A Comprehensive Guide to the Charms of Yasaka Shrine! Exploring the History and Allure of Kyoto’s Famous Power Spot

Yasaka Shrine, commonly known as “Gion-san,” is a revered shrine in Kyoto. Dedicated to Susano-o no Mikoto, Inadahime no Mikoto, and Yahashira no Mikogami, this shrine is renowned as a power spot for good fortune.

In this article, we’ll thoroughly explore the highlights of Yasaka Shrine, which has been guarding Kyoto since before the Heian period.

Within its grounds, you’ll find the strikingly vermilion main hall, as well as over 10 sub-shrines, including the popular matchmaking spot, Okuninushi Shrine. Combined with nearby tourist and culinary attractions, Yasaka Shrine offers a comprehensive experience for your visit to Kyoto.

What’s Yasaka Shrine Like?

Located in the southern part of Kyoto Prefecture and serving as the prefectural capital, Yasaka Shrine is situated within Kyoto City. Affectionately known as “Gion-san” by locals, this shrine enshrines various gods, including Susano-o no Mikoto. Originally called “Gion Shrine” or “Gion Shrine,” it was renamed “Yasaka Shrine” around the time of the Meiji period’s separation of Shinto and Buddhism.

Among the shrines in Kyoto Prefecture, it boasts the second-highest number of visitors for New Year’s visits, following only Fushimi Inari Taisha. In a city where many shrines and temples close after 5 p.m., Yasaka Shrine is a rare spot that allows visits even at night. Conveniently located near the vibrant Gion district, Yasaka Shrine is just a 15-minute bus ride from Kyoto Station, making it easily accessible for tourists exploring Kyoto.

Introducing the History of Yasaka Shrine

Yasaka Shrine, affectionately known as Gion-san and beloved by the people of Kyoto for generations. There are various theories about its founding, but one prominent theory suggests that it began in 656 AD when Susano-o no Mikoto, who was seated on Mount Ushio in Silla (present-day Korea), was enshrined in Yasaka village, Atago district, Yamashiro province (modern-day Japan). At the very least, it’s believed to have been worshipped in Kyoto before the city became the capital in 794 AD.

In 869 AD, when a plague swept through the area, it’s said that praying to the deities of Yasaka Shrine helped to quell the epidemic, marking the beginning of the Gion Festival. Throughout the warrior era, the shrine continued to be revered, with contributions such as the dedication of guardian dogs by Minamoto no Yoritomo and donations and renovations by the Ashikaga shogunate. Even today, it remains a venerable shrine known as the guardian of the eastern part of Kyoto.

Tourist Information for Yasaka Shrine

  • Address: 625 Gionmachi Kitagawa, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture
  • Map: Google Maps
  • Phone number: 075-561-6155
  • Closed: Open every day
  • Opening hours: Open for visits at all times
  • Admission fee: Free
  • Official website: Yasaka Shrine

Yasaka Shrine is a shrine that you can visit anytime, 24 hours a day. There is no admission fee, so you can visit for free.

It takes about 45 minutes to thoroughly explore the entire precinct. One of Kyoto’s three major festivals, the Gion Festival, takes place throughout July.

Access Information to Yasaka Shrine

Yasaka Shrine is conveniently located in the heart of Kyoto city, making it easily accessible. It’s just a 5-minute walk from the nearest train station and right near a bus stop, offering excellent accessibility. When visiting Kyoto for sightseeing, using public transportation such as buses or trains is highly recommended.

Access by Train

  • 5-minute walk from Gion-Shijo Station on the Keihan Railway
  • 8-minute walk from Shijo-Kawaramachi Station on the Hankyu Railway

Access by Bus

  • Take bus route 100 from JR Kyoto Station and get off at Gion bus stop, just a short walk away.
  • Take bus route 206 from JR Kyoto Station and get off at Gion bus stop, just a short walk away.

Access to Kyoto Station from Various Locations

  • From Itami Airport, take the limousine bus for 45 minutes.
  • From Kansai International Airport, take the JR Airport Express “Haruka” for approximately 75 minutes.
  • From Kintetsu Nara Station, take the Kintetsu Nara Line Express bound for Kyoto for 45 minutes.
  • From JR Osaka Station, take the JR Kyoto Line Rapid Service bound for Maibara for 30 minutes.

Discover the Charms of the Historic Power Spot, Yasaka Shrine!

Let’s explore the highlights of Yasaka Shrine, which boasts over 1300 years of history and has been beloved by the citizens of Kyoto. Located amidst the charming streets of Gion and surrounded by the natural beauty of Higashiyama, Yasaka Shrine is a must-visit spot in the Higashiyama-Gion area, often considered the heart of Kyoto. Join me, a frequent traveler to Kyoto, as I introduce the allure of this renowned tourist destination.

Visit the Main Hall, which enshrines Susano-o no Mikoto

Nishi-ro Mon

Located to the east of Shijo Street, which stretches from east to west in Kyoto city, is Yasaka Shrine. Right nearby is Gion, a district famous for its entertainment and geisha culture. The deity enshrined at the shrine, Susano-o no Mikoto, is believed to bestow various blessings upon worshippers.

As you make your way to Yasaka Shrine along Shijo Street, you’ll be greeted by the “Nishi-ro Mon” gate. This vermilion gate towering over the stone steps is designated as an important cultural property of Japan. This gate, beloved by locals and tourists alike, serves as a symbol of the Higashiyama area. Don’t miss the chance to take a photo with it as your backdrop during your visit.

Temizusya

Passing through the Nishi-ro Mon gate, on the way to the main hall, you’ll come across a Temizusya. Nestled in the shade of trees, the Temizuya has a refreshing atmosphere, making it a soothing spot to hear the sound of water, even on hot summer days. Continuing past the Temizuya, you’ll soon encounter the “Nan-ro Mon” gate, which serves as the main gate of Yasaka Shrine.

Nan-ro Mon

While the “Nishi-ro Mon” gate often catches the eye as a symbol of Higashiyama, the main gate of Yasaka Shrine is actually the “Nan-ro Mon” gate. The current Nan-ro Mon gate was reconstructed in the 12th year of the Meiji era after the original gate was damaged by fire in the 2nd year of the Keio era. This gate leads towards popular destinations such as Kodai-ji Temple, Kiyomizu-dera Temple, and the charming streets of Kyoto like the famous Nene-no-Michi.

Just outside the Nan-ro Mon gate stands a large stone torii gate, designated as an important cultural property of Japan. Since its reconstruction in 1666, both the stone torii gate and the Nan-ro Mon gate have retained their majestic presence. Be sure to take a moment to appreciate them during your visit.

Buten

In front of the main hall of Yasaka Shrine stands a large building called the “Buten” or dance hall. The Buten hosts dedication ceremonies and even weddings. During the New Year’s bean-throwing ceremony, many people gather to catch beans and souvenirs thrown from the Buten, including celebrities who come to visit. The lanterns donated by restaurants and entertainment districts create a charming Kyoto atmosphere when they light up at night. The gentle glow of the LED lights from these lanterns adds warmth to the scene.

Honden (main hall)

In the center of Yasaka Shrine stands a large vermilion building known as the Main Hall, designated as an important cultural property of Japan. With a height of 15 meters and covering an area of 400 tsubo, its distinctive architectural style, covering both the Haiden (worship hall) and Honden (main hall), is called “Gion-zukuri”. The current Main Hall was reconstructed in 1654 under the patronage of Tokugawa Ietsuna, the fourth shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate.

Beneath the Main Hall lies a pond where a legend says a blue dragon resides, gathering the energy of the earth to protect the city of Kyoto. At the top of the pillars on the east side of the Main Hall is a dragon carving called “Ryukou”. If you clap your hands towards Ryukou, you can enjoy the echoing sound as if the dragon responds to the sound.

Explore the Spacious Grounds with “Shrine Grounds Tour” and Mysterious Legends

Omiya Shrine

The “Omiya Shrine,” also known as the “Gion’s Ise-sama,” enshrines the deities Amaterasu Omikami and Toyuke Omikami from Ise, Japan. Susano-o no Mikoto, the deity of Yasaka Shrine, is deeply connected to Omiya Shrine as he is the younger brother of Amaterasu Omikami. Near Omiya Shrine, there’s a mysterious spring called “Chikara-mizu,” believed to be imbued with the power of a dragon deity. Chikara-mizu cannot be consumed directly, so it’s recommended to boil it at home before drinking.

Tadamori Lantern

On the eastern side of the main hall, surrounded by a weathered fence, stands an ancient lantern known as the “Tadamori Lantern”. The Tadamori Lantern is associated with a legend involving Taira no Tadamori, a prominent figure in the history of the Taira clan.

According to tales from “The Tale of the Heike”, Emperor Shirakawa, after seeing a peculiar figure, ordered Taira no Tadamori to investigate and subdue the entity. Upon closer observation, Tadamori discovered that the figure was actually an old monk attempting to light a lantern. Tadamori’s calm and wise handling of the situation earned him praise, and the lantern associated with the incident, where the monk was trying to light the lantern, still stands as a testament to the event.

Hamono-sha

Kyoto, known for its various traditional crafts, is the birthplace of blades and knives. At the rear of Yasaka Shrine’s main hall, there is a shrine called “Hamono-sha,” dedicated to the deity of blades, known as “Hamono Daigami.” This often overlooked subsidiary shrine of Yasaka Shrine is believed to bestow blessings of opening up opportunities and cutting off negative ties.

Utsukushi-gozen-sya

The “Utsukushi-gozen-sya” enshrines the goddesses Tagiribime-no-Mikoto, Tagitsuhime-no-Mikoto, and Ichikishimahime-no-Mikoto, known for their beauty. This shrine is a power spot for beauty, as it worships goddesses of wealth and beauty.

Adjacent to the Utsukushi-gozen-sya is a spring called “Beauty Water,” believed to have benefits for the skin when applied with 2-3 drops on the face, making it a popular spot for visitors seeking beauty blessings.

Hidden Gem Alert! “Gion Ebisu: Daikokusha Shrine for Matchmaking”

Gion Ebisu

Located just inside the precincts from the Nishi-romon Gate, “Gion Ebisu,” affectionately known as “Ebisu-san,” is a deity revered for thriving businesses. Among Ebisu shrines nationwide, this one boasts ancient origins, dating back to the Heian period when it was enshrined within Yasaka Shrine’s grounds.

Uniquely facing north, it’s also called the “Kitamukae Ebisu Shrine.” The current shrine building was constructed in 1646, designated as an Important Cultural Property by the government.

statue of Ebisu

In front of Gion Ebisu, there is a statue of Ebisu, one of the Seven Lucky Gods, also worshipped at Gion Ebisu. Every year on January 9th and 10th, there’s an event where the Seven Lucky Gods, including Ebisu, sail on the “Ebisu Boat” back and forth between Yasaka Shrine and Shijo Karasuma.

A Power Spot for Matchmaking! Ōkuninushi Shrine

Okuninushi Shrine

On both sides of the road leading from the Nishimon Gate, you’ll find rows of stalls, with a large torii gate marking the entrance to the Okuninushi Shrine. The shrine is dedicated to Okuninushi-no-Mikoto, known for the myth of “The White Hare of Inaba.” This deity is also identified with Daikokuten, one of the Seven Lucky Gods, and is believed to bring blessings related to prosperity and matchmaking.

mythological rabbit and Okuninushi-no-Mikoto

At the Okuninushi Shrine, you’ll find stone statues depicting the mythological rabbit and Okuninushi-no-Mikoto. Although it’s a shrine located along the approach, its stone statues and association with matchmaking have made it a notable spot that catches the attention of many visitors. It’s also a good idea to purchase a “wish-making rabbit” and make a wish here.

In hopes of finding blessings for matchmaking, three thick ropes are tied in front of the Okuninushi Shrine. When the author visited, there were many female visitors, making it the busiest spot among the shrines and sub-shrines other than the main hall.

One of Japan’s Top Three Festivals: The Gion Festival

An essential part of discussing Yasaka Shrine is the Gion Festival, which takes place for a month from July 1st. Originating from a time when Kyoto was plagued by epidemics, the Gion Festival was established to pray to the gods to ward off diseases. This festival, intertwined with the roots of Yasaka Shrine, is a beloved event among locals and tourists alike, symbolizing Kyoto’s summer.

Among the Gion Festival’s highlights is the “procession” of the floats, known as “yamaboko,” parading through the streets, drawing crowds to paid viewing seats. Featuring floats that exude both elegance and grandeur, resembling portable shrines, this event has been designated as an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property. The sight of floats parading through the streets is exclusive to the Gion Festival, making it a must-see spectacle during its duration.

Recommended Sightseeing Spots around Yasaka Shrine

In the area surrounding Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto’s Higashiyama district, there are various sightseeing spots worth exploring. Here, we’ll focus on recommending nearby attractions within walking distance from Yasaka Shrine.

Adjacent to Yasaka Shrine, a National Scenic Spot: Maruyama Park

Maruyama Park is the oldest park in Kyoto city. Established in December 1886 by a government decree, it became Kyoto’s first park. Over the years until 1912, it underwent developments such as the creation of ponds, fountains, and an outdoor music hall, shaping it into the park we see today.

Located adjacent to landmarks like Yasaka Shrine, Kodai-ji Temple, and Chion-in Temple, Maruyama Park is easily accessible from nearby tourist spots. Before the Meiji Restoration, it was part of the grounds of Yasaka Shrine and is now just a short walk away. Enjoy the lush greenery of the park and witness the cherry blossoms in spring and the verdant foliage in summer, offering scenic views throughout the year.

The expansive garden of Maruyama Park, covering an area of 8,600 square meters, is one of its main attractions. Its traditional Japanese stroll garden landscape is so stunning that it’s no wonder it’s designated as a national scenic spot.

In spring, Maruyama Park is renowned for its cherry blossoms. Adjacent to the Japanese garden, the large weeping cherry tree is a must-see spot, especially when illuminated at night, offering a fantastical sight. As you stroll through the Japanese garden, you’ll also encounter bronze statues of key figures from Japan’s Meiji Restoration era, such as Ryoma Sakamoto and Shintaro Nakaoka.

Maruyama Park Visitor Information

  • Address: Maruyamacho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture
  • Map: Google Maps
  • Access:
    • Take city bus 100 or 206 from JR Kyoto Station, get off at “Gion” and walk 5 minutes
    • Walk 7 minutes from Keihan Railway “Gion-Shijo” Station
    • Walk 10 minutes from Subway Tozai Line “Higashiyama” Station
  • Phone Number: 075-561-1350
  • Closed: Open daily
  • Hours: Open for public visitation
  • Admission: Free

The Head Temple of the Jodo Sect! Surrounded by Greenery, “Chion-in

Located a 5-minute walk from the bus stop “Chion-in Mae” on the route 206, Chion-in is a temple regarded as the head temple of the Jodo sect. Surrounded by the majestic nature of Mount Higashiyama, one of the thirty-six famous peaks of Eastern Kyoto, the temple grounds offer a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Chion-in was established in the area where Honen, the monk known for the recitation of the “Namu Amida Butsu” mantra, spent the later years of his life.

On the way to the main hall stands the “Sanmon” gate, erected in 1622 under the orders of Tokugawa Hidetada, the second shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty. This impressive gate, towering at 24 meters in height and 50 meters in width, is one of the largest wooden gates in Japan and has been designated as a national treasure, captivating all who behold it.

The “Mi-ei-do,” where the image of Honen Shonin is enshrined, serves as the main hall of Chion-in Temple. Constructed in 1639 by Tokugawa Iemitsu, the third shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty, the current Mi-ei-do has been designated as a national treasure. As of 2019, the interior visitation of Mi-ei-do is suspended due to ongoing renovations.

Similar to the Sanmon gate, Mi-ei-do holds the status of a national treasure. In addition to Mi-ei-do, the temple grounds offer a serene ambiance surrounded by the natural beauty of Higashiyama, including the tranquil Japanese garden called “Yuzen-en,” providing visitors with an authentic Kyoto experience.

Information about Chion-in Temple

  • Address: 400 Rinkacho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture
  • Map: Google Maps
  • Access: 5 minutes on foot from the bus stop “Chion-in Mae” on bus route 206, 8 minutes on foot from the Tozai subway line “Higashiyama” station
  • Phone number: 075-531-2111
  • Closed: Open all year round
  • Opening hours: 5:00 AM to 6:00 PM (may vary depending on the season)
  • Admission fee: Free
  • Official website: Chion-in Temple

The Temple of Toyotomi Hideyoshi and His Wife Nene, Kodai-ji Temple

Located a 7-minute walk from Higashiyama Yasui bus stop, Kodai-ji Temple is a temple established by Nene, the wife of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, to mourn him. Nene, also known as Kita-no-Mandokoro, built this temple to honor Hideyoshi’s memory. Within the temple grounds lies the mausoleum of Kita-no-Mandokoro, called the “Otama-ya,” designated as an Important Cultural Property by the Japanese government.

Throughout the Edo period, Kodai-ji Temple faced several fires, resulting in the destruction of structures like the main hall and the treasure house. Today, only a few buildings remain, including the Kaizan-do hall, the Otama-ya mausoleum, and the tea houses called “Kasa-tei” and “Shigure-tei.”

From this temple perched on the hill, you can enjoy clear views of the surrounding mountains and temples. Moreover, you can appreciate both Kyoto’s cityscape and the natural beauty of Higashiyama at once. In the summer, you can admire the fresh greenery of the trees, while in autumn, the vibrant colors of the foliage are a sight to behold.

During spring, autumn, and on New Year’s Eve, special nighttime illuminations are held for a limited time. If you’re interested in experiencing a serene and mystical atmosphere different from daytime, it’s worth visiting during these illuminated periods.

Information about Kodai-ji Temple

  • Address: 526 Shimokawara-cho, Kodai-ji, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture
  • Map: Google Maps
  • Access:
    • 7-minute walk from Higashiyama Yasui bus stop (Routes 206, 207, 202, 80),
    • 10-minute walk from Gion Shijo Station on the Keihan Main Line
  • Phone number: 075-561-9966
  • Closed: Open daily
  • Hours: 9:00 AM to 5:30 PM (Last admission at 5:00 PM, extended to 10:00 PM during illumination periods)
  • Admission: ¥600 for adults, ¥250 for middle and high school students (Combined ticket for Kodai-ji Temple and Entoku-in Temple: ¥900)
  • Official website: Kodai-ji Temple

Recommended Dining Spots around Yasaka Shrine

Around Yasaka Shrine, you’ll find Kyoto’s main street, Shijo-dori, and the bustling Gion district, popular with tourists. Let me introduce you to some gourmet spots in the area, particularly around Shijo-dori, where there’s an abundance of dining options.

Indulge in Special Parfaits with Uji Matcha at “Saryo Tsujiri Honten”

Just 5 minutes on foot from Gion-Shijo Station on the Keihan Electric Railway, you’ll find “Saryo Tsujiri,” which started as a tea-drinking spot by the renowned matcha brand Gion Tsujiri in 1978. Here, you can enjoy drinks and original parfaits made with fragrant Uji matcha. On the ground floor, you’ll find the main store of Gion Tsujiri, where you can also purchase Uji matcha souvenirs before leaving.

Their signature “Tsujiri Parfait” priced at 1,232 yen (tax included) is a subtly sweet parfait featuring abundant Uji matcha. With matcha-scented jelly and fragrant hojicha (roasted green tea) jelly, this multi-layered parfait offers a delightful change in taste and texture as you enjoy each layer.

Teahouse Tsujiri Store Information

  • Address: 573-3 Gionmachi Minamigawa, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture, 2F・3F of Gion Tsujiri Main Store
  • Map: Google Maps
  • Access: 5-minute walk from Gion-Shijo Station on the Keihan Electric Railway
  • Phone Number: 075-561-2257
  • Closed: Open daily
  • Hours: 10:00 AM to 9:00 PM (from June 1, 2019)
  • Budget: [Dinner] ¥1,000 – ¥1,999 [Lunch] ¥1,000 – ¥1,999

Established in 1781! The Signature Dish of the Long-standing Establishment is Mackerel Sushi “Izuu”

This longstanding sushi restaurant, “Izuu,” located in Gion, offers its renowned specialty, “Mackerel Sushi,” not only for dining in but also as a souvenir.

The “Mackerel Bozushi” priced at ¥2,530 (tax included) features mackerel from the Sea of Japan, marinated with high-quality Hokkaido kelp. Its balanced vinegar acidity and the smoothness unique to mackerel spread with every bite. If you plan to order the mackerel sushi for souvenirs, it’s advisable to make a reservation with the restaurant in advance.

Izuu Store Information

  • Address: 367 Kiyomotocho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan
  • Map: Google Maps
  • Access: 5 minutes on foot from Gion-Shijo Station on the Keihan Electric Railway
  • