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Yasaka Shrine is one of Kyoto’s most famous landmarks. Also known as Gion Shrine, it is one of the most popular tourist attractions and shrines in Gion, Kyoto. This architectural wonder reflects the colorful and rich history of Japan. Let’s take a look at Gion through Yasaka Shrine.
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There is no doubt that Japan has a rich history that is reflected in its culture, including religion. Japan boasts of tens of thousands of Shinto shrines that reflect its faith towards the Shinto religion, one of them being the Yasaka Shrine at Gion.
※ Jinja Honcho Association of Shinto Shrines, “Q & A”
Yasaka Shrine is located in the famous town of Gion in Kyoto where many tourists flock to for a taste of traditional Japanese culture, especially that of geisha culture.
For more about Gion, read Gion: In the Past and Now of Kyoto.
Yasaka Shrine is famous as being one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan. Originally built in the mid 660s, Gion-sha or Kansin-in as it was called back then was built in honour of Susanoo as its main deity alongside his wife, Kushinadahime and one of his sons, Yahashira. In Japanese mythology, Susanoo is the god of storm renowned for defeating the 8 headed dragon Orochi who is a symbol of disaster.
The year 869 marked the birth of one of Japan’s most celebrated events, Gion Festival. The festival was first celebrated to appease the god of Gion and pray for relief from a curse which they believed was the cause of the plague. The festival has been celebrated annually since, except in 2020 when it was cancelled to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The shrine was renamed to Yasaka Shrine on May 30, 1868, and has been referred to by that name since.
※ Wasai LLC, Mythopedia, “Susanoo” ※ Yasaka Shrine Kyoto Japan, "Gion Festival" ※ Yasaka Shrine Kyoto Japan, "History of Yasaka Shrine"
During the Shichi-go-san (3-5-7) Festival every November, children are often brought to the Yasaka Shrine so they can say their wishes.
As part of the Gion Festival, a local boy will be chosen. He will be carried on a large float during the parade, not allowed to touch the ground.
Lanterns around the shrine have the names of businesses who donated to the shrine.
Yasaka Shrine is the head shrine to around 3,000 Shinto shrines that worship Susanoo all around Japan. This is hardly surprising considering the popularity of Yasaka Shrine that propelled the spread of its shrines throughout Japan.
According to old Japanese folklore, once upon a time Yasaka Shrine was home to a great Japanese dragon. One of the areas of the Yasaka Shrine is the main hall which is used mostly for stage dances and activities during festivals. According to the legend, underneath this main hall is a bottomless pond of clean and pristine waters where the great Japanese dragon resides. It is believed that this great dragon is the guardian of Kyoto City as it was the ancient capital of Japan.
Bigozensha Shrine is part of Yasaka Shrine. The shrine worships three beautiful deities; Takiribime, Tagitsuhime, and Ichikishimahime who are known as the Goddesses of Beauty. It is said that Ichikishimahime is the most beautiful of the three. Many women, including maiko and geisha, visit Bigozensha Shrine to pay their respects and pray for the deities to grant them beauty. At the front of the shrine is a pool of divine water called “Beauty Water” (美容水 Rikisui) which is said to beautify not just your skin but your spirit too.
There are 2 legends as to how the three deities of Bigozensha Shrine came to be. One legend from the Kojiki says that the deities rose from the 3 broken pieces of Susanoo’s sword, Tosuka no Tsurugi during his fight with Amaterasu. Another legend from the Nihongi says that when Amaterasu descended to the human realm, the Goddess ordered the three deities to protect maritime and traffic safety.
Shrine events related to the Bigozensha Shrine are the Beauty Parlour & Salon Thanksgiving Festival (理容美容感謝祭) on the 3rd Sunday of November, and the Bigozensha Shrine Festival on 15th November.
※ Yasaka Shrine Kyoto Japan, “Bigozensha Shrine”
Right next to Yasaka Shrine is Maruyama Park, perhaps the most famous (and best) spot for cherry blossom viewing in Kyoto. It is accessible from the east side of Yasaka Shrine near Bigozensha Shrine. During the sakura season, Yasaka Shrine becomes packed as visitors stop by before heading to the park.
Pro-tip: visit in the evening for the illumination for a spectacular sight of shining pink sakura trees standing out from the backdrop of a dark sky. Unfortunately, the illumination for 2021 was cancelled to prevent the spread of COVID-19 but we have great hopes for 2022 and so on!
Aside from the numerous street food stalls in Yasaka Shrine just past Nishiro-mon, there are plenty of things to eat in Gion. Here are a selection of places to eat.
Teppan Tavern Gion Tenamonya has been operating since 1998. For 2 decades, they have been serving the best Wagyu teppanyaki in Gion ranking No.2 in Japan for TripAdvisor’s Best Everyday Dining in 2020. People love the food and ambience here.
Access: 2-mins walk from Yasaka Shrine West Gate, and South Torii
Famous aged beef restaurant Premium Pound has opened a branch store in Gion. Serving premium Wagyu and Kobe beef steak with a selection of wines to complete your meal, it is considerably classier dining than the homey Teppan Tavern above.
Access: 4-mins walk from Yasaka Shrine West Gate, and South Torii
For a taste of authentic Japanese food, visit this Kyoto curry udon specialty restaurant Mimikou. First opened in 1969, Mimikou has been serving the Kyoto locals for half a century now. Enjoy the delicious curry made with fragrant spices and konbu curry, bite into firm chewy udon noodles coated with thick curry sauce only at Mimikou.
Access: 2-mins walk from Yasaka Shrine West Gate, and South Torii
For more tasty wonders in Kyoto, check out our other articles:
Nearest Train Stations
Keihan Gion Shijo Station - 5-mins walk
Hankyu Kawaramachi Station - 8-mins walk
Nearest Bus Station
City Bus Route 206 and Rapid Route 100
Gion Station stop - 1-min walk
Cost: 230 yen
※ Yasaka Shrine Kyoto Japan, "Access"
TIP: Best route from Kyoto Station is by bus which takes around 20 minutes.
The Yasaka Shrine is a reflection of the unique and interesting culture of Japan, as well as their belief in the Shinto Religion. The shrine is ripe with folk legends of dragons and bottomless ponds, beautiful deities, and the iconic cherry blossoms welcoming you at the entrance! If you are interested to know more about Japan, consider visiting Yasaka Shrine.
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