February 13, 2005
by Miku Miyano
In Kyoto, many Shinto shrines give us various kinds of benefits. When we go to visit one, we usually make a wish to keep our health, pass an exam, have a good relationship with someone, and so on. In fact, each shrine has a particular benefit. Let me introduce you to one of them, Utsukushi-gozensha. It is especially of interest to women.
Utsukushi-gozensha is a subsidiary shrine of Yasaka Shrine. The name Utsukushi means beautiful, gozen means woman and sha means a shrine. The benefit of this shrine is, of course, giving people beauty. However, where did the benefit come from? It can be traced to the Nara period (710-784 AD). Kojiki, the oldest historical narrative in Japan, written in 712, tells the legend of the three goddesses: Tagirihime, Takitsuhime, and Itsukishimahime.
They were born by the ukei (holy rites) of Amaterasu Okami (the sun goddess) and Susanoumon Mikoto (the sea goddess). Kojiki says they are the sons of two gods, Izanagi and Izanami, the early couple who had created Japan’s islands. The three goddesses are collectively called Munataka, and are so famous for their beauty that they became the deities of beauty. They are also deities of the sea and are enshrined at other places such as Munataka Shrine in Fukuoka, and Itsukushima Shrine in Hiroshima. An old story in the Edo period (1603-1867) said that a woman came to make a wish at Utsukkushi-gozensha and recovered from her pockmarks.
An important feature of the Utsukushii-gozensha shrine is the chikara-mizu (power water). Near the shrine, there is a kind of tub filled with water. According to a tradition from the Heian period (794-1192), under the Yasaka shrine there is a bottomless pond, and the water springs from there. The correct way of worshiping is first to drink the water and then make a wish in front of the shrine. Different kinds of people come to wish from everywhere, for example maiko (apprentice geisha), barbers, companies dealing with beauty goods and cosmetics, and so on.
After you make a wish, there is more you can do. Next to the shrine, there is a small box from which many ema (votive picture tablets) are hanging. People can write their wishes on them. When you go there, try to read them if you have studied any Japanese! It will be interesting. Another fascinating thing is the paper fortune slips. In the Japanese custom, if you get a good fortune, you bring it with you. However, if you get a bad one, you tie it on a tree near the shrine to put your bad luck there and be able to get rid of it. For souvenirs, you can buy colorful charms. In recent years, we can find various types, such as pendants, key rings, straps used for mobile phones, etc.
There are many shrines in Kyoto. Utsukushi-gozensha is a small shrine, but it has an original history. Try to pay attention to the benefits which each shrine has. You can get more information about Japanese history by learning the origin of these benefits.