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Kyoto’s Famed Yasaka Shrine / 八坂神社(京都)

2013.07.03 [PLACES,WHAT'S NEW]

Yasaka Shrine (Kyoto) / 八坂神社(京都)

The Yasaka Shrine is the most prominent Shinto Shrine in the Gion District of Kyoto, an area known
for spotting maiko and geisha.  Yasaka Shrine was once known as the Gion Shrine because of its
location; it is a large shrine complex composed of many buildings and widespread grounds
leading to the Maruyama Park, which include a famous, old cherry tree of the weeping variety. 
This is one of the oldest shrines found in Kyoto with its construction having begun in 656 AD. Yasaka
Shrine not only came under Imperial patronage during Heian period Japan one thousand years ago,
but for a few decades from around the start of the Meiji period to around the time of the Japanese
surrender at the end of World War II, it was also ranked in the first tier of government supported shrines.





 (Maruyama Park / 円山公園のしだれ桜)


Kyoto hosts approximately five hundred annual matsuri (festivals), many taking place in the myriad
of shrines and temples found throughout the city.  However, there are three major festivals that are
ranked as the most important every calendar year – Aoi Matsuri in May, Gion Matsuri in July and Jidai
Matsuri on 22 October every year.  Considered the most popular and crowded festival, perhaps in all of
Japan is the Gion Matsuri, which takes place in the middle of July.  Many of these festivals have spiritual
origins in the sense that the initial event had the function of warding off evil or appeasing the kami (gods)
in order to prevent the continuation of famines, epidemics or other disasters.  Many of the larger festivals
in Japan will feature what are described as divine palanquins (omikoshi) as part of the religious ritual. 
In the case of Gion Matsuri, such portable shrines of the Gion Shrine were paraded through the streets of
Kyoto in 869 AD specifically to ward off an epidemic that had plagued the city at that time. The Yasaka
Shrine hosts the Gion Maturi to this day, perhaps the main Japanese festival that is world famous.     





The Yasaka Shrine area has a good, buzzing energy, especially during the cherry blossom season
where several picnicking locations can be found in and near the adjacent Maruyama Park.  One of the
most popular places to congregate is around the unusual, delicate shape of the giant weeping cherry
tree in the Park.  Cherry trees of this type are referred to as shidarezakura.  Whilst there are many
such trees on the grounds, this particular one is exalted because of its age and the unique, natural
arrangement of its branches giving the tree a rather elegant appeal.  This is especially the case when
the tree is lit up at night and creates a romantically haunting atmosphere.  




The second most popular shrine after the Fushimi Inari Great Shrine for the people of Kyoto to offer
their New Years prayers, over 1,000,000 flock to the Yasaka Shrine every January first. The gates on
all four sides of the sprawling precincts are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and are a much
loved face of Kyoto.




(Japan World Writer / Pauline Chakmakjian, MA )





Address; 京都府京都市東山区祇園町
              Gion Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto 







Web site; http://web.kyoto-inet.or.jp/org/yasaka/(Japanese)



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