Umenomiya Taisha, a shrine tucked away in a western residential district, is yet another one of Kyoto’s hidden gems. Home to a gorgeous pond and sprawling garden, Umenomiya Taisha shows a variety of charming faces in spring as flowers like plum, cherry blossoms, azalea, iris, and hydrangea bloom in colorful succession. Umenomiya Taisha has been well-known for centuries as a shrine associated with sake brewing and prayers related to childbirth, and various items connected to both are scattered about the grounds. In recent years, it has also gained a certain modern notoriety as the lounging ground of a bevy of cats beloved by photographers and cared for by the shrine.
Umenomiya Taisha’s most scintillating feature is the garden that takes up much of the grounds space, complete with a plum grove, paths lined with hydrangeas, vibrant azalea islands, and two ponds accented by water-loving iris. Each month of spring brings with it a different seasonal flower to enjoy, and with charming bridges and a traditional teahouse in the mix, the scenery is too lovely to miss. Check the shrine’s official website for useful blog entries that indicate the conditions of the flowers before you go, if you’re hoping to see the garden at its best.
The expansive garden of Umenomiya Taisha contains a lot of charming features just waiting to be enjoyed. Once you enter the garden, a large pond is laid out in front of you, surrounded by plum trees and iris. Bridges near the teahouse arch over the water and provide a nice view of the colorful koi fish below, and a stone bridge seems to divide the side of the pond ruled by iris and the side ruled by water lilies. On the “islands” in the middle of the pond are also several large azalea bushes that bloom a bright crimson in early spring. Continuing on past the large pond takes you through hydrangea-lined paths towards a smaller iris-lined pond called the Magatama Pond, shaped like the crescent magatama beads. Last, but certainly not least, is the plum grove, filled with flowering plum trees that once inspired famous 18th century scholar Motoori Norinaga to pen the following poem when he donated a tree:
Until they appear from without
As a sacred fence around the shrine
Let a plum tree be planted
Let a thousand
Let eight thousand
You can guess that sake brewers favor Umenomiya Taisha from the first sight of the main gate, considering that the second story of the structure is lined with colorful sake casks. A large selection of the traditional alcohol given up as votive offerings can also be found just inside the gate, representing some of the most famous Japanese breweries. Why? Umenomiya Taisha enshrines Oyamazumi no Mikoto, a god of land and sea, and his daughter, the beautiful goddess Konohana no Sakuya. Legend states that when the daughter gave birth to her first child, the new grandparent deity was so pleased that he went and invented sake to celebrate, a connection that those in the sake industry celebrate likewise to this day.
Matage Childbirth Rocks
Empress Danrin, who had been troublingly childless for years, was said to have conceived only after stepping over a sacred stone called the matage-ishi at Umenomiya Taisha. Furthering the shrine’s reputation as a place to pray for childbirth, legend also says that the Empress spread white sand from the shrine beneath her bed and was in turn blessed with an easy and safe labor. Now known as ubu-suna (childbirth sand), this white sand can be found in shrine talismans, and to this day legends state that couples may be able to conceive if they pray and step over the matage-ishi. (For those interested who can speak Japanese or are accompanied by someone who can, please fill out an application to have a blessing performed at the shrine office, and a priest will guide you into the sanctuary and conduct the ceremony.)
Umenomiya Taisha was founded in the Nara period, approximately 1,300 years ago. Originally this shrine was constructed in Yamashiro Province (modern southern Kyoto prefecture) by Agata Inukai no Michiyo (also known as Tachibana Michiyo), the mother of Empress Kōmyō and poet prince Tachibana no Moroe. Established to pray for the prosperity and perpetuation of the Tachibana line, Umenomiya Taisha has served as the clan shrine for generations and enshrines mountain deity Oyamazumi no Mikoto and his daughter and goddess of life Konohana no Sakuya-hime.
Empress Kōmyō had the shrine moved to Nara, and the shrine was relocated yet again before in family fashion great-great-granddaughter Tachibana no Kachiko (786–850), Empress Danrin, had the shrine transferred to its present location in western Kyoto in the early Heian period. It was said that Empress Danrin, who had been unable to conceive a child, was able to give birth to the future Emperor Ninmyō after stepping over a rock at this shrine that is even now visited by hopeful couples. Furthermore, it is said that just as Konohana no Sakuya-hime experienced a quick and easy pregnancy, Empress Danrin was similarly blessed by her devotion to the shrine.
During the Heian period Umenomiya Taisha received patronage from the imperial court when it was added to a list of shrines to receive reports and offerings by Emperor Ichijō in 994, receiving the rank of kanpei-taisha.
Saidan-sai (New Year’s Ritual)
First Sunday in March
Third Sunday in April
Cherry Blossom Festival
Third Sunday in June
Dowager Empress Danrin Festival
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Last Sunday in August
|Emperor Saga Festival|
Shichi-go-san (7-5-3 Festival for Children)
Toshikoshi no Ōharae (Winter Purification)
- General Admission (Garden): ¥550
- Children over 6 (Garden): ¥350
- General Admission: 9:00 – 17:00 (last entrance 16:30)
- Closed: N/A