Located in northern Kyoto is Kamigamo Jinja, one of Kyoto’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. With a rich history as one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Kyoto, Kamigamo Shrine is traditionally linked with Shimogamo Shrine to the south, with the two referred to collectively as the Kamo Shrines. The shrines grounds combine swathes of nature and expanses of pale gravel, with the buildings contrasting yet somehow harmonized in natural wood against the brilliant vermilion of its gates and fences. A rather interesting sight on the grounds can be found in front of the worship hall in the form of two sand constructions called tatesuna that represent the divine mountain. Sometimes the shrine’s sacred horse is stabled on the property, and the theme of the yatagarasu, a legendary three legged crow, can be found in such forms as the crow-shaped omikuji fortunes. Host to festivals such as the Aoi Matsuri, one of Kyoto’s three most famous, the ancient Kamigamo Shrine is worth a visit no matter the day.
Host to festivals such as the Aoi Matsuri, one of Kyoto’s three most famous, the ancient Kamigamo Shrine is worth a visit no matter the day.
The two carefully formed sand cones in front of the Hosodono hall, called tatesuna, are said to represent the divine mountain Kō-yama where the kami Kamo Wakeikazuchi descended from the heavens. Look closely to find the “evergreen tree” on the top of the mountain, represented as a single pine needle stuck in the sand at the peak of each cone.
A reconstruction dated to 1863 under imperial edict, the honden sits beyond the brilliant colored two-story rōmon gate, approached via a slightly curved sacred bridge crossing over a clear stream. In New Year’s season the main hall sports a gigantic purification arrow leaning against its façade. Lengthy renewals have recently been completed, allowing the fresh-faced shrine to shine.
Considered one of the oldest Shinto shrines, with spiritual practices in the area traceable back to the 6th century, Kamigamo Shrine was first mentioned in a 678 historical text with the formal name of Kamo-Wakeikazuchi Jinja, proving that by that time the shrine and its festivals were established presences in the area.
Kamo Wakeikazuchi no Kami, the deity enshrined, is said to have been born from the union of Tamayori-hime no Mikoto, daughter of Kamo clan founder Kamo Taketsunumi no Mikoto (both now enshrined at Shimogamo Shrine), and a deity she met while performing ablutions. While in the river purifying herself, Tamayori-hime spotted an arrow floating downstream and plucked it from the water. Depositing it on the bank, it transformed into its true form as a kami, whom she married and begat with him Wakeikazuchi, a deity governing natural forces.
When Kyoto was established as the capital in 794, Kamigamo Shrine began to enjoy imperial patronage as the emperor acknowledged the importance of the Kamo Shrines in preventing malign influences from reaching the newly founded Heian-kyō. Kamigamo Shrine flourished under this patronage, receiving imperial visits from Emperor Kanmu in 794, Emperor Suzaku in 942, and Emperor Enyū in 979. Emperors not only visited Kamigamo Shrine, but they designated that the deities there would be notified of all imperial edicts, delegating the shrine as an ichinomiya, the rank belonging to twenty two chief Shinto shrines, and as a kanpei-taisha, a government supported shrine during the State Shinto period from 1871 to 1945.
Kamigamo Shrine, as well as Shimogamo Shrine, carries out restorations of their facilities every twenty one years in a process called shikinen sengū. Representing the spirit of renewal in the form of refurbishing the shrine buildings, very few shrines still keep this custom alive as it was traditionally only performed by very high-ranking shrines and involves high costs. The last renewal cycle was completed just recently.
|New Year’s Banquet (Shinnenkyōen-sai)|
|Sacred Horse Inspection (Hakubasōran Jinji)|
|Purification Archery Ritual (Musha Jinji)|
|National Foundation Day Ritual (Kigen-sai)|
|Peach Blossom Ritual (Tōka Jinji)|
|Ōta Jinja Spring Festival|
April 2nd Sunday
|Winding Stream Banquet (Kamo Kyokusui no En)|
|Kamo Horserace (Kamo Kurabe-uma)|
|Ritual Tea Offering (Kencha-sai)|
|Rice Planting Ritual (Otaue-sai)|
|Summer Purification (Nagoshi no Ōharae)|
|Firelight Nō Performance|
|Chōyō no Sekku, Karasu Sumō|
|Kamo Horse Festival (Kamo no Uma Matsuri)|
|Moon Viewing (Kamo Kangetsu-sai)|
October, 3rd Sun.
|Meiji Festival (Meiji-sai)|
|Tenchō Era Festival (Tenchō-sai)|
|End of the Year Purification (Gyokei Ōharae-shiki)|
- General Admission: Free
- General Admission: 8:30 – 17:00
- Closed: No closing days