Three Rare Torii in Kyoto

November 21, 2018


By Yuki Fujimoto, Sena Yagi and Misaki Kodama



What is a Torii?

Torii is an entrance gate at a shrine. It is said that it separates the world people inhabit from the world gods inhabit. So the gate is an entrance to the world which gods inhabit.


There is a torii in every shrine and most of these torii are similar in shape. But there are 3 rare toriis in Kyoto. So we will introduce Mihashira torii, Ishidorii and Karahafu torii for you.




Kaikonoyashiro ( 蚕ノ社 )

The first rare torii is Mihashira torii in Kaikonoyashiro. It is not an official name, the official shrine’s name is Konoshimanimasuamaterumitama-shrine. ( 木嶋坐天照御魂神社 ) the shrine is related with Hata-uji ( 秦氏 ). Hata-uji were ancient people who came from China and carried on the tradition of sericulture. So Kaikonoyashiro enshrines a god of fiber.


There are two toriis at the shrine, one at an entrance and another on the grounds of the shrine. The rare torii is on the ground of the shrine. A normal torii has two columns. But the rare torii has three columns and those three torii face toward three shrines which are related with Hata-uji, Shimogamo shrine, Fushimiinari shrine and Matsuo shrine. Stones are piled on the center of the torii and tamagushi is put on the stones. Tamagushi is a kind of decorative object which is an offering to a god. It marks a place in which a god is laid to rest.


There was a pond at the torii some time ago and it has dried up. It is called Mototadasu-no-ike. Tadasu is meaning to “to fix rightly”. The torii became the place in which people who have committed some sin and want to clean their souls can come. That’s why it is said people who bathed their feet in the pond water don’t get a disease. Even now the pond is replenished by pumping in some groundwater during the shrine’s event season. Then they will reproduce the old days. Visitors can wade in the healing waters in July which features a festival called Mitarashi-matsuri ( 御手洗祭 ). If you are interested in this rare torii and you want to clean your soul, please go to Kaikonoyashiro.




There is no parking area. There is no entrance fee. The shrine is always open, so you can visit when you like.



From JR Kyoto station to JR Hanazono (花園) station and walk about 10 minutes. Go straight toward the west after you exit the ticket gate. Go under Route 162 and the turn left at croft and stay on the road. Then you will see the shrine on the right hand side.


Take a Kyoto City bus 【28】at Kyoto station on the north side and get off at the Nishiojishijo (西大路四条). Wait for a Kyoto City bus【11】there and take it to Kaikonoyashiro.


Address: 50 Uzumasa-Morigahigashicho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto

TEL: (075) 861-2074




  1. Tomouji Shrine ( 伴氏社 )


Tomouji Shrine is a small shrine and torii in the precincts of Kitano-Tenman-gu Shrine (北野天満宮).

The shrine is very old, so its foundation date is unknown. Is it clear that the shrine was constructed far in the past.

Originally, the Imiake pagoda (忌明塔) was built here, but early in the Meiji Period (1868 – 1912) the Imiake pagoda was moved south, next to Higashimuki Kanonji (東向観音寺), then Tomouji shrine was constructed here.


Tomouji Shrine, is dedicated to Prince Michizane Sugawara※’s mother. Michizane Sugawara’s mother is a patroness of education and her reputation as a good mother is high. She was also a poet. Her worshipers pray for the growth and scholastic accomplishments of their children


※Michizane Sugawara (845 – 903) lived in the middle of the Heian Era (901-1068). He was a courtier, Sinologist and writer.


What does “Tomouji”mean?

Toumouji is called after Michizane Sugawara’s mother who was a native of Tomouji (it is came from Otmouji).

Because she is from Otomouji (one of the Japanese old ethnic group), people called so.


This torii is called Ishidorii (stone torii) it was made in the Kamakura Era (1185 – 1333). It is appointed in a Japanese art treasure.


The characteristics of Tomouji shrine



This torii is called “Renza torii “. Renza means lotus pedestal. ②Gakuzuka (frame) Gakuzuka is something like signboard notified at the highest point of the torii’s frame. The normal torii has a Gakuzuka under the under Shimaki※, but this torii is different because Gakuzuka penetrates under Shimaki and reaches Kasagi※.




