While visiting Kyoto last October, I visited Yasaka Jinja, a Shinto shrine established in the seventh century.
Originally known as “Gion Shrine,” Yasaka Jinja is located near the eastern end of Shijo Dori (Shijō Road), one of Kyoto’s major streets–and a road that often features in my Hiro Hattori mystery novels, though my characters haven’t yet paid a visit to this particular shrine.
Although most visitors enter the shrine through the elaborate entry gate on Shijo Road (see photo above) my visit began at the unassuming back entrance, which opens onto a park.
(I entered this way because it was the most convenient and direct approach from the Buddhist temples I was visiting earlier in the afternoon.)
During part of the Meiji Restoration (specifically, from 1871-1946) Yasaka Jinja was one of the most important government-supported shrines in Japan. Since then, its official importance has been downgraded, but the shrine remains a popular destination for worshippers and tourists.
The Gion Matsuri festival originated at Yasaka Jinja, and the famous festival still occurs in Kyoto (and, specifically, in Gion) every July. Originally, the festival involved parading Yasaka Jinja’s guardian deities through the streets of Gion in hopes of warding off fire, pestilance, and other disasters. Modern celebrations are still characterized by floats and parades, and for religious observers are still designed to protect Kyoto and its citizens from disease and natural disasters.
Yasaka Jinja contains a number of well-maintained sub-shrines:
as well as a stage where priests perform a variety of Shinto rituals:
Like most Shinto shrines (and Buddhist temples), Yasaka Jinja has many guardian statues, carved from stone and standing perpetually ready to protect the shrine and its visitors against evil.
Although a popular tourist attraction and historical site, Yasaka Jinja also remains a place of worship and an important holy site in the Shinto faith. If you visit Kyoto, and have the time, it’s definitely worth the time to visit.
Have you visited Yasaka Jinja? I’d love to hear what you thought–or if you’d like to go–in the comments!