Ootoyo Jinja – Kyoto’s Hidden Jewel

I’d never heard of Ootoyo Jinja before I walked Kyoto’s famous philosopher’s path–and even then, I might have missed it easily had I not been in a curious mood.

The shrine lies east of the path, marked only by a small wooden sign with an arrow pointing travelers in the right direction. Its unassuming entrance is marked by carved stone dogs whose mossy smiles reveal nothing about the nature of what lies beyond.

15L05 Ootoyo Jinja guardian

Travel up a hill and through the torii gate that marks the entrance, and you’ll discover a hidden jewel–one of the most unique Shinto shrines in Kyoto. 

The shrine lies on the side of a hill, and reaching the shrines themselves requires a little climbing (but only a staircase or two). Just beyond the entrance, visitors can see the first of several altars on the grounds:

15L15 Ootoyo Jinja approach


Past the first altar, a red torii points the way to one of the three sub-shrines.

15L15 ootoyo Jinja torii


This hidden shrine features statues of Ootoyo Jinja’s guardian mice–one of which holds a sake bowl:

15L15 Ootoyo guardian mouse

while the other carries a scroll:

 15L15 Ootoyo guardian 2


The mice relate to one of the famous legends involving the god Ōkuninushi (one of the patron gods of Ootoyo Jinja), as told in the Kojiki.

Long ago, Ōkuninushi fell in love with Suseri-hime, the beautiful daughter of the storm god, Susanoo. Susanoo disapproved of the match, and forced Ōkuninushi to prove himself by completing a number of trials. In one of these tests, the storm god shot an arrow into a field and ordered Ōkuninushi to find and return it. After Ōkuninushi began his search, Susanoo lit the field on fire. The flames surrounded Ōkuninushi, but a field mouse led the god to a hole, where Ōkuninushi hid in safety as the fire burned around him. The mouse also found the arrow, and brought it to Ōkuninushi, who used it to win the right to marry the storm god’s daughter.

Ootoyo Jinja also features a shrine to Inari:

15L15 Ootoyo Inari Shrine


and (as always near an Inari shrine) statues of Inari’s sacred foxes.

15L15 Ootoyo Inari Guardian


The main shrine at Ootoyo Jinja features a bell suspended from a rope beneath the eaves, a feature at Shinto shrines that plays an important part in worship.

15L15 Ootoyo main shrine


People who come to the shrine to pray will ring the bell to get the god’s attention (as well as clapping their hands and bowing) before offering prayers.

15L15 Ootoyo Jinja gate


Ootoyo Jinja was established during the 9th century and has existed in this location since that time. Although some portions of the shrine are rebuilt on a regular basis (as is customary with Shinto shrines), the reconstruction is performed in a way designed to preserve the original look and function of the structures, meaning the shrine looks much the same as it did a thousand years ago.

Have you ever visited Ootoyo Jinja? What do you think about the idea of guardian mice?