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Hatsumode in Kyoto 2021: 9 Recommended Shrines and Temples to Visit

Hatsumode in Kyoto 2021: 9 Recommended Shrines and Temples to Visit

Last updated: 28 December 2020

Japanese tend to visit a shrine or temple on New Year's Day or New Year's Eve to pray for the coming year, in a tradition called hatsumode. In recent years people generally visit between New Year's Eve and January 3. For visitors to Japan around this time, this is a fantastic experience to see and join in a fun New Year tradition!

With its historical shrines and temples filled with a serene atmosphere, hatsumode in Kyoto is a sensational experience in itself! Here we will introduce 9 shrines and temples along with their history and "goriyaku" (divine favor and blessing).

Remember to wear a mask, sanitize your hands, and maintain social distance during hatsumode. We recommend avoiding New Year's Eve and New Year's Day when shrines and temples are crowded and visit when you are fully healthy.

*Information as of December 24, 2020. Depending on the situation visiting hours and events may be changed, delayed, or canceled. Please check with the respective official websites before visiting.

Table of Contents
  1. 1. Kiyomizu-dera Temple
  2. 2. Kitano Tenmangu Shrine
  3. 3. Yasaka Shrine
  4. 4. Heian-Jingu Shrine
  5. 5. Shimogamo Shrine
  6. 6. Kifune Shrine
  7. 7. Kamigamo Shrine
  8. 8. Chion-in Temple
  9. 9. Matsunoo Taisha Shrine

1. Kiyomizu-dera Temple

1. Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Now when you think of the quintessential Kyoto temple, Kiyomizu-dera might come to mind. It is also famous for being registered as one of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage "Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto" sites in 1994.

Founded in 778 with a history of 1200 years, and a sacred site for the Kannon Bodhisattva, it isn't just a tourist attraction – many people continue to worship here.

It is said that the 11 facial expressions and 42 hands of the gohonzon (the principal object of worship, such as Buddhist statues and images) - the 11-faced Kannon Bodhisattva - expresses great mercy and saves people from suffering. It is also said to materialize worldly wishes such as sound health, advancement in life, and good matches for relationships by praying to it.

Repairs to 9 temple structures, which began in 2008, were completed on December 3, 2020, and it is possible to again enter the iconic "stage of Kiyomizu." How about welcoming the New Year while standing on the refurbished structure?

Year-end and New Year Visiting Hours:
December 31, 2020 - March 26, 2021 6:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Measures against Covid-19
Cancellation of events, such as Tainai Meguri at Zuigu-do Hall

2. Kitano Tenmangu Shrine

2. Kitano Tenmangu Shrine

Kitano Tenmangu is also called "Kitano no Tenjin-san" and the main shrine for Tenmangu and Tenjin Shrine. It was built in 947 to honor Sugawara no Michizane, the god of learning. It is said that there are about 12,000 shrines dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane all over Japan, and most of them originated from Kitano Tenmangu through divided spirits (Mitama / the virtue of the gods enshrined at the head office).

Terakoya, private temple schools, which were popular during the Edo period (1600-1867), displayed a portrait of Michizane. He became known as the god of performing arts and the god of academics due to many praying for academic and martial arts achievements. Many visitors come to worship during the New Year's before the entrance exam season.

Many fans of Japanese history and katana visit the shrine, which is associated with Bunshin, the "god of war;" the Treasure Hall will hold an exhibition of swords and other artifacts for a limited time.

Year-end and New Year Visiting Hours:
Undecided; will be announced on their official website when decided.

Measures against Covid-19
Change of closing time / installation of disinfectant and antiseptic solution / removal of ladles at the chozuya (place for hand and mouth cleansing ritual) / plastic curtains installed at conferment place / employees wearing masks / requesting visitors to wear masks / Goshuin paper seals available / accepting request of prayer and gifts via mail

3. Yasaka Shrine

3. Yasaka Shrine

Yasaka Shrine is also called "Gion-san." The shrine has a long history and was called "Gion-sha" or "Kanshin-in" until it was renamed Yasaka Shrine in 1868. The Gion Matsuri festival held in the vicinity every July is a gorgeous and beautiful event that charms visitors.

The Utsukushi Gozen-sha located to the east of the main hall enshrines the beautiful and honorable Three Goddesses of Munakata, worshiped as the deities of "fortune," "entertainment," and "beauty."

This year, on New Year's Eve, you can't wait for the New Year on the road or shrine grounds (concession stands are closed on shrine grounds). Also, the Minamiro-mon and Kita-mon will be closed, and the movement in the shrine will be in one direction. The only entrance is Nishiro-mon, and there are two exits on the east side of the main hall (Maruyama Park side).