Location of Tomouji Shrine

San no torii (三の鳥居) is located near Kitano-Tenman-gu Shrine (北野天満宮)

Kitano-Tenman-gu (北野天満宮) 〒602-8386 Kitano, Bakurocho, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto-shi Tenman-gu Shrine office

Take a Kyoto City bus 50 or 101 at JR Kyoto station, then get off at the Kitano-Tenman-gu mae ( 北野天満宮前 ).


Opening and closing time of the tower gate

From April to September from 5:00 a.m. to 18:00 p.m.

From October to March from 5:30 a.m. to 17:30 p.m.

The shrine office, is staffed from 9:00 a.m. to 17:00 p.m.

There is no admission fee.





Itsukushima shrine: Karahafu Torii


◎What is Karahafu Torii?

⇒It is at Kyotogoen (京都御苑) which is Itsukushima shrine (厳島神社) and one of the three great Torii of Kyoto. Karahafu Torii was built in Mie in old times. After that it was built at Kyoto in 1772.


◎Why is it called Karahafu Torii?

⇒ There are two common styles of Torii. They are Shinmei Torii and Myojin Torii. Most Torii are either Shinmei Torii or Myojin Torii. But Karahafu Torii is neither of these styles.  It is called Karahafu Torii which ⑦Shimagi and ①Kasagi is Karahafu style. Karahafu style is a rare Torii in Japan because it is the only one in this style. Karahafu Torii which was at  Mt. Mikami (三上山) in Shiga in olden times. So it is also called Mikami Torii. (It is written in 2 styles in kanji三上鳥居 or 御上鳥居.)

⇒Shinmei Torii.                           ⇒Myojin Torii




⇒Karahafu style


In old times, Kiyomori Taira (平清盛) was built to honor his mother from Hiroshima. And now, it is an important cultural artefact, recognized by the Japanese government.

In addition, it is one of the branches of Itsukushima shrine in Hiroshima.


◎Recommended spot at Kyoto Goen.

Kujo pond

(九條池) has especially good scenery of Kyoto Goen. People can look all over Shusui-tei (拾翠亭) .  Shusui-tei can be seen only from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every Friday and Saturday. During the rest of the week, it is rented for tea ceremony or gathering of haiku poets or other cultural events. If you come to there on Friday or Saturday, you should go to Shusui-tei.

⇒A view of the scenery in June.                           ⇒A view of the scenery in  August.


◎Where is it?

Kyoto Goen Itsukushima shrine

Address: Kyotogyoen Kamigyo-Ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Japan 602-0881

Access : Kyoto city subway Karasuma line Marutacho station (7 minutes walk)



Matsunoo Grand Shrine

by Maki Mizobata; Natsuki Mitsuya
Matsunoo Grand Shrine (also known as Matsuo Grand Shrine) is located at the west end of Shijo Street, beyond Matsuo Bridge. This shrine is the oldest shrine in Kyoto, and the divinity worshipped here is a god of brewing sake. Throughout the year, more than a thousand people who are engaged in brewing sake visit Matsunoo Grand Shrine. There is also a famous well, Kame-no-I, as well as three gardens, and the treasury and Honden have been designated as important cultural properties.


In ancient times, the people who settled in the area around this shrine orshipped a boulder on Mt. Matsuo called Iwakura as their guardian deity. In 5 AD, a lord of the Hata clan, who had emigrated from Korea, settled in the area and introduced agriculture and forestry. The Hata clan also chose the deity of Mt. Matsuo as its guardian deity. In 701, Hata-no-imikitori built the shrine. Because the Hata clan had a lot of power and money, they were involved in the relocation of the Imperial capital to Nagaoka-kyo (784) and later to Heian-kyo (794). Therefore, they won the Imperial court’s confidence, and Matsunoo Grand Shrine was honored by the Imperial house. Not only has this shrine long played a role in ensuring the peace of the nation and protecting the people who live around it, but the shrine also houses guardian deities of cultivation, flood control, and trade. Since the Hata clan introduced to Japan the method of brewing sake, brewers and makers of miso paste visit Matsunoo Grand Shrine to pray for the success of their endeavors.


Matsunoo Grand Shrine enshrines Oo-yamagui-no-kami and Nakatsu-shima-hime-no-mikoto. The former is a male deity who governs Mt. Hiei and Mt. Matsuo. The latter, otherwise known as Ichiki-shima-hime-no-mikoto, is a female deity who protects people during their travels.


Since the time the Hata clan founded the shrine, the Honden, or the main shrine building, has been through several reconstructions, and the present one was built in 1397 and repaired in 1542 during the Muromachi period. Because of its unique style of roof, which is called Matsuo-zukuri, or Matsuo style, the Honden has been designated as an important cultural property.


