SYNOPSIS:  About Kamigamo, Shimogamo, Heian Jingu, and Fushimi Inari Taisha.   


Temple saturation level has been reached, even for me.  So, what shall we do today?  I have a great idea:  let’s do shrines!  I realize that the concept of a “great idea” varies from person to person and that you think I am kidding, but I am not.  Shrines it is today.  I promise, at least one of them will be awesome even if it is one that did not make it onto the world heritage list.  It’s everyone’s favorite.

Shrines is what you bump into in Kyoto as you do temples.  At a ratio of one to four (that is 400 shrines and 1600 temples) that is about right.  I have bumped into a few shrines so far:  The Yasaka Shrine on the first day in Kyoto, which is a big, flashy one in the center of the Gion District, and the heart of the Gion Matsuri festival.  Then there was the silly Jishu Shrine filled with teenagers trying to walk blindfolded between two love stones which I stumbled on when I visited the Kiyomizudera Temple.  And in Uji there will be the Ujigamo Shrine, a site I will visit since it is close to the Byodo-in; it would not warrant a special trip on its own.

Today, we shall give shrines our fullest attention, not just run into them by accident or because they are nearby. The first one is way up north, a good full hour on the bus from the center of town, the KamigamoAlong with the Shimogamo, this temple pair are the oldest shrines in all of Kyoto and predate even the city itself.  The principal deity worshipped at Kamigamo is the Thunder god Raijin.

I thought sand piles are only found in Zen temples — I was wrong.  After you enter the shrine through two torii gates, two sand piles greet you.  But I think the concept of these piles differs from Shinto to Buddhism.  In the Buddhist temples I had read that they are piles purifying the visitor, piles for meditation.  If I get this right, at Kamigamo, they are landing pads for the gods to descend.

There is usually not as much to do at a Shinto shrine.  You go to the main hall, drop a coin, bow, clap your hands, make a wish, bow again and you are done.  Temple visits may take hours as there may be sub-temples, treasure houses, viewing gardens, etc.  Shinto shrines even at a leisurely pace can, with a few exceptions, usually be visited in one-half to one hour.

From Kamigamo in the north we wind our way back towards the center.  Kyoto is laid out along two sides of a river, which in the upper 1/3 of town splits into two rivers, the Kamogawa and the Tokanogawa.  They form a very feminine looking triangle and it is no wonder that in the midst of it there would be another important jinja, the Shimogamo, interestingly worshipping Tamayori-hime, a deity whose name can be translated as “spirit-inviting” maiden.

Close to the Gion district, in the center of town is the impressive Heian Jingu.  Its architecture is quite different from many other shrines and one of the main features is a strolling-garden, equally unusual.  In contrast to the northern “gamo” shrines, the Heian Jingu was only established in 1895 and most buildings you see today were actually rebuilt in 1976 after the original ones had been lost to fire.   I had not even planned on going here, but how things happen at times:

I wanted to board a bus to go south and was not absolutely sure if I was on the right side of the street.  As I was asking the driver for directions, a woman disembarked and took over.  I was going the wrong way, she insisted.  I was a bit surprised since I had double-checked my map, but this woman had a way of certainty about her which was hard to argue with.  I boarded the bus she insisted on and within one stop realized that I was going in the wrong direction.  But… this bus was going to stop right in front of the Heian Jingu.  Perhaps, she was a messenger of the spirits and wanted me to go.  Hard to argue with that, too.  I enjoyed the stroll through the garden and the moon-viewing corridor.

But there was no doubt how to get to the final shrine.  You had to board the train going south.  At the Inari stop on the Nara line you get off and only have to hop across the street in front of the station to find yourself engulfed by the Fushima Inari Taisha.  From there you follow red.  Red flags, red lanterns, red temple buildings but most of all red torii.  Lots and lots and lots of them.  This temple is dedicated to commerce and business.  Each of the hundreds (or are there thousands) of toriis has been donated by a business in Japan. **

For four kilometers the line of toriis is winding through the forest, up on top of the mountain.  If it had not already been rather late in the day, I would have done the full round.  But the day came to a close and I am not fond of hiking in the woods in the dark.  But even half the circle through the toriis was a magic experience which I hope you will enjoy at least in some form through the images.

It is a site to behold!

Shrines — checked off!  This was fun.  Just a few more things to do in Kyoto…

Good night.

**  One site online claimed 1300 toriis, another 10,000 — I certainly did not count nor would I verify one over the other number.  It’s a lot!