A shrine with a thousand year history, Imamiya Shrine has a reputation when it comes to prayers for good health and recovery from illness. Located in northwestern Kyoto, this Shinto shrine is famous for hosting the Yasurai Festival in April and the Imamiya Festival in May, prayers for good health, and its purportedly magical stone that can predict if your wishes will come true or not.
The path to the shrine’s magnificent two-story gate is lined with ginkgo trees that turn a brilliant yellow in the autumn, and the grounds contain numerous interesting features just waiting to be discovered. True to the history of shrines as gathering places for the community, Imamiya Shrine is very much involved in the lives of the locals who live around it.
Imamiya Shrine has a reputation when it comes to prayers for good health and recovery from illness.
You can’t miss Imamiya Shrine, seeing as its large rōmon gate beckons visitors to enter from afar. Making your way towards the shrine down the sandō entrance path, the large vermilion gate shines brilliantly at the end of the street, guarded by two large lion-dogs. Its entrance features hanging cloth decorated with the shrine’s distinctive three pines symbol, and a large pine tree grows to the side of the gate itself. Ginkgo trees line both sides of the path, and turn bright yellow come the autumn season.
Enshrining Onamuchi no Mikoto, local deity Kotoshiranushi no Mikoto, and Kushinada-hime no Mikoto as a trinity called Imamiya Mihashira Ōkami, the Imamiya Shrine god is known for its influence over prayers for good health, long life, and the curing of illness. In front of the main hall is a yard of white gravel raked into lines and delineated as sacred space, and large bronze lanterns flank either side.
Tama no Koshi
"Tama no koshi ni noru" is a phrase in Japanese that literally translates as "to ride in a jeweled palanquin". Used to mean "to marry into wealth", this phrase is often used when discussing the story of Otama. The third Tokugawa Shogun Iemitsu is said to have fallen in love with this local commoner who had worked her way to success despite being born to a simple grocer. Elevated to a high and wealthy social position by her status as the Shogun’s mistress and mother of his son (who would go on to become the 5th Shogun), Otama never forgot her roots and continued to support the Imamiya Shrine and her old neighborhood Nishijin with her patronage and influence, and a plaque with a relief of her face is displayed on the grounds. Most popular, however, are the “tama no koshi” charms, decorated with vegetables, which are said to help the bearer find a wealthy match!
You might not think too much of the small hut housing a rock placed on weathered silk pillows, but that is Imamiya Shrine’s resident wish-fulfilling stone, Ahokashi-san, that has been held by generations seeking for answers to their wishes. Instructions suggest tapping the stone three times and lifting it up with both hands before praying. After you pray, rub the stone three times and then lift it again. If it feels lighter than it did when you lifted it the first time, it’s said your wish will come true! Other locals claim the stone has healing powers, and that if you touch the stone and then the body part giving you trouble, it can make the wound heal faster than normal.
Though Imamiya Shrine has several sub-shrines on its property, the largest is the Orihime-sha, marked with distinctive statuary in the shape of a loom shuttle. Enshrining Takuhatachijihime no Mikoto, the goddess of fabric and sewing, the sub-shrine is popular with the nearby neighborhood of Nishijin, which is famous for its high quality silk textiles. People pray at the Orihime-sha to improve their artistic skills and for success in creative trades.
Located just outside the shrine’s east gate are two famous shops: Ichiwa, founded in 1002, and Kazariya, which was founded in 1656. Both specialize in aburi mochi, roasted rice cakes dusted with kinako powder on skewers served with a white miso sauce. With a long connection to the next-door Imamiya Shrine, the restaurants each have inside and outside dining areas as well as inner gardens to enjoy while you taste their aburi mochi. If you pay a visit to the shrine, don’t miss this famous local treat!
Imamiya Shrine’s history begins in the Heian Period, when in 994 a festival was held to worship a local deity of health and sickness in attempts to appease its wrath. When another epidemic swept through the area in 1001, the emperor had a prophetic dream and had the portable shrine (omikoshi) on Mt. Funaoka moved a short distance to Imamiya Shrine’s current location, there building the first shrine building. The shrine’s Imamiya Festival and Yasurai Festival have their origins in rituals undertaken during this time to pray for dispersion of the plague in the Murasakino district, and are continued to this day. Enshrining Onamuchi no Mikoto, local deity Kotoshiranushi no Mikoto, and Kushinada-hime no Mikoto as a trinity called Imamiya Mihashira Ōkami in its main hall, Susano’o no Mikoto is enshrined in a separate hall called the Eyamisha to the left.
The shrine had fallen into disrepair until the intervention of the third shogun’s concubine, Otama (later known as Keishōin after she took the tonsure as a nun). Otama, the humble second daughter of a local grocer, had found her position in society vastly changed after being selected as a member of Tokugawa Iemitsu’s ōoku, where the shogun’s women resided. After giving birth to Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, the fifth shogun, Otama used her considerable wealth and influence to give back to her local community, seeing to the restoration of Imamiya Shrine among other works in 1690.
In 1896 the shrine’s main hall was devastated by fire, but was rebuilt in 1902 by the famous architect Itō Heizaemon IX. With the exception of this Meiji Era reconstruction, most of the architecture on the property is from the Edo Period.
1st of Every Month
|Local Flea Market|
|Saitansai New Year’s Prayers|
April, 2nd Sunday
May 5th – nearest Sunday to the 15th
|Summer Purification Ritual (Nagoshi no Harae)|
|Autumn Festival; Mikagura Dances|
|Autumn Festival; Azuma-asobi Dances|
|Joyasai Year-End Ritual|
- General Admission: Free
- General Admission: 09:00 – 17:00
- Closed: No closing days