Shofu-en has three famous gardens: Iwakura, Horai and Kyokusui. These gardens were designed by Mirei Shigemori during the Showa era. They are not so old but are among the greatest of the works made after the Meiji era. He designed them with a combination of rocks, and the opposite ideas of “stillness” and “movement” are harmonized well.

・Iwakura Garden(The ancient era style)

This garden was made to be the spiritual place for the god of Mt. Matsuo. Two main boulders symbolize the god and the goddess who are enshrined in this shrine. Other rocks around them represent dieties dependent on the main ones.

・Horai Garden (Kamakura era style)

The Kaiyu style, which you can enjoy by walking around the garden, is used here, and there are islands in the pond. In this garden, we can imagine a place where an unworldly man lives. It is said that this garden expresses Horai ideas, which include a longing for a world where people will not grow old and die.

・Kyokusui Garden (Heian era style)

The Heian era, when Matsunoo Grand Shrine was most prosperous, is the theme of this garden. Water channels its way along the foot of a hill, curving seven times, and there are many glaucous (light blue and green) rocks on the hill. The design is simple, but its color scheme is unique.

Kame-no-I (A well)

Near the waterfall Reiki-no-taki is a well of spring water, Kame-no-I, which is said to produce a mysterious effect. This water is famous for producing longevity and revival. Sake brewers put the water of Kame-no-I into their sake because not only do they adore the deities but also they believe the sake will not go bad.

Sake-no-Shiryokan (Museum of Sake)

Since Matsunoo Grand Shrine has housed a god of sake from ancient times, it is believed that sake brewed with water from here will bring people happiness and prosperity. In the Museum of Sake,we can see the tools used in brewing sake that were donated by sake brewers, and also we can learn about the tradition and history of sake.

Ichinoi River

There are about 3,000 Japanese rose bushes within the shrine’s precinct. The Japanese rose is most beautiful in April and May when it blooms. Especially, the harmony of the stone bridge, fresh green leaves, and Japanese rose bushes along the Ichinoi River is wonderful.


The Matsunoo Festival consists of two processions: Shinko-sai and Kanko-sai. Shinko-sai is held on the first Sunday after April 20th. Six mikoshi, or portable shrines, are carried and ferried across the Katsura River to the opposite side, and each mikoshi is placed in a shrine there. Three weeks later,the mikoshi are returned to Matsunoo Grand Shrine, and this procession is called Kanko-sai.


  • By bus: Take Kyoto city bus No. 28 or Kyoto bus No. 73 from Kyoto Station to the “Matsuo-taisha-mae” bus stop.
  • By Hankyu Railway: Get off at “Matsuo” station.

Fees for Garden and Treasure House

  • Adult: 500 yen
  • Student: 400 yen
  • Child: 300 yen

*Admission to Sake-no-Shiryokan (Museum of Sake) is free.


  • Garden: 9:00 – 16:00 (9:00 – 16:30 Sundays and holidays)
  • Museum of Sake: 9:00 – 16:00

Ghosts, Gods, and Spirits of Kyoto

by Tomoya Kida, Yusuke Shimizu, and Takashi Muraj

As befits a city with more than 1,200 years of history, Kyoto is known as a haven for many ghosts, gods and spirits. Here is your chance to get briefly acquainted with some of the better-known entities said to haunt the cultural heart of Japan.

The Oni of Rashomon

Rashomon DVD CoverA long time ago, the gate known as Rashomon was the main entrance and triumphal arch of Kyoto, the capital of Japan at that time. The eminent writer Akutagawa Ryunosuke (1892-1927) has written about Rashomon in a famous short story of that title. The renowned filmmaker Kurosawa Akira (1920-1998) featured this southern gateway in his classic film of the same name. Nowadays in Kyoto, one can only find a stone monument, erected in 1895, that tells us there was once such a building in this place: a lofty, tile-topped gate. But back in the old days, a tale was often told which claimed that an oni (a fiend or ogre) lived in this place.

