Those of you who are familiar with Japan know that Kyoto was once the capital city. In fact, it served as the national capital for 1,000 years. This next shrine was actually built before Kyoto became Japan’s capital city. Shimogamo Shrine is one the shrine that make up the Kamo Shrines. The Shimogamo Shrine, highlighted in this article, is about two and a half miles south of the Kamigamo Shrine, which makes sense since Shimogamo translates to “Lower Kamo” and Kamigamo translates to “Upper Kamo”.
History of the Shimogamo Shrine in Kyoto
This shrine has one of the longest histories compared to any other shrine in Kyoto and even in Japan. Shimogamo Shrine dates back to the 6th century, but recent archaeological findings from the area have discovered artifacts from 4 B.C. to 3 A.D. Although the shrine had existed earlier, it wasn’t until Emperor Tenmu (674-686) that the other shrine buildings were built, those buildings surround the main shrine. Since then, the land that the shrine sits on slowly expanded. By the Heian period (794-1185), it was estimated that the Shimogamo Shrine occupied as much as 75 square kilometers of land.
Photo Credit: kyoto-np.co.jp
Within the history, there were many cultural developments that originated at Shimogamo Shrine, the biggest possibly being Aoi Matsuri. This festival grew so much in popularity that it is even mentioned in one of the most famous literary works in Japan, “Tale of Genji” or in more recent history, the “Makura-soshi”. The shrines influence and power fell during the Sengoku period and into the Edo period. During the Meiji period, the government of Japan once again glorified Shimogamo shrine and provided generous stipends. During that period this shrine was second only to the Ise Shrine. You can expect to find anything from markets to book fairs hosted here.
UNESCO World Heritage Site
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The Shimogamo Shrine along with its counterpart, the Kamigamo Shrine are both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Shimogamo Shrine is between the Takano River and the Kamogawa River. It is surrounded by the ancient forest, Tadasu no Mori, that has been preserved for the past 1,000 years. In fact, the trees are 600 years old. Experts are even unsure of the forest’s ancient history. Upon entering, you are greeted by a large “mon” or gate. There are other structures throughout the compound, but the main attraction will be the main shrine building. This shrine also has a unique practice known as Shikinen Sengu. This practice mandates that all shrine buildings must be rebuilt every 21 years. This is designed to show spiritual renewal. Since many of the buildings at Shimogamo Shrine are designated as national treasures, the rebuilding is limited to renovations only.
One Could Become More Beautiful
Photo Credit: hankyu.co.jp
By drawing one the wooden plaque, your wish might be granted. It is said that the god of beauty grants wishes to women at this shrine. On the front side of the plaque, draw the way you want to look. On the back of the plaque, describe in words how you would like to change your appearance.
Photo Credit: hankyu.co.jp
There is also water that can improve skin and stones called Oshiraishi can be rubbed on the face and that is supposed to improve the skin.
Photo Credit: MikelLizzarlde@flickr
The Shimogamo Shrine is Kyoto’s second most culturally and historically significant shrine. It is well recognized and well known. If you have the opportunity to visit, you should definitely go. Whether it is for its rich history or the belief that a visit will bring success, this place carries great significance and offers a great learning experience. It is no wonder that there are numerous festivals that trace their lineage back to this great shrine.
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Address: 59 Shimogamo Izumikawa-cho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto Prefecture
Access: 14 minute walk from Demachiyanagi Station
Hours: 6:30 AM – 5:00 PM
Admission Fee: Free
*500 yen for Honden
Website: Shimogamo Shrine