace, you will first need to find the shrine. Pedestrians on Yasukuni Dori in Shinjuku might stumble across the sight of a growth of green trees sandwiched tightly between buildings. This marks one of several entry points for Hanazono.
The shrine’s proximity to Golden Gai, a network of alleys laced with hole-in-the-wall dive bars, as well as its proximity to Kabukicho, the increasingly gentrified red-light district, where Godzilla and the Robot Restaurant dwell, make it an ideal second stopover for a visit to one of those places. Golden Gai is literally right across the street; so if you are drinking there, you might consider stumbling over to the shrine, and paying your respects up at the altar, before taking a gander up at the bells.
At the altar, shrine etiquette dictates that you bow twice, clap your hands twice, and then bow once more to pray. After that, you can throw a coin in the offering box, and then ring one of the bells, to greet the shrine’s deity (or just tickle Baymax’s chin).
Customarily, this is followed by two more bows, two more claps, an internal expression of gratitude, and one final bow. If you can remember all that when you are tipsy, you should be all set!
Seriously though, show some respect. The shrine is a sacred place where people come to pray.
If you happened to visit Hanazono in November on select “days of the rooster,” then chances are, many of those people will be praying for good fortune in business. This is when Tokyoites descend en masse on the shrine for the Tori-no-Ichi fair.
Up at the altar, you can see visitors literally throwing away cash in a money pit full of coin and bill offerings.
At the same time, in numerous stalls set up around the shrine, you can see them buying lucky bamboo rakes, for raking in the dough in their business.
Ultimately, while not used as an actual filming spot, Hanazono Shrine remains one Tokyo location with an interesting little movie tie. If you are in Shinjuku, this is a good place to duck away from the concrete jungle for a few minutes.