Yasaka-jinja (Kyoto, Part 2)

Large red and white shrine building, entrance on the left

After visiting the Nō theater on Sunday morning, we went on to 八坂神社 (Yasaka-jinja), a large shrine in Kyoto’s famous Gion area.

Large red and white temple gate above wide stairs
Entrance gate to 八坂神社 (Yasaka-jinja)

The shrine looks kind of unusual at first glance: Its buildings resemble Buddhist temples, and the entrance we used even has a temple style gate instead of a torii. There are torii inside the shrine and the way we used to exit has one too, but that is still unusual.

A young priest who is a graduate of Kogakkan University gave us a tour through the main building, which most visitors don’t enter — and those who do usually don’t get to see the room in the back, behind the inner sanctuary in the middle of the building (which we could not enter). Taking photos in there was forbidden, though.

Large red and white shrine building, entrance on the left
Main building (本殿, “honden”) of Yasaka-jinja

Two very interesting artifacts are kept in the back of the shrine: a stone Buddha (approximately 50 cm high, maybe a little more), and an old name plate of the shrine. Or should I say “temple”? Here’s the thing: The old name plate says “感神院” (Kankami-in), and an “院” at the end of the name of a religious place in Japan generally denotes a Buddhist temple. However, the shrine has always been dedicated to three Shinto kami: 素戔嗚尊 (Susanoo-no-Mikoto, kami of storm), his wife 櫛稲田姫命 (Kushinada-hime-no-Mikoto), and 八柱御子神 (Yahashira-no-Mikogami), one of their children.

Effectively, the shrine used to be something right in the middle between a Shinto shrine and Buddhist temple, making it a wonderful example of 神仏習合 (Shinbutsu-shūgō), or Shinto-Buddhist syncretism, like the Amaterasu shrine in Kongōshō-ji. The name changed after many centuries during the Meiji era, when the government tried to remove the “foreign” Buddhist elements from Shinto, which became state religion.

I’m still kind of confused by how the Buddha statue I mentioned is stored: On the one hand, it is kept in a plain, usually closed, wooden box, which certainly does not scream “important” to me. On the other hand, the box is kept in the main building, near the inner sanctuary, placed right below the old name plate, and there is some decoration around it.

Outdoor stage with a large roof, from which multiple rows of lanterns are hanging
Stage at Yasaka-jinja with the main building right behind it

Another special feature of the shrine is the stage in front of the main building. I’m not sure what exactly they were showing there — it seemed somewhere between dance and katana practice. Whatever it was, it looked interesting, but I couldn’t get a really good photo.

Woman in Edo era clothes on a stage, holding a paper fan and sheathed katana
Performance with fan and katana

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