Yasaka Shrine, also known as Gion Shrine, is located in the Gion District of Kyoto. It holds a prominent place in the city, being situated at the end of Shijo-dori (Fourth Avenue). This remarkable Shinto shrine includes several buildings, gates, the main hall, and a stage. There are many famous events and festivals held at Yasaka Shrine every year. It remains a staple of any visit to Kyoto.
Gion Shrine made its rise to fame in 869, when the mikoshi of the shrine was paraded through the streets of Kyoto to ward off a terrible epidemic that had hit the city. Nowadays, Gion Matsuri is one of the largest festivals in Japan for the purification of disease and sickness. It takes place each summer and spans the entire month of July. The streets are lined with food stands and it’s common to see locals dressed in yukata (summer kimono). Some nearby merchant houses even open up their entryways to the public to exhibit family heirlooms.
Today, the shrine not only still hosts Gion Matsuri but also welcomes thousands of well-wishers and prayers for the New Year. It’s also popular for weddings, Japanese New Year rituals, and celebrations. Every spring, massive crowds pass through the festival grounds on their way to the nearby Maruyama Park, which is a hugely popular hanami (cherry blossom viewing) site.
Yasaka Shrine is dedicated to the Shinto god Susano-o and his consort Kushinada-hime on the east; and on the west, to eight offspring deities. The shrine began construction in 656 and became an object of Imperial patronage during the early Heian period. From 1871 through 1946, Yasaka Shrine was designated as a Kanpei-taisha – the first rank of government-supported shrines.
The main hall of Yasaka Shrine has a unique architectural style. It shares this style with the worship hall and, although the two buildings are separate, they share a turret roof. Visitors can see the dance stage to the front of the main hall, along with hundreds of lanterns that are lit at night.
This large stone gate or torii was built in 1646. It has collapsed twice since but been rebuilt and replaced on both occasions. The last such incident was in 1666. It has been declared an Important Cultural Property and visitors can marvel at this stone gate as it proudly stands watch over the shrine grounds.
In front of the shrine, there is a fresh spring whose waters are said to polish beauty and improve the health of one’s skin. It’s called “beauty water” by worshippers and is especially popular with young women. The shrine also sells beauty amulets and in November has blessings for the improvement of beauty.
These portable shrines are believed to be divine. They’re paraded through the streets every year only during Gion Matsuri. This practice began in 869, as a way to ward off an epidemic plaguing Kyoto.
Yasaka Shrine is about a 5-minute walk from Gion Shijo Station on the Keihan Line; alternatively, it can be reached by an 8-minute walk from Kawaramachi Station on the Hankyu Line.
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