The oldest shrine in Kyoto, 下鴨神社Shimogamo Shrine, its formal name being 賀茂御祖神社Kamo-mioya Jinja, is one of the oldest (dating back to the 6th century before Kyoto became capital of Japan) and important Shinto shrines in Japan, even deemed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO; from 1871 to 1946, it was a官幣大社kanpei-taisha, first rank of government-supported shrines and in 1994, it became a 世界遺産UNESCO World Heritage site. It is traditionally linked to 上賀茂神社Kamigamo Shrine, the other Kamo shrine; however, Shimogamo Shrine is said to be older by 100 years. The name is derived from its site near the southern banks of the 鴨川Kamo River as well as the Kamo clan who served the shrine (offspring of the clan still live in the area) and the deities that they worshipped. The shrine’s position between Kamo River and 高野川Takano River, the two rivers which run through the center of Kyoto, makes it pure and powerful.
The shrine is dedicated to the worship of 玉依姫Tamayori-hime, the guardian of women and revered to be 日本第一美麗神Japan’s most beautiful goddess, and her deity father, 賀茂建角身Kamo Taketsunomi, who was the creator and guardian of the city. In one story Tamayori-hime was said to have been bathing along the banks of the Kamo River when she picked up a red-lacquered arrow that came floating along; upon placing it on the bank, the arrow turned into 火雷神Honoikazuchi, the god of fire and thunder, with whom she married and had a thunder-god son, 別雷Wakeikazuchi. In another story, she was said to have taken the arrow home and placed it by her bedside upon which she become pregnant. When the boy became of age, Kamo Taketsunomi prepared a banquet for his grandson at which he suggested that the boy offer a drink to the man who was his father. The boy raised his cup to 火雷神Honoikazuchi, the god of fire and thunder, broke through the ceiling of the banquet hall and ascended into heaven at which his grandfather named him 賀茂別雷Kamo Wakeikazuchi, his first name meaning “dividing by thunder”.
Shimogamo Shrine is well-known for powers in 安産safe births, 育児child-rearing, 縁結びmatch-making and 美beauty winning it many female visitors throughout the year. The shrine has always been an important part of culture and community. Today, it holds numerous events, such as markets for handmade goods or old books and light-ups, and festivals, the most famous of which is 葵祭Aoi Matsuri (Aoi Festival), one of the three famous festivals in Kyoto which lasts from May 12th to 15th, which started in the 500’s to appease the deities and which entails of a procession and shrine rites by participants in Heian attire.
When Yukiko came to Kyoto for a day in mid-April 2008, Shimogamo Shrine was one of the destinations on her list. We, including Mr. Man who had accompanied me to meet her, had a quick lunch and chat at the Demachi SECOND HOUSE and shopped at 草星Kusaboshi, a cute zakka shop (another destination on her list), before walking to the shrine along the banks of Kamo River. It was a beautiful spring day and the cherry blossoms were in full bloom, so there were tons of people out. We entered the shrine from the entrance closest to Keihan Demachiyanagi Station and first hit 河合神社Kawai Shrine where visitors pray for beauty-related matters. Here, women can buy a special 絵馬ema (wooden prayer plate) called 鏡絵馬kagami (mirror) ema on which women not only write their prayers but draw their ideal faces using their own makeup (there are color pencils and markers for those who don’t have any provided by the shrine).
inside Kawai Shrine
Students were sketching 鴨長明の方丈Kamei no Choumei no Houjou (the chamber of Kamei no Choumei, a famous Japanese writer who wasn’t allowed to succeed his father at the shrine) in Kawai Shrine.
a closer look inside
There are woods nearby, remainder of the primeval 糺の森Tadasu no Mori (“Forest of Correction”) where people came to solve conflicts is just maintained without any changes. Artifacts like arrowheads and fragments of plates dating back to the 弥生時代Yayoi Period have been discovered here. Every year on May 3rd as a spring event 流鏑馬yabusame (horseback archery), a ritual that started the year 698 to pray for 豊作a plentiful harvest, takes place in this forest to the delight of the public.
metal covers to protect the tree from further damage
In Tadasu no Mori, one can find 相生社Aioi-sha Shrine where visitors pray to find love; a tree called 連理の賢木Renri no Sakaki, special because it’s two trees that forged to become one, is the symbol of love there. As a couple visiting, the man goes around inside the shrine three times from the left and the woman three times from the right after they write prayers on an ema. Although this shrine is known for its power for love, one can very well go with friends or alone and pray for work and other matters as well as while going around the shrine area three times as well.
the southern gate to the main shrines
There were several weddings at the shrine that day, so I didn’t get a good shot of the 太鼓橋Taikobashi Bridge.
a close look into the 舞殿Maidono where prayers for the welfare of the country and its people and gifts from emperors were taken until the 1600’s when the rules wehere changed so that the emperors themselves could present their prayers and gifts…the main shrine can be seen past it.
Rare to shrines in Kyoto, the 言社Koto Shrine is where people come to pray for general prosperity as well as success in business based on Chinese astrological year, praying at the subshrine for one’s own year as well as the current year.
the subshrine for the Year of the Snake, my year☺
a hallway in the main shrine
reserved visits of the day…no wonder this place is known for match-making.☺
The idea for a well-known Japanese sweet, みたらし団子mitarashi dango (dumplings on a stick covered with sweet soy glaze), is said to have originated at Shimogamo Shrine, at 御手洗社Mitarashi-sha Shrine where water bubbling up from its well inspired the shape of these delectable dumplings. Yukiko wanted to try some at 加茂みたらし茶屋Kamo Mitarashi Chaya nearby after finishing up at Shimogamo Shrine, a great way to end the visit.
inside the teahouse
looking over the menu while having some complimentary tea
We of course each got the mitarashi dango, three sticks for ￥400; they came on trays in the shape of gourds, cute! I liked how we were given toothpicks to daintily pry the dumplings off the sticks.
Needless to say the dumplings were the right chewy texture and the perfect cute little size; I could have eaten them forever! I may have to go to the みたらし祭Mitarashi Festival, another festival of the shrine which is held in July before the traditional beginning of fall in August to receive blessings by ritual foot bathing, to get some more dumplings.☺