Year-end and New Year Visiting Hours:
Always open

Measures against Covid-19
Employees wearing masks, washing hands, disinfecting, gargling, and measuring temperature / installation of disinfectant / removal of the suzu-no-o (rope to ring the bells) and installation of devices to ring the bells when placing your hand over it, above the offertory box / For hatsumode, the offering box will be enlarged / guests are requested to observe social distance when making prayers

4. Heian-Jingu Shrine

4. Heian-Jingu Shrine

Heian-Jingu Shrine was built in 1895, commemorating the 1,100th anniversary of the founding of Heiankyo, the imperial capital of Japan. It is a symbol of reconstruction that eased the emotional blow caused by the shift of the capital from Kyoto to Tokyo during the Meiji Restoration and the urban area that was devastated by war at the end of the Edo period.

It enshrines Emperor Kanmu, the first emperor of the Heian period, and Emperor Komei, the last emperor of the Heian period. During the Jidai Matsuri, also one of Kyoto's three major festivals, the spirits of Emperor Kanmu and Emperor Komei travel through Kyoto City.

Many worshipers visit Heian-Jingu Shrine for matchmaking, good luck, and warding off evil.

Every year from New Year's Eve, the shrine conducts "Shuya Manto," a ritual where all the lanterns on the shrine grounds are lit all night. They also welcome worshipers for New Year's by increasing the number of conferment places that offer "Shinpu Mamorifuda" (lucky charms to place in household Shinto altars).

Year-end and New Year Visiting Hours:
・December 31, 2020 - January 1, 2021, all night - 7:00 p.m.
・January 2 & 3, 6:00 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. (Lucky charm, shuin services from 7:00 a.m.)
・January 4 & 5, 6:00 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. (Lucky charm, shuin services from 7:30 a.m.)
・January 6 - February 14, 6:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. (Lucky charm, shuin services from 7:30 a.m.)
・Shin’en visitation: January 1 - February 28, 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Measures against Covid-19
Prohibiting the usage of ladles at the chozuya (use running water) / Goshuin book print and calligraphy service suspended (pre-stamped items available) / securing social distance of visitors / removal of fortune slip dispensers (fortune slips are directly drawn) / live stream of shrine grounds between January 1 -3, cancellation of kamiya kagura / wearing masks and disinfecting hands, usage of application such as "Novel Coronavirus Emergency Contact Service," "Kyoto City Novel Corona Secure Tracking Service" and "Novel Coronavirus Contact Confirmation App (COCOA)"

5. Shimogamo Shrine

5. Shimogamo Shrine

Officially called Kamomioya Jinja, this shrine has a bit of a backstory to it. Kyoto's city was planned around the Kamogawa River. This shrine, one of Kyoto's oldest, is located downstream and now popularly known as Shimogamo (shimo = down, gamo = Kamogawa River). Records indicate that the shrine had repairs to its mizugaki (fence) in 90 BC. In 1994, the shrine grounds, including the Tadasu-no-Mori forest, were registered as a World Heritage Site.

Aioi Shrine is located in Tadasu no Mori, and it is dedicated to matchmaking. It has attracted worshipers from ancient times for its wonder-working. Here you'll find "Renri-no-Sakaki," a tree considered sacred for marriage because it comprises two trees intertwined into a single tree; it is also considered one of Kyoto's seven wonders. Tradition has it that when the sacred tree withers, it is reborn somewhere in the Tadasu-no-Mori forest. The current tree is the 4th generation.

Year-end and New Year Visiting Hours:
・December 31, 2020 6:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
・January 1, 12:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
・January 2 and after 6:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Measures against Covid-19
Requesting all attendees to wear masks and avoid the 3 Cs (Closed spaces with poor ventilation; Crowded places with many people nearby; Close-contact settings)

6. Kifune Shrine

6. Kifune Shrine

Kifune Shrine, located in Kifune, is the head of over 2,000 shrines that enshrine the god of water, and there are records of rebuilding the shrine dating back to 677. Worshiping at Kifune Shrine is called Sanshamode, including worshiping at the main shrine, Yui-no-Yashiro, and the rear shrine.

The main shrine was moved to its current location in 1055 when the back hall was swept away in a flood. The back hall is the founding place of the Kifune Shrine and remains a sacred place. Yui-no-Yashiro is between the two and is famous for matchmaking.

During the Heian Period, the female poet Izumi Shikibu visited the shrine due to worries about her husband's change of heart; her wishes were fulfilled, and since then, the shrine has been called the Koi-no-Miya (Shrine of Love). Worshipers continue to visit to pray for fortune and prosperity, matchmaking, and wish fulfillment.

Year-end and New Year Visiting Hours:
・December 31, 2020 6:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.
・December 31, 10:00p.m. – 8:00 p.m. on January 1
・January 2-3, 6:00a.m.-8:00p.m.
・January 4 - April 30th 6:00a.m. - 6:00p.m.

Measures against Covid-19
Changes to worship time and conferment office hours

7. Kamigamo Shrine

7. Kamigamo Shrine

Kamo-Wakeikazuchi Shrine, known as Kamigamo Shrine, is also an old shrine where the foundation built in 678 remains almost unchanged. It was registered as a World Heritage Site in 1994.

Through the divine power of lightning, worshipers pray for protection such as warding off evil, protection from lightning strikes, and is worshiped as the guardian of electricity.

From January 1 to 3rd, they hold an event called "Yaku yoke daikon," in which they prepare daikon radish in a large pot praying for sound health, and offer it to worshipers. During the first three days of the New Year, there is a shuttle bus to Kamigamo Shrine every 10 minutes from Kyoto City Subway Karasuma Line Kitayama Station Exit 4 (100 yen per person one way).

Year-end and New Year Visiting Hours: (Sakura-mon)
・December 31, 2020 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
・January 1 2021 12:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
・January 2 - 5, 7:00 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.
・January 6 onwards 8:00 a.m. - 4:45 p.m.

Measures against Covid-19
Installation of disinfectant / staff wearing masks / requesting worshipers to wear masks / measuring temperature of worshipers making prayer and declining entrance to anyone with a fever above 37.5℃ / accepting request of prayer via mail

8. Chion-in Temple

8. Chion-in Temple

Chion-in Temple is the head temple of the Jodo sect. Officially named Kachozan Chion-kyo-in Otani-dera, the temple was built in 1212 when Honen, a religious reformer, passed away. It is a captivating temple with beautiful structures, seven wonders and various art.

The bell-ringing service (Joya no Kane) on New Year's Eve is a famous event. The bell (Daishoro) made in 1636 is 3.3 meters tall, has a diameter of 2.8 meters, weighs 70 tons, and is rung 108 times by a team of 17 monks. The number 108 represents the number of earthly desires/temptations we hold.

Through Honen's teaching, it is said that the temple offers a blessing of "removing one's worries and anxiety." Before the New Year's Eve bell-ringing event, the practice run is held during the day on December 27. It is possible to see the bell-ringing service when it's still bright outside (2020 Chion-in practice run and New Year's Eve event do not offer worship services).

Also, Nuregami Daimyojin in the very back of Chion-in is famous for matchmaking.

Year-end and New Year Visiting Hours:
・December 31, 2020 6:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
・January 1, 5:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
・January 2 - February 28 6:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m., reception desks from 9:00a.m. – 4:00p.m.

Measures against Covid-19
Recommending to wear masks / recommending to bring shoe bags / installation of alcohol disinfectant / securing space between chairs in the temple hall / installation of plastic curtains at the reception. Constant ventilation of Mikagedo and regular ventilation of other rooms / temperature measurement of staff, wearing masks when responding to the reception, thorough disinfection of hands, etc.

9. Matsunoo Taisha Shrine

9. Matsunoo Taisha Shrine

Matsunoo Taisha was built in 701 by Hata no Imikitori, but it is said that the residents enshrined the deity Ooyamakui-no-Kami in Matsunoo Mountain (behind the main hall) in ancient times. It is said to be the oldest shrine in Kyoto, and it is even noted in the Kojiki, the oldest history book in Japan.

Matsunoo Taisha is also famous for enshrining the god of sake brewing. There is a saying that using the holy water from Kame-no-I well will prevent the sake from going bad when brewing it. Since the shrine offers a blessing for sake brewing, it has many worshipers from that industry. The water from the well Kame-no-I is worshiped for its blessings of longevity and resurrection.

Year-end and New Year Visiting Hours: (opening hours)
・December 31, 2020 5:00 a.m. - January 1, 7:00 p.m.
・January 2 and after 5:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Measures against Covid-19
Installation of acrylic boards and plastic curtains at conferment place and prayer reception desks / limited number of worshipers / removal of the ladles at chozuya (cleansing with running water) / installation of disinfection solutions at each conferment places / disinfection of lucky charms / pre-written goshuin / staff are required to wear masks, wash hands and use alcohol disinfections

Normally, hatsumode is held up to January 7 (known as 'Matsu-no-Uchi' – the day until when New Year's decorations are kept up). Due to the spread of the Covid-19, many shrines and temples are offering hatsumode until February 2 (on the day before Setsubun - the day spring starts on the lunar calendar).

In Kyoto, there are countless attractive shrines and temples other than the 9 we have introduced. We recommend looking up the blessings and history of these locations and taking your time to visit while taking necessary precautions against Covid-19.

* Depending on the situation visiting hours and events may be changed, delayed or cancelled. Please check with their official website before visiting.

Written by:



Kiko Matsuda, Keiko Kimura, Risa Tsuji, and a team of female writers familiar with Kansai. We love eating, drinking and traveling! We share fun information based on our experiences.

*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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