April 13, 2010
by Harumi Sasaki; Rie Tanaka; Yuino Takenaka
Shimogamo-jinja was built in the 7th century by Emperor Tenmu when the capital was transferred to Heian-kyo. However, there is evidence that there had been a shrine in this location for many years before this. Shimogamo-jinja became very famous throughout Japan, and often appeared in classical works of Japanese literature, such as Genji-monogatari and Makura-no-soshi.
Shimogamo-jinja is actually a twin shrine with Kamogamo-jinja to the north. Kamogamo shrine is the ‘upper’ shrine, due to its position upstream of the Kamogawa River, and Shimogamo shrine is known as the ‘lower’ shrine, as it is downstream and positioned where the Kamogawa and Takanogawa rivers meet. There are 53 buildings in the shrine complex, and all are listed as ‘Important Cultural Properties’ by the Japanese authorities. The Honden (main hall) at Shimogamo-jinja was rebuilt in 1863, and like that at Kamogamo-jinja, is a fine example of the Nagare-zukuri style of shrine building found all over Japan.
Spreading out from the shrine area is the Tadasu-no-mori (Forest of Correction), a rare example of a primeval forest, which has survived the ravages of time and human intervention. There are more than 40 kinds of tree here, numbering over 4,700 in total, and four streams that wind there way through the grounds. The existence of so many trees certainly lowers the temperature here in summer, making it a cool and peaceful spot to relax in.
Shimogamo shrine, through legend, is dedicated to the family of the ‘God of Fire and Thunder’, Hono-ikazuchi-no-kami, and there are many celebrations to this god performed throughout the year here. The shrine is also said to be a guardian against evil spirits invading, or disasters befalling, the city of Kyoto and its people.
Festivals and Events
Shimogamo shrine hosts a number of festivals and events annually and we have listed the most important ones below:
Yabusame Shinji (May 3rd)
This event takes place before the famous annual Aoi Matsuri. Yabusame is the traditional practice of mounted archery, which requires shooting a whistling arrow at a target while riding on a horse. At this shrine, it was called not Yabusame, but Kisha until the Meiji era. This means Kisha was the original form of Yabusame. The riders perform wearing Kuge Sokutai (court noble’s robes) at Shimogamo, and this is rather unique to this place.
Aoi Matsuri (May 15th)
The Aoi Matsuri is one of the big three festivals of Kyoto along with the Jidai Matsuri and the Gion Matsuri. While Gion Matsuri was established as a festival for the common people, Aoi Matsuri was intended for the pleasure of the aristocratic class. Many nobles were invited to attend what was considered to be a major event of the imperial court. The costume procession was started in the Heian era by Emperor Kanmu, and became known as the Aoi Matsuri because of the leaves of the hollyhock plant (Aoi in Japanese) which were used to decorate the vehicles, animals and people in it. The parade route for this festival goes from the Imperial Palace to Shimogamo shrine, and then on to finish at Kamogamo-jinja.
Mitarashi Matsuri (end of July)
This festival is a summer festival held at the end of July every year, usually the hottest days of summer. There is a special event held during the festival called ‘Ashitsuke Shinji’, which is very popular, with thousands of people attending. In this event, people walk barefoot in the Mitarashi River that runs through Shimogamo shrine, holding a candle in one hand and their shoes in the other. When they reach the small shrine at the head of the stream, they place their candle there and pray. This process is meant to help fight off diseases and poor health. You can also drink special purified water that is available after the ritual. The Ofuda (Shinto talisman) you can buy at this festival is in the shape of a foot, and you can write your wish on it and hang it up. There is also a special kind of Japanese confectionary sold here called Mitarashi Dango, which is made of mochiko (rice flour).
A Popular Reason to Visit Shimogamo-jinja
This shrine is famous as a place that can help you realize your dreams and wishes. Here we will tell you of two ways that you can do this.
Omikuji (fortune slips)
Omikuji are very popular in Shimogamo shrine, but you take a risk in getting good or bad luck when you buy one. There are three colors to choose from for both males and females. The boy colors are black, brown and purple, and the girl colors are red, green and blue. It only costs 300 yen a go, so why not give it a try!!
Ema (a votive wooden tablet featuring a horse)
Ema are wooden plaques or tablets which are bought at shrines for the purpose of wishing for something to improve in your life. Many people wish for things such as success in exams, better health, promotions and increased fertility. Below is a guide to writing your own Ema when you visit:
Writing an Ema
1. Write your wish on the Ema
2. Stick on the protective seal so that nobody can look at your wish
3. Tie with red and white string – you MUST NOT unfasten!!
4. Pay homage at the shrine
5. Hang your Ema on one of the Ema hangers
6. Dream that your wish will come true !!
From Kyoto Station
Take the subway Karasuma Line to Kitaoji Stn and then the City Bus #205 to either the Shimogamo-jinja-mae or Tadasu-no-mori bus stops.
Approx. 40 minutes (depending on train and bus times and traffic)
Take the subway Karasuma Line to Oike Stn. Change to the subway Tozai Line (eastbound) and go to Sanjo Stn. Change to the Keihan Line and take the northbound train to Demachiyanagi Stn. (terminus). Proceed northbound on foot for 5 – 10 minutes.
By Keihan Train
Take a northbound train to Demachiyanagi Stn. (terminus) and then proceed northbound on foot for 5 – 10 minutes.
A taxi from Kyoto Stn. will take about 20 – 30 minutes and cost between 2,000 – 3,000 yen.
Address: 59 Izumikawa-cho, Shimogamo, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto City.
Tel: (075) 781-0010
Fax: (075) 781-4722
Open: 6.00 am ~ 5.00 pm (daily)