Photo/IllutrationCrime scene tape is draped across the approach to Tomioka Hachimangu shrine in Tokyo's Koto Ward on Dec. 8. (The Asahi Shimbun)

Yellow crime scene tape used by the Metropolitan Police Department immediately caught my eye when I entered the "o-torii" main gate at the end of the "sando" approach to Tomioka Hachimangu shrine in Tokyo's Koto Ward, a district that is reminiscent of the days when Tokyo was called Edo.

With police officers standing guard on street corners, I was unable to approach the shrine's famed Yokozuna Stone, a monument to generations of sumo's grand champions.

Affectionately called "Fukagawa no Hachiman-sama" by locals, the shrine on Dec. 7 became the scene of a shocking incident in which the chief priestess, her younger brother and his wife died violently. The younger brother was a former chief priest there.

According to media reports, which are still sketchy, the brother attacked his sister with a samurai sword--an unusual incident in this day and age.

The gruesome incident reminded me of a study disclosed earlier this year by a team headed by Fumio Otake, a professor of behavioral economics at Osaka University.

The team found that compared with the general population, people who grew up near temples and shrines tend to be more trusting of others and believe in reciprocating acts of kindness. Such traits contribute to their general sense of happiness and good health, Otake and his colleagues concluded.

They went on to point out that local community life is centered around shrines, which organize various events for children and neighborhood cleanup programs, as well as seasonal festivals such as the "bon-odori" dance event.

In such closely-knit communities, residents are predisposed to respond to people's goodwill in kind and readily help anyone in need.

Indeed, community ties are still strong in the vicinity of Tomioka Hachimangu shrine, one of the venues of "Edo sandai matsuri" (three greatest festivals of Edo).

In her novel "Eitaibashi Horaku" (Eitai Bridge collapses), Sonoko Sugimoto (1925-2017) depicts a lively festival scene of 200 years ago: "The splendor and energy of this shrine--one of the greatest in Edo--resonate throughout the city at festival time, when parishioners stage a parade of exquisitely designed floats and "daikagura" performance (which includes traditional lion dance, juggling and other attractions)."

I have no doubt that the shrine's parishioners have remained passionately committed to their neighborhood through the centuries.

But what lay behind the abhorrent incident of Dec. 7? For those who have worshiped at this nearly-400-year-old shrine and supported its grand festival, the shock and disappointment could not have been greater.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 9

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.