Yasaka Shrine – Gion’s Sanctuary
If you only see one shrine in Kyoto, make it Yasaka Shrine. One of the biggest and most impressive in the whole city and host to the inimitable Gion Matsuri, it simply can't be missed.
Famous for being one of Kyoto’s largest shrines, Yasaka Shrine is a gorgeously peaceful corner of the city. This is at odds, however, with the god enshrined here: Susanoo, the god of the sea and storms. Located near the popular district of Gion, it is a welcome cultural, historic and calming addition to any Kyoto itinerary.
For more on Kyoto, check our guide here: Things to Do in Kyoto – A Definitive Guide
Yasaka Shrine Overview
Yasaka Shrine is one of the most visited shrines in Kyoto and one of the biggest in the whole of Japan. Built in the 17th century by order of Shogun Tokugawa Ietsuna, the shrine’s aesthetics and location, at one end of central Shijo Street, are able to transport any visitor back to that time in an instant.
The imposing main gate (Ro-mon) is hard to miss, not least because of the two fierce lion-dog guardians flanking it. The shrine itself was constructed as a dedication to the deities Susanoo and Kushinadahime and originally named “Gion-sha”, only taking its current name following the Meiji Restoration.
Open all day and night, take a wander around at any time. Although, if you do visit after sundown, the illuminated floating lanterns and tastefully floodlit shrine buildings are a real treat.
The Gion Matsuri is probably the most well-known festival in all Japan. Held annually since the 7th century, the festival traditionally functioned as an appeasement to the deities. Today, however, the focus is more on community spirit and good times. The festival’s centrepiece is the parade of floats down a three kilometre stretch of central Kyoto, passing by the shrine as well as the Kamo River and Shijo Street. The festival usually lasts for the whole of July but the parade normally falls on the 17th of that month. If you’re in Kyoto at this time of year, good times are guaranteed.
Okera-Mairi Festival or the Yasaka Shrine’s New Year Festival is another of Kyoto’s biggest and most popular festivals. Held over two days from December 31st until January 1st, it’s a great way to see in the new year. The Okera-Mairi Festival is based around a traditional Japanese ritual in which thin panels of wood and Okera roots are burnt, allowing visitors to then carve a wish into the ashes. It is believed that if you use the embers from the ritual to start a fire at home on which to prepare zoni (a broth containing vegetables, chicken, and mochi), peace and protection will be bestowed upon the household.
Other events are held throughout the year, for more information check out the official shrine site:
The district around the shrine, all narrow streets and traditional shops, is a great area to spend some time in. Visit the shrine then treat yourself to some Japanese snacks, visit the sake brewery or just wander aimlessly, the choice is yours.
Mon – Sun
Gionmachi, Higashiyama, Kyoto
075 561 6155
Yasaka Shrine is a 5-10 minute walk from Gion-Shijo Station. Alternatively, from Kyoto Station take the 206 or 207 bus to Gion and the entrance of the shrine should become apparent.