Photo/IllutrationSome worshippers visit Tomioka Hachimangu shrine in Tokyo’s Koto Ward on Dec. 14, a week after a double murder-suicide occurred on the premises. (Yosuke Takashima)

A popular Shinto shrine in Tokyo performed purification rituals at the sites of a double-murder suicide, but parishioners there remain shaken by gruesome assault that involved samurai swords.

At 4 p.m. on Dec. 14, 10 priests gathered in front of the home of Nagako Tomioka, 58, the chief priest of Tomioka Hachimangu shrine who was killed by her sword-wielding brother on Dec. 7.

The priests performed a special “oharae” purification ritual at the front entrance of the house as well as the area where the brother, Shigenaga Tomioka, 56, killed his wife, Mariko, 49, and then committed suicide.

The oharae ritual is usually conducted twice a year--the last day in June and New Year’s Eve.

Police suspect that Shigenaga, who was fired as chief priest of the shrine in Koto Ward 16 years ago, held a grudge against his sister, who had taken over the post. He and Mariko apparently planned the attack against Nagako well in advance.

“They did not hate each other in the past, but the situation somehow ended up with the worst possible ending,” a former employee of the shrine said about the siblings. “I feel terrible for the people who are connected to the shrine and who have worshipped at the shrine for many years.”

The shrine, founded in 1627, is famed for the Fukagawa Hachiman Matsuri festival, one of the three major festivals held in the capital. The imperial couple attended the event in 2012.

Over the New Year’s holidays, Japanese customarily visit Shinto shrines or Buddhist temples for the first prayer of the year. Tomioka Hachimangu boasted about 300,000 New Year’s visitors every year.

Officials of the shrine held an emergency meeting on Dec. 9 to decide on an acting chief priest. Some parishioners said their faith in the shrine is unchanged, but others had different feelings.

“Although a shrine is a place where we receive the purification ritual, this horrendous case has rendered the shrine itself in need of the ritual,” said a woman in her 50s, who has made New Year’s prayers at the shrine for more than 30 years.

A 77-year-old man who lives in the neighborhood said the shrine has usually been swarmed with worshippers on the first three days of the new year.

“But I bet the number will greatly drop (in 2018),” he said.

“A letter written by the suspect was found that said he will curse the place,” the man continued. “I will never visit the shrine again. I feel sad because it was the pride of our town, and the liveliness will be gone.”

Shigenaga’s letter, written before he and his wife ambushed Nagako, demanded that his sister be dismissed as chief priest of the shrine and replaced by Shigenaga’s son.

“I am going to haunt you by becoming a vengeful ghost after my death if my demands are not met,” the letter said, according to police.

Tokyo police recently revealed that Shigenaga had, in fact, made 2,800 copies of the letter for delivery to shrines around Japan and parishioners. Each letter was signed and stamped with Shigenaga’s thumbprint.

Shigenaga left the stack of letters with a commercial handyman and gave instructions on Dec. 7, the day of attack, to “post them on the morning of Dec. 8 from anywhere other than in Koto Ward.”

Police confirmed that 1,000 of the letters were received by shrines around Japan. The other 1,800 were delivered to schools attended by children of Tomioka Hachimangu’s parishioners and eating establishments frequented by the parishioners.

(This article was compiled from reports by Yosuke Takashima and Mika Kuniyoshi.)