Yasaka Shrine

April 13, 2004

by Saori Shingu

If you walk east along Shijo Street to the end, you will find Yasaka Shrine.  Yasaka Shrine is commonly known as “Gion-san,” and its festival, “Gion-Matsuri,” is well-known and popular throughout Japan.

1. Sairo-mon
First, your eyes will be caught by a big, splendid, vermilion, lacquered gate.  It’s called “Sairo-mon” in Japanese; also some people call it “Goryu-mon.”  During the War of Onin (1467-77), the first gate was burned down.  This gate, the second one, was rebuilt in 1489, and now it’s recognized as an important Japanese cultural asset. This is one of the seven wonders of Yasaka Shrine.  It’s said that spiders can’t spin their webs on it, and even after a strong rain, raindrops don’t remain on it.  After you go up the stone steps behind the gate, you should look back on Shijo Street from there, for you can see a different view.

2. Honden (The main shrine)
After you pass through Sairo-mon, please walk along the stone pavement. You can’t miss the main shrine, Honden, on your left.  Its height is about 15 meters, and it extends over about 1,320 square meters.  The roof is made of Japanese cypress bark, and covers two edifices, Honden and the front shrine, which had been separate structures before. This type of structure is rare in Japan and is named “Gion-zukuri” after this shrine.  The original shrine was constructed in 656 before the capital was transferred from Nara to Kyoto.  After that in 1654, the fourth shogun (the leader of Japan) rebuilt it again.  This shrine is dedicated to three Japanese gods: Susano-no-mikoto, Kushiinada-no-mikoto, and Yahashira-no-mikogami.  Susano-no-mikoto is a hero in Japanese mythology for killing an eight-headed dragon; Kushiinada-no-mikoto is his wife; and his children are Yahashira-no-mikogami.  If you make a money offering and pray to them, they will protect you against evil and help you escape disasters.  This building is also an important Japanese cultural asset.  If you visit there on a lucky day, you might see a Japanese-style wedding ceremony being held at the shrine.

3. Utsukushi-gozensha
There is a small shrine, called Utsukushi-gozensha, to the east of the Honden.  This shrine is dedicated to the beautiful three goddesses, like the Graces in Greek mythology, so it’s popular among not only apprentice geisha in Gion but also among cosmetic firms.  Everyone, why don’t you go there and become more beautiful!

4. Shamusho (The shrine office)
Most famous shrines have a Shamusho on their grounds, and of course, Yasaka Shrine has one too.  You can buy different kinds of amulets, decorative arrows used to ward off evil, books about Yasaka Shrine, and oracles.  It’s interesting that they have two kinds of oracles: one tells the fortune for our life, while another tells the fortune for love especially.  If you visit there with your partner, both of you can check your fortune for love with your partner.

5. Ishitorii (The stone gateway at the entrance)
There is the biggest stone gateway in Kyoto, called Ishitorii, at the southern entrance to Yasaka Shrine.  First set up in 1646, it collapsed once when an earthquake hit Kyoto in 1662, and it was mended and rebuilt in 1666.  It’s also an important Japanese cultural asset.

Finally, if you go straight along the road between the Honden and Shamusho toward the mountains, you arrive at Maruyama Park.  You can eat lunch or have Japanese snacks such as takoyaki (octopus balls), dumplings, and crepes and have something to drink.  Also, Yasaka Shrine has other attractions you should see.  The shrine isn’t too large, so it won’t take long to see all of the sights.  Also, it isn’t far to other tourist attractions: Kiyomizu Temple, Chion-in, Sanjusangen-do, Koudaiji Temple, Gion and so on.  Are you interested?  Then, please come to Yasaka Shrine!

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