April 13, 2006
by Maki Mizobata; Natsuki Mitsuya
Umenomiya Shrine stands in Ukyou ward, Kyoto city. At first sight, this shrine seems small,
but it has a large garden. Many couples visit this shrine from all over Japan to pray for a child.
Umenomiya Shrine was built around 1,300 years ago by Agata-no-inukai-no-michiyo (? – 733) to enshrine her family ancestors. At that time, this shrine stood at Yamashironokuni-Sourakugun (now the Teiki region in Kyoto prefecture). Umenomiya Shrine has been moved many times. First, Empress Koumyo (701 – 760) moved the shrine to Nara city around 1,250 years ago, and again, moved it to Gaseyama (now the Sagara region in Kyoto prefecture). Finally, early in the Heian period (794- 1185), Empress Danrin (786 – 850) moved the shrine to the present location.
Since Empress Danrin often visited Umenomiya Shrine and performed gagaku, or Japanese court music, to the god of the shrine, a festival has been held here in April according to the lunar calendar. This festival was set as one of the major festivals of the court by Emperor Ninmyo (810 – 850).
During the reign of Emperor Daigo, Umenomiya Shrine was given a high position among shrines. In the Meiji period (1868 – 1912), the shrine was also placed in the upper ranks according to the Shakakusystem which fixed a hierarchy among shrines. (However, this system was abolished after the Second World War)
Umenomiya Shrine enshrines Oyamazumi-no-kami, the god who first brewed sake, and his child goddess Konohana-no-sakuyahime-no-mikoto. Nihonshoki, the oldest history book in Japan, records that Oyamazumi-no-kami congratulated Konohana-no-sakuyahime-no-mikoto on her childbirth by brewing sake for her. Therefore, sake brewers worship at the shrine.
Myth tells us that Konohana-no-sakuyahime-no-mikoto gave birth to a god, Hikohohodemi-no-mikoto, the day following her marriage. Thus, Umenomiya Shrine attracts women wishing for an easy delivery.
Matage-ishi (stone) and Ubu-suna (sand)
Matage-ishi and Ubu-suna are famous attractions at Umenomiya Shrine
It is said that a couple will be able to have a baby if they pray to the god for a child and then step over Matage-ishi. Empress Danrin was childless. However, she was able to have the next emperor, Ninmyo, because she stepped over Matage-ishi. Also, when Empress Danrin gave birth, she spread sand from under the main building of Umenomiya Shrine under her bed and gave birth to her son without complications. So, that sand has become known as Ubu-suna and is regarded as a talisman for easy birth. Even now, many couples pay homage at Umenomiya Shrine to pray for a child and for an easy birth.
Gardens in the Shrine
Passing through the entrance to the gardens, there is Sakuya Pond in front of us. Irises bloom in the summer, and Kirishima azaleas are at their best in the spring around this pond, which is in the eastern section of the shrine. The teahouse “Ikenaka-tei” on an island in the pond was a cottage which Minamoto-no- Morokata built in 1852. In the Umezu area, a lot of cottages were built by men of position, and this is one of them.
Yuusareba kadota no inaba otozurete ashi-no-maroyani akikazezo fuku
(recorded in the Hyakunin-Isshu, a collection of 100 tanka poems)
Ikenaka-tei, nicknamed “Ashi-no-maroya,” is the only thatch house with reeds in existence, and a councillor Minamoto-no-Tsunenobu composed the tanka poem above after being impressed by the scene when he was invited to Morokata’s age. This tanka describes the view of Umezu on an autumn evening with a seasonal wind blowings through the thatch house, and rice stalks flapping in front of the gate. We can imagine that this place had both quietness and elegance.Matage-ishi and Ubu-suna are famous attractions at Umenomiya Shrine.
In the north garden, we can see Magatama Pond, whose shape is like a comma-shaped bead. Spring may be the best time to visit because there are beautiful double-flowered cherry trees and Hirado azaleas in that season. You will feel that you are among wonderful cherry blossoms when you go there in the peak season. There are also irises in summer around this pond. Moreover, hydrangeas bloom in the garden’s shady corner.
The west garden mainly has a grove of Japanese plum trees and daffodils which bloom along the road.
And the most impressive are surely the plum flowers.
Yosomenimo sono kamigakito miyurumade uebaya umewo senbon hassenbon
This tanka poem was composed by Motoori Norinaga in the Edo era, when he gave a Japanese plum tree to Umenomiya Shrine.
Ume, or plum, has been the divine flower of the shrine since it was built. “Konohana” of the name “Konohana- no-sakuyahime-no-mikoto” is the graceful appellation of the plum flowers, and what is more, “ume” can also mean “giving birth to a child,” and this wordplay is thought to be divine and important. This tree, which was brought from old China, is praised for its beauty and the scent of its flowers, and its fruit has been used as a precious medicine.
About 500 Japanese plum trees and 40 varieties are planted in the shrine now. The pickled fruit is called “shofuku-ume,” which means that plums bring fortune to people, and it is on sale at the shrine.
Best seasons for flowers
・Japanese plum: from the middle of February to the middle of March
・camellia: from November to the middle of April
・daffodil: at the beginning of April
・double cherry blossoms: in the middle and the end of April
・Kirishima azalea: at the end of April
・Hirado azalea: at the beginning of May
・iris: from the end of April to the beginning of May
・a different variety of iris: from the end of May to the middle of June
Umenomiya Shrine holds many events which are related to the members of the Imperial family, or to sake.
Some of them are listed below.
・February 11th: Amazake festival － Amazake is a sweet beverage made from fermented rice or sake.
・the third Sunday of April: Sakura festival (Gagaku festival)
・May 3rd: Shinko festival － Mikoshi, or portable shrine, are carried around the vicinity of Umenomiya Shrine.
・the last Sunday of August: the Emperor Saga’s festival － During the Emperor Saga’s festival, a sumo competition for children is held. This festival began about twenty years ago, and about five hundred children participate every year.
・by bus: take Kyoto city bus No.28 from Kyoto station and get off at “Umenomiya-jinja-mae” bus stop
・by Hankyu Railway: get off at “Matsuo” Station and walk 500m to the east
・from 9:00 to 17:00
Fees for garden
・adult: 500 yen
・child: 250 yen
*groups of more than 20 people
・adult: 360 yen
・child: 180 yen