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Kyoto Guide: Highlights of Yasaka Shrine - Power Spots of Beauty and Love!

Kyoto Guide: Highlights of Yasaka Shrine - Power Spots of Beauty and Love!

Date published: 22 August 2019

Yasaka Shrine, lovingly nicknamed "Gion-san" in Kyoto, is visited by many people from all over the world. It is also known as Higashiyama's biggest tourist destination. But are you familiar with the intriguing power spots in the area related to beauty and marriage? Join along as we walk around the shrines lining the foot of the mountain, and come to a relaxing garden, Maruyama Park.

Gion: Headquarters for Main Shrines

Shijo-Dori is one of the main streets that connect the east and west, cutting through the urban area of Kyoto. The Yasaka Shrine located at this eastern point is the National Headquarters of the approximately 2,300 Yasaka and Susanoo-no-mikoto Shrines. In the old days, it was known as Gion Kanjin'in or Gionsha, and also given the name of one of the 'hanamachi' or 'flower towns,' originating from when it prospered as a front gate town.

▲Shijo-Dori stretches straight across eastward from Nishi-Romon. This shopping street is crowded with people year round.

There are various theories about the creation of Yasaka Shrine. According to some reports, it is even older than Heian-kyo. It is said that worship began at this place in year 656 (Saimei 2) when an envoy from the Korean Peninsula enshrined the mountain god Gozu of Korean Mythology. In another theory, in year 876 (Jogan 18), Ennyo, a monk of Nanto (Nara), began to enshrine statues of the Medicine Buddha around the temples.

Once you climb the stone steps and go through the Nishi-Romon Gate, you will cleanse your hands and mouth at the 'temizuya,' to the left of the gate. Once you have purified your body, you can finally approach the shrine located straight ahead when you enter through Nishi-Romon. It is called Eki-jinja, or "plague shrine," and as its name suggests, it is a shrine to help eliminate disease.

▲The Eki-jinja is dedicated to Somin Shorai

The tradition states that Somin Shorai who is enshrined here received a ring of reeds from Gozu-Tenno in order to prevent the plague. It is believed that Somin Shorai protects from disease. At the famous Gion Festival, you can get amulets, such as chimaki, said to ward off illness, on which the phrase "Somin Shorai Shison Nari" is written. This phrase roughly translates to “I am of Somin Shorai (so protect me from disease).”

The Yasaka Shrine Legends of Water and Dragons

Head right from the Eki-jinja and go along the road, pass Ota-sha, Ebisu-sha, Ookuninushi-sha, and the shrine office, and exit the front of the honden, or main shrine.

▲Gion-zukuri, the majestic main hall

The main hall is designated as an Important Cultural Property of the country. Enshrined here are three deities, Susanoo, Kushiinada-hime-no-mikoto, and Yahashira-no-mikogami. The architectural style of the roof covering the main hall and worship hall is called Gion-zukuri. The current building was rebuilt in 1654 under the Tokugawa Shogunate.

▲The main roof of the main hall is made of cypress roof thatching, with a tall, beautiful arch

There are many mysterious legends surrounding the Yasaka Shrine, and the main shrine holds one of them. One of the stories told by the people of the city is that there is a pond underneath whose underground streams continue toward Shinsenen and Minami-no-Toji, located west of Heian-kyo.

This pond has become known as the "dragon hole" where the blue dragon lives, and a place where the energy of the earth gathers. It is said to have been protecting the capital since long, long ago.

▲Looking up at the main hall you can see a wood carving of bright blue dragons

In private folklore, it is said that this is the only place where you can hear it loudly echo when you face west and strongly clap you hands in prayer under the east pillar of the main hall. This is because the wooden carving of the dragon "Ryuboe" on the pillar cries in response to your prayer.

▲Walking around can wait until after visiting the shrine

After worshipping with two bows and two claps, I tried my best to listen for the dragon's cry of response, but with the sounds of all the other people's claps around me, it was difficult to hear...

The front of the main shrine is crowded with worshippers, so it is necessary to pay attention and not disturb those around you. It is important to remember good manners, especially in the presence of gods!

▲The Main Hall is in the back, and the Kagura Hall is in the front.

Various festivals are held throughout the year at the Kagura Hall in front of the Main Hall.

▲Maiko and Geisha dance beautifully at a Setsubun Matsuri in February at the Kagura Hall. (Photo provided by Yasaka Shrine)
▲Mid-Autumn Festival held on the day of the lunar moon. Koto, Gagaku, and Bugaku are performed. (Photo provided by Yasaka Shrine)

In front of the Main Shrine and Kagura Hall there is a south gate. Through the torii and heading south is the road that leads to Kodaiji and Kiyomizudera.

▲Minami-Romon and Ishi-Torii (stone gate) on the south side of the Main Shrine. The main gate is actually not Minami-Romon, but here.

Goddess of Beauty, Bigozensha Shrine

In the grounds of Bigozensha Shrine, dedicated to the Goddess of Beauty, there are nearly 20 other shrines surrounding the Main Shrine, dedicated to various other gods.

In the southeast of the Main Shrine is the Daijingusha Shrine. It is dedicated to Amaterasu Omikami and Toyokeno Omikami, and at the side of the torii gate is a fountain of gojinzui, or holy water, also called "power water."

▲Holy water from the same underground water stream as the "dragon hole."

There is also a legend about the "Tadamori lantern" standing at the north side of Daijingusha.

▲The Tadamori Lantern, which holds the legend of Taira no Tadamori's father.

Tadamori is the father of Taira no Kiyomori from the Tale of the Heike. When the emperor passed through in the rain one day, a monster-like shadow crosses his path. He was ordered to kill the accompanying Tadamori, however, Tadamori was able to reveal the identity of the monster as that of an old monk. As he was about to kill the monk, the emperor was able to calmly judge his loyalty and they escaped harm. It is said that this honor was what lead to the success and prosperity of the Heike.

On the north side of this lantern is Akuojisha Shrine.

▲Akuojisha enshrines the ara-tama, or "wild spirit," of Susano-no-mikoto.

At first one might think of this to mean "evil spirit," but the meaning is quite different. Rather, it is closer to meaning "strong" or "courageous." There are two aspects to the deities' souls: nigi-mitama, or the normal soul, and ara-tama, the wild soul. This shrine is dedicated to the wild soul, who can fulfill a variety of requests.

Next I saw the Utsukushi-gozensha Shrine. As its name suggests, it is dedicated to beauty, and many women from all over the country, including maiko and geisha, as well as people who work in the beauty and hairdressing industry, come to worship at this shrine.

▲Bigozensha Shrine, surrounded by many hanging flags

Worshipped at this shrine are three beautiful goddesses, who are honored for their beauty: Tagiribime-no-mikoto, Tagitsuhime-no-mikoto, and Ichikishimahime-no-mikoto. Ichikishimahime-no-mikoto in particular, said to be a prominent beauty, who was worshipped as Benzaiten, one of the Seven Lucky Gods. Moreover, overlapping with another goddess of beauty, Kisshoten, she has also been believed to be a goddess of fortune and performance as well.

▲A few drops on your skin are said to bring great beauty benefits!

The reason so many people come to this shrine is because the water that flows from the side of the torii gate is known as the miraculous and magical "beauty water." When applied to the skin, this water is said to not just cleanse your physical body but your mind. You can pray for purity of body and mind, fulfillment of virtues, and good luck at this shrine.

It is located towards the back of the shrine area, but on the day I visited, there was a line already forming to get some of this water. Though you may want to use as much as you can to clean your skin, remember this is a place to purify the mind. Not to be greedy, I only took a few drops, and said a prayer for "spot-and-wrinkle free skin!"

▲At the back of Bigozensha, towards the north side of the Main Shrine, are Hiyoshi-Taisha, Hamono-Jinja, Soreisha, and Itsukushima Shrine.
▲Yasaka Shrine is also close to Minami-za, he birthplace of Kabuki, and in the emadou, or votive gallery, there are many ema prayer boards dedicated to Kabuki actors.

Going north from the east of the Main Shrine, I head to Nishi-Romon gate, and return to Ebisu-sha, where we passed in the beginning.

Enshrined here is Kotoshironushi-no-kami, who is also regarded as one of the Seven Lucky Gods, Hiruko-no-kami, a god of the sea and business. This shrine is an Important Cultural Property of Japan.

▲If you rub the Ebisu statue in the neighborhood's shopping streets, it is believed you will be profitable in business

Ookuninushi-sha shrine is directly opposite of Ebisu-sha. Ookuninushi-no-kami was a god of Izumo and commonly called Daikoku. He is also popularly thought of as a god of luck and marriage.

▲Okuninushisha

Following the legend of the Hare of Inaba and Okuninushi, there are items representing marriage here in the shape of rabbits. Many pray here for love and a successful marriage!

▲In front of the shrine is a statue of Okuninushi and a white rabbit
▲Various amulets in the shrine office in front of the Main Shrine

Not only are there lucky talismans and amulets, but there are also items that are great not just for yourself, but as gifts and souvenirs, such as Bigozensha beauty amulets, and oil blot papers for the face.

▲At the Shinko-sai Festival held every year on July 17, portable mikoshi shrines and their carriers gather in front of the stone steps, called "ishidanka," in front of the west gate (Photo provided by Yasaka Shrine)

At Yasaka Shrine, the Gion-sai Festival is particularly famous, and one of the three biggest festivals in Japan, held in the month of July. In addition to the dazzling, decorative floats, the Shinkosai Festival held on the evening of the 17th, where the mikoshi shrines are gathered in front of the Nishi-Romon gate, is one of the highlights.

Also, on the final day of the festival, the Nagoshisai Festival is held, in which you pass through a ring of reeds attached to the torii to ward off bad luck.

▲At the Nagoshisai Festival held on July 31 each year, visitors will pass through a large ring of reed and pray for protection from illness and misfortune. (Photo courtesy of Yasaka Shrine)
  • Yasaka Shrine
    八坂神社
    • Address 625 Gionmachi Kitagawa, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto-fu
    • Phone Number 075-561-6155

    Free entry *Office open from 9:00AM~7:00PM

Resting at a Scenic Spot, Surrounded in Greenery at Maruyama Park

After walking around all the shrines, I went to Maruyama Park next to Yasaka Shrine. Formed over 130 years ago in 1886 (Meiji 19), the entire park is protected as an Important Cultural Property.

▲Maruyama Park is designated as a scenic location of Japan

The area where the park now stands has been known as a scenic spot since the Heian Period, however after entering the Meiji Period, much of the area where the shrines were built was taken as public land, and the development of the park began. Once opened, hundreds of cherry blossoms were planted, and Japanese garden landscaping was done by garden architect Ogawa Jihei VII (Ueji).

▲At the foot of Higashiyama spreads the park, with its water and greenery

When you cross the stone bridge over the gourd pond, on the mountainside you can see the garden landscape woven of water and stone spreading out, with waterfalls and fountains also in the arrangement.

This was maintained by the Imperial Government and Goichi Takeda, an architect of the Meiji and Taisho Period who was referred to as the father of Kansai architecture. The park is especially crowded in the spring, as it is one of the best cherry-blossom viewing spots in Kyoto. It is especially famous for the 'Gion Drooping Cherry Blossom.'

▲Gion drooping cherry tree planted in the center of the park (Photo provided by Kyoto City Urban Greenery Association)

The cherry blossom trees that are there today are second generation, and giant, outstanding trees at 12 meters high, 2.8 meters around the trunk, with branches up to 10 meters. It is said the first tree planted here is about 220 years old, in this park which has been beloved by people since long ago.

▲Late Meiji/Taisho Period: the first Gion drooping cherry blossom tree (Photo courtesy of Kyoto University, Kyoto Bureau in Kyoto Prefecture)

A pedestrian road stretches around the garden and the gourd pond, and is visited by many people, from early morning until evening.

▲In the park is a statue of Ryoma Sakamoto and Shintaro Nakaoka, Bakumatsu samurai who lost their lives in Kyoto.

If you continue along the east side of the park to Higashiyama, there is an observatory only about 5 minutes away on foot from which you can get a view of Kyoto looking through the trees.

▲Many people take a break in the pavilion under the observatory

Also in the park is the Maruyama Music Hall, said to be a sacred place of Kyoto folk songs and where various events are still held today, and the west side of the park which is maintained as a public forest. It is a great place to relax and enjoy a moment in the green of nature.

  • Maruyama Park
    円山公園
    • Address Maruyama-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto-fu
    • Phone Number 075-561-1350

    Free entry
    075-561-1350 (Urban Greenery Association of Kyoto City Foundation)

Yasaka Shrine, which has long been respected by the people of Kyoto, is a treasure trove of wonderful and interesting power spots. And Maruyama Park is a place where the rich nature protected by faith remains present while the downtown area waits nearby. The foot of Higashiyama is indeed the perfect place to experience the depth of the history of Kyoto.

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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