The legend says…

In the Heian period (794-1185), while the samurai soldier Watanabe no Tsuna held a party with his colleagues, some of them challenged themselves to test their courage. To do so, they walked to Rashomon one by one. At last, it was Tsuna’s turn. He went alone and arrived at Rashomon without incident. He placed a card at the gateway that certified his arrival. Then, on his way back, when he was passing the Ichijo-Modoribashi bridge, an ogre grasped his kabuto (samurai’s helmet) from behind. Tsuna attacked this monster with his sword, and the fiend ran away. At Tsuna’s feet, he found a big severed arm, still grasping Tsuna’s helmet. The owner of this arm is an oni named Ibaraki-Doji, who is still said to haunt the site today: a follower of Shuten-Doji, another ogre said to live on Mt. Oe. According to some accounts, this oni went to take his arm back, over and over.

Another legend says…

Once a biwa (a traditional Japanese lute) named Genjo, an instrument greatly treasured by the emperor of the time, was stolen. People said that the theft was intended to drive the emperor mad. Then late one night, when the nobleman and great musician Minamoto no Hiromasa happened to be thinking about that missing lute, he heard the sound of someone playing it. He took his servant boy with him and followed the sound, which was certainly Genjo’s, and it led him to Rashomon, where he found that the tune he was hearing came from the top of the double-roofed gate. Hiromasa and his servant both listened, but only he could hear the brilliant playing. He whispered to his servant, “I don’t think this is a person who is playing Genjo, but an ogre!” And suddenly the music stopped. Then Hiromasa shouted, “Who is it playing Genjo up there?! That lute is a treasure of the emperor, stolen some days ago. Now I’m here; I followed your beautiful music right up to this gate!” Then something suddenly dropped down, hanging from the gate. Hiromasa quickly backed away, thinking it could be a hanged man, or the ogre. But soon he saw the precious biwa tied with a rope to its neck. He cut it free and brought it back to the emperor. Genjo can still be found in the Imperial Palace today. Courtiers insist it is a living thing with a spirit of its own, and that if a poor musician tries to play it, Genjo will grow sullen and not produce any sound. Once, when a fire burned down part of the palace, everyone ran for their lives, forgetting to save Genjo. But the lute was later found safe outside, where it seemed to have taken itself!

Ideogram for Oni

Japanese Ideogram for 'Oni'

At first, Kyoto was structured very neatly with an exact matrix of streets. But as dozens of years went by, the southern area didn’t drain well and was gradually getting wilder. Perhaps for that reason, some tales arose that say an oni is living around Rashomon. Actually, there are many types of folklore and traditions hidden in various places within the urbanized city of Kyoto, for this is a very old city. Moreover, Japan’s capital was moved from Nara to Kyoto by the Emperor Kammu in part to run away from many deep-seated grudges. So this ancient city is a fertile ground for the activities of ghosts and demons.

In addition to the ogres haunting Rashomon, many types of ghosts and gods live in Kyoto. Here is a partial list of sites and their inhabitants:

  • Mt. Oe: An ogre named Shuten-Doji had his head cut off by a samurai commander and buried on a mountain pass named Oinosaka. This beheaded demon repented of his crimes and is said to help people with ailments above the neck…
  • Ichijo-Modoribashi: Here at this haunted bridge a group of late 16th century Christian martyrs had their ears cut off. Nearby is Seimei-Jinja, a Shinto shrine devoted to warding off evil spirits…
  • Kibune-Jinja: at this Shinto shrine it is said the ghost of the Genji general Minamoto no Yoshitsune resides…
  • Kurama-dera: Atop a mountain in northern Kyoto stands this Buddhist temple. Within its grounds is a sanctum where the temple’s followers claim a “demon king” is enshrined. The spirit is said to have come to Earth from Venus 6 million years ago to control the destiny of the human race…
  • Kitano-Tenmangu: This Shinto shrine was built for the spirit of Sugawara no Michizane, a 9th & 10th century scholar, writer and court minister of astonishing brilliance who died shortly after a plot against him had led to his exile in Daizafu (present-day Kyushu). After his death, Michizane’s angry spirit is said to have caused misfortunes at court. He was posthumously pardoned and promoted to the highest rank. This shrine was built for him and his ancestor Tenpo Nichimei, where he resides deified today as Tenman Tenjin, the patron saint of scholarship…

Not only in Kyoto city itself, but in the surrounding regions you can find many ghost spots and sites which are like the theatrical stages of legends and folklore. Follow your curiosity, to where Japan’s history and mythology converge!

A Small Shrine for Beauty

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.

Shinto Gate at Utsukushi-gozensha

Shinto Gate at Utsukushi-gozensha

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.

Chikara-mizu (power water)

Chikara-mizu (power water)

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.