This is a post-tour summary blog
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If you ask a Japanese person what his/her religion is, you might be surprised that many will answer that they don‘t know. This may strike you as odd, but the reason is that many Japanese practice Shinto or “the way of the gods.” It is technically not considered a religion, but it is has deep roots in Japanese culture and traditions.
The Japanese people believe that the gods (kami) or spirits reside in sacred things such as mountains, water, trees and even people. Great men become kami when they die and are revered by their descendants. When Buddhism came from China in the 6th century, the two religions are soon able to co-exist and even complement each other. However, the two religions were used in politics to control the people throughout Japanese history. It’s a bit complicated but explained during this live tour, so please watch the live tour for more details. The reason why many Japanese prefer to consider themselves as secular is because of this history.
It’s my pleasure to introduce you to one of the most famous Shinto shrines in Japan. Just thirty minutes from Kyoto is a Shinto shrine known as the Kifune Shrine. It sits at the foot of Mount Kurama, where the Kamogawa River originates. Kifune Shrine is dedicated to the god of water and is believed to be the protector of those at sea. This shrine is estimated to have been built 1,600 years ago. This shrine is known as the headquarters of 450 other Kifune all throughout Japan.
I chose this tour because it’s a special time of the year where lanterns are lit up in an event called Kibune-momiji-toro. This event is held every year in November for three weeks. The maple trees with their autumn leaves were brightly illuminated giving them an ethereal look and feel. This year was slightly disappointing however, because winter came early that many trees have already shed their leaves. But no worries, it did not dampen our visit as there were many interesting highlights that I showcased in this tour.
In the Kifune shrine, there are three main areas: Honguu (The main hall), Yuinoyashiro or Nakamiya (middle shrine), and Okumiya. Visiting all three (Sansha-mairi) is said to make your wishes come true.
I began my journey at the entrance where there was a stone staircase lined with red wooden lanterns. These lanterns are actually donated by various companies or individuals and you can see their names displayed on each one. The steps are surrounded by canopies of maple trees that are elegantly illuminated. It was truly a sight to behold. I could then hear the sound of gushing water giving the place a relaxing and spiritual atmosphere.
In fact, there is a spot in Kifune Shrine where you can drink sacred and pure mountain water. This Goshinsui 御神水(sacred water) flows from the mountain is said to be low in alkali and has been prized since olden times by locals including chefs and tea masters.
Behind the Honguu or main prayer hall is where the Takaokami-noｍkami or the god of water is enshrined. I saw people buying amulets as well as sheets of paper called Mizuura Mikuji used for fortune telling. These pieces of paper are usually placed in a small basin where the water stains are supposed to reveal one’s future. Even non-Japanese speakers can participate as there is a QR code provided where one can upload a photo of the soaked paper and it will interpret your destiny for you.
I also came across two wooden horse statues. According to historical accounts, during the Heian Period (794 – 1185), the emperor believed that using horses in prayer led to better weather conditions. To pray for rain, he would sacrifice a black horse while for clear skies, a white horse would be offered. Later on, he started using wooden plaques with images of horses instead of actual ones. Thus, the ema tradition was born. Today, these wooden boards are used to send people’s wishes to the gods. I saw several modern designs including maple shaped ones as well as those bearing the symbols of the zodiac. An ema wooden board costs ￥500.
I then walked along a long stretch of road going to the Yuinoyashiro or Nakamiya (middle shrine). There I passed a few Ryokan or Japanese style hotels as well as restaurants. It was a nice stroll in a quiet and relaxed environment.
Yuinoyashiro or Nakamiya is where people come to pray for a good marriage or improve their relationships. The god who looks after marriage, Iwanagahime, is enshrined here. During the Heian period, a well-known female poet, Izumi Shikibu, was said to have visited the shrine to win back her husband’s love and successfully did so. One will find a memorial rock where one of Izumi’s poems is carved. The shrine thus became well known for matchmaking. Here you can write your wishes on pieces of paper instead of wooden boards.
I also passed by the Kawadoko which are platforms over the river where visitors can order kaiseki meals from adjacent restaurants. Unfortunately, the day I visited was quite cold and late in the evening, so it was empty. The Kawadoko is very popular during the summer.
I finally made my way to Okumiya, where the God of Water, Takaokami-noｍkami is enshrined. This scared place is also featured in Japanese mythology where Tamayorihime, the Japanese goddess who rules bodies of water, was said to have visited. As the story goes, Tamayorihime was riding on a kifune (yellow boat) up the river when she discovered a sacred spring. She then enshrined the deity of water and named it Kifune no Miya or The Shrine of Kifune. But because of a great flood in the 11th century, the main hall was moved to where it is today.
In the inner sanctum of the shrine were huge stones that may not look special, but they were said to contain the sacred boat that was part of the shrine’s mythology. This is considered a divine and powerful spiritual spot. Legend has it that a huge pit known as Ryu-ketsu 龍穴 (dragon cave), lies right under the Okumiya, although no one is allowed to get near it.
I hoped you enjoyed the tour and learned a little bit about Japanese religion and mythology. It was a great break for me too and served as a spiritual escape from the usual hustle and bustle.
If you want a change of scenery from the busy Japanese city life, I invite you to visit to Kifune Shrine when travel is again possible. Here you can experience calm and tranquility. Plus, you can also pray for good fortune as it is known to be one of the luckiest places in Kyoto.
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Watch the recorded Live Tour (Kifune Shrine)
(Past tours are available only in the closed FB Group)
Kifune Shrine 貴船神社
|Access||Kibune is connected with central Kyoto by Eizan Railway. The one-way trip along the Eizan Kurama Line from Demachi-Yanagi Station to Kibune-guchi Station takes 30 minutes and costs 430 yen. Trains depart every 15-20 minutes. From Kibune-guchi Station, it is a five minute bus ride (170 yen one way, departures timed to the trains) or a 20-30 minute walk up the road to Kifune Shrine.
The fastest way to reach Demachi-Yanagi Station from Kyoto Station is by taking the JR Nara Line to Tofukuji Station (150 yen, 2 minutes), where you can transfer to the Keihan Main Line to Demachi-Yanagi Station (270 yen, 10 minutes).
|Hours||6:00 to 20:00 (until 18:00 from December to April) / Open daily|
|Address and Contact Number||180, Kurama-Kibune-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto