A small shrine located near the famous temple Tenryū-ji, Nonomiya Shrine is surrounded on all sides by the chikurin, Arashiyama’s beautiful bamboo forest. Despite its small size, the shrine has a lengthy history, founded in antiquity as a purification shrine for imperial princesses appointed as priestesses for Ise Shrine. Comprised of a small main altar as well as several sub-shrines in a pleasant moss-filled garden, Nonomiya Shrine is a quaint stop along the Sagano walking path that takes visitors through the gorgeous bamboo forest and up into the foothills of Arashiyama. Take a moment on your way to appreciate the scenery of Nonomiya Shrine, which appears in the classic 11th century novel The Tale of Genji.
Nonomiya Shrine is a quaint stop along the Sagano walking path that takes visitors through the gorgeous bamboo forest and up into the foothills of Arashiyama.
Unlike most shrines, which feature more iconic, lacquered vermilion torii gates, Nonomiya Shrine has a somewhat unusual black torii gate referred to as a kuroki torii. Made to resemble unstripped timber, this style of gate harkens back to the oldest style of Shinto torii that would have been erected in the past. Surrounding the shrine is the same sort of brushwood fencing (koshibagaki) that can be found along the paths through the bamboo forest, a rustic touch that adds a bit of charm. Both these scenic details are mentioned in The Tale of Genji when the main character, Prince Genji, arrives at Nonomiya Shrine.
Though the precincts as well as shrine buildings are small, Nonomiya Shrine has a lovely little garden to the right of the main hall that is brimming with a lush carpet of moss. A tiny bridge spans the dip between two small “hills” on the ground, making it appear almost as if the garden is a larger landscape represented in miniature.
Alongside the garden are two sub-shrines marked with lanterns and vermilion torii gates. One is dedicated to Atago, a deity associated with a nearby mountain who is believed to deal with matters relating to fire and victory. Another enshrines deities such as Benzaiten, a goddess of luck and the arts, and Inari, a deity associated with business and agricultural success. Nonomiya Shrine specifically enshrines Shirafuku Inari Daimyōjin, who is said to additionally have the power to bless couples with children and easy labor. An altar to another lucky god, Daikokuten, can be found to the left of the main hall and is marked with masks.
To the left of the Daikokuten shrine you will find a large, peculiarly shaped stone. This stone is called the Kame Ishi (Turtle Rock), or, alternatively, the Kami Ishi (Divine Rock). It is said that if you rub this stone and pray over it, your wish will be granted within a year.
Shrine for Women
Nonomiya Shrine has a reputation for helping and interceding on behalf of women, and many parishioners are women who want to find love or wish for children and a safe childbirth. Many of the omamori on sale at the shrine reflect the theme of women’s happiness, and you can find a variety of amulets available at the shrine office. Enmusubi amulets for a good relationship, kosazuke for conception of a child, anzan for an easy birth, and more can be found in various colors and designs. Some prefer ema votive tablets on which you can write your wish before hanging it up on the precincts.
Nonomiya Shrine’s history is intrinsically tied to the ancient court appointment of the Saigū. The Saigū was a woman traditionally chosen from the Imperial line, usually the young unmarried daughter of an emperor, who served as a ritual priestess of Ise Jingū. Since Ise Jingū is considered the most important Shinto shrine in the country, pilgrimages were undertaken by the Saigū at designated times to convey prayers to Amaterasu, the sun goddess enshrined there.
In preparation for these pilgrimages, small shrines were erected to be used for the priestess’ purification and abstinence, a period which would last a year before she said farewell at the Imperial Palace and departed for Ise, where she would live in the Saigū Imperial Palace and perform rituals and offerings at Ise Shrine. Nonomiya Shrine was founded to serve the 15thSaigū, Princess Ninshi, a daughter of Emperor Saga who served as priestess from 809 to 823.
Nonomiya Shrine is also mentioned in the Chapter of the Sacred Tree in Murasaki Shikibu’s classic novel, The Tale of Genji, which was written in the 11th century and is considered by some to be the world’s first novel. Lady Rokujō, one of Genji’s lovers, seeks to remove herself from the pressures of the capital and her feelings of jealousy towards Genji’s other paramours and accompanies her daughter, who has been appointed Priestess of Ise and sent to Nonomiya Shrine to purify herself. In the text, Nonomiya Shrine is described in terms both somber and poetic, the iconic shrine gates described as having “a grand and awesome dignity for all their simplicity.”
Though Genji makes the journey to the shrine in order to see Lady Rokujō once more, she resolves to accompany her daughter to Ise, and Nonomiya Shrine becomes the site of their bittersweet farewell by moonlight. This tale also inspired a famous nō theater play called Nonomiya in which Lady Rokujō’s spirit appears at the shrine and relates her sad tale to a priest.
Though the Saigū system was abolished during a period of infighting between a split imperial court, Nonomiya Shrine and the other purification sites retained their importance. This began to change as years passed, and the shrines began to fall into disrepair from neglect. However, recognizing Nonomiya Shrine’s auspiciousness, Emperors Go-Nara (1495 – 1557) and Nakamikado (1702 –1737) sent orders through the imperial temple Daikaku-ji, also located in Arashiyama, to make sure the shrine was maintained. Because of this, Nonomiya Shrine has been preserved to this day.
- General Admission: Free
- General Admission: 09:00 – 17:00
- Closed: No closing days
- From Keifuku Dentetsu Arashiyama Line ⇒ Arashiyama Station ⇒ Walk 5 minutes to Tenryū-ji
- From JR Sagano Line ⇒ Saga Arashiyama Station ⇒ Walk 13 minutes to Tenryū-ji
- From Hankyū Line ⇒ Arashiyama Station ⇒ Walk 15 minutes to Tenryū-ji
- By City Bus Route 11, 28, or 93 ⇒ Arashiyama Tenryū-ji-mae Bus Stop
- By Kyoto Bus Route 61, 72, or 83 ⇒ Arashiyama Tenryū-ji-mae Bus Stop