Shimogamo & Kamigamo Jinja – Twin Shrines Protecting Kyoto
Trusted with the task of protecting Kyoto from evil spirits, Shimogamo Jinja and Kamigamo Jinja have stood steadfast for centuries and count among the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan.
Shimogamo and Kamigamo Jinja are twin shrines in Kyoto city’s Sakyo ward. Combined, they are commonly called Kamo Jinja or Kamo Shrines and are some of the oldest Shinto shrines in all of Japan. Shimogamo Jinja is the older of the two, believed to have been built around 100 years prior to Kamigamo Jinja sometime in the 6th century. Shimogamo Jinja is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the 17 Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto. It is named after the district in Kyoto it stands in – Shimogamo. The two Shrines serve to protect Kyoto from evil spirits and other malign demon influences.
Shimogamo and Kamigamo Jinja Overview
The name Kamo Jinja stems from the venerated Kamo family, now kami (神 deities) that are honoured at the shrine and whose descendants still live in the vicinity of the shrines as they did in ancient times. The nearby forest is said to be the last remaining patch of Tadasu no Mori – the Forest of Correction – which is an important ritual and sacred place in Shinto tradition.
Shimogamo Shrine is dedicated to the legendary Tamayori-hime and her father, Kamo Taketsunomi. Tamayori-hime – according to legend – gave birth to Kamo Wakeikazuchi, the son of the God of Fire and Thunder. It may come as no surprise then that the twin shrines are strongly associated with thunder and lightning.
Shimogamo Jinja’s main hall with the enshrined deity in it was rebuilt in the mid-19th century.
The two Kamo shrines, an upper (kami 上) and a lower (shimo 下), lie in a region of the old capital Kyoto known as the “devil’s gate” (鬼門 kimon). Folklore tells that this north-east corner was a weak spot and brought misfortune to the city due to its insecurity. The two shrines were erected along the river to prevent demons and other evils from entering the city from this direction.
Abundantly worth a mention is the traditional Aoi Matsuri, held jointly by the Kamigamo and Shimogamo Jinja annually on May 15th. It is one of the three biggest and most important festivals in Kyoto’s calendar (along with Gion Matsuri and Jidai Matsuri), famously featuring locals in traditional dress parading for the public in a long and colorful procession along the Kamo River.
Shimogamo Jinja – as all Shinto shrines do – follows the traditionally prescribed rituals that need to be held in order to appease the enshrined deities. As such, if you time it right, you’ll be able to see the priests and priestesses at the shrine performing their various duties in their traditional garb. Also, weddings are often held in Shinto style in Japan and are a true treat. Hang around on a Sunday and you may well get lucky.
There are also plenty more events held by both Shimogamo and Kamigamo Jinja throughout the year. One highlight is the light festival held at Shimogamo Jinja. This spectacle lights up the shrine and the surrounding woods in wonderful colors for visitor’s benefit. Have a look at the official site should you be interested in what else is on offer:
Mon – Sun
06.30 am – 05.00 pm (winter) 05.30 am – 06.00 pm (summer)
08.00 am – 05.00 pm (Kamigamo Shrine)
free of charge
Sakyo, Kyoto, Japan
Your best bet to get to Shimogamo Shrine is to take the Keihan Line to Demachiyanagi Station, about five minutes from the entrance to the shrine grounds. Then you can stroll along the beautiful path through the forest to the shrine itself. If you’d rather be dropped off closer to the grounds, you can take Bus N°205 from just beside JR Kyoto Station to Shin-Aoibashi Stop, a mere three minutes from the park entrance away.
Kamigamo Jinja is around 10 kilometers further upstream on Kamogawa – the Kamo River. For information on how to get to Kamigamo Shrine, see the google maps path from Kyoto Station here.