December 13, 2006
by Satoko Kawaguchi; Natsuki Kamikura
Imamiya Jinja is a picturesque Shinto shrine located northeast from Daitoku-ji, one of Kyoto’s well-known Rinzai Zen temples. This shrine is said to originate from a holy place established on Funaoka Hill in 994 for protection against plague. The present Imamiya Jinja was established when that shrine was moved to its current location, where three deities are worshipped: Daikokuten, god and symbol of the earth; Ebisu, god of the sea and prosperous business; and Kushiinadahime-no-mikoto, a goddess of the paddy fields. “Imamiya” means a newly established shrine. The present buildings were built in 1902.
Imamiya Shrine is famous for a festival known as the Yasurai Matsuri, one of the three “eccentric” festivals in Kyoto. The others are Ushi Matsuri (Ox Festival) in Koryu-ji Temple and the famed Kurama Himatsuri (Fire Festival). Yasurai Matsuri is held on the second Sunday of April and is an intangible cultural heritage. The festival originated in attempts to appease, through festival music and dance, the petrels flying around Kyoto with cherry blossom petals in their beaks, which were thought to be spreading plague, since it had started at the time when such petals fall. During the festivities, people costumed as goblins or red and black devils jump and dance to the music of beating drums and flutes. It is said that festival participants won’t become ill if they pass beneath a special long-handled, decorated umbrella. Yasurai Matsuri is the first festival of the year in Kyoto (where everything begins in spring) and it is also said that the weather will be fine for all of the year’s festival days in Kyoto if the skies are clear when Yasurai Matsuri is held.
A mysterious stone: “Ahokashisan”
There is a magical stone in Imamiya Shrine. It is called “ahokashisan” and displayed a small building. Folk wisdom holds that if a person who is in delicate health strokes the stone and then rubs the faulty points in their body, he or she can recover early. You can also perform an augury here to see if your wish will be fulfilled or not. First, tap the stone with your palm three times and then lift it. You must now feel it to be heavy. Next, stroke the stone three times while making your wish and then lift it again. If you feel it is light, your wish will be realized.
In Imamiya Shrine, you can get unique charms or talismans. One of them is the tamanokoshi (marry into the purple) charm. It is a vivid navy blue and printed with the designs of Kyoto vegetables. This charm is derived from an old story: Tokugawa Iemitsu (1604-51), the 3rd Edo shogun, fell in love with a beautiful girl named Otama, who was born in Kyoto’s Nishijin weaving district as the daughter of a greengrocer. Iemitsu took Otama as a concubine and she bore him a son, who later became the 5th Edo shogun, Tokugawa Ietsuna. In 1651, when Iemitsu died, Otama became a Buddhist nun under the name Keishoin. She had kept Nishijin in mind even after achieving a high status, and she seems to have exerted herself to build a temple, revive the Yasurai Matsuri (which had been suspended), and support Nishijin after she heard of the ruin of Imamiya Shrine. The guardian gods of Nishijin also protect Imamiya Shrine, so people wished for the prosperity of the Nishijin area. Local residents say that the word “tamanokoshi” can be traced back to Otama’s story, and anyone who wants to become a “Cinderella”, or simply be happy, can visit this shrine to buy this charm.
The daruma doll is a red-colored charm and it’s said that you can gain happiness and success from it as your prayers are answered. The daruma has a limbless round shape, either small or large, and has pop eyes. These eyes have a certain significance. The Japanese word me means both “eyes” and “sprout”, and the expression “a sprout appears” means that you can get a chance for happiness or success. When you buy a daruma doll you paint in a black dot on the right eye and wish for something; then when your wish comes true you paint in the left eye to express your thanks.
Many people consult oracles when they visit shrines. Imamiya Shrine also has paper fortunes, like a bookmark which is called murasakino waka omikuji. It is a beautiful paper upon which is printed a princess dressed in kimono with a waka poem. In the Heian period (794-1185) there were some female novelists such as Murasaki Shikibu, the author of The Tale of Genji. Waka poems written on paper fortunes are love poems, mainly from The Tale of Genji.
You can enjoy the atmosphere of ancient Kyoto at Imamiya Shrine because it has a long history and observes ancient traditions. You will be fascinated with its beautiful buildings and big torii gate. If you would like to consult oracles, we recommend that you pull out a murasakino waka omikuji. Drive away your bad luck and get the blessings of a good fortune! You will spend an enjoyable time when you visit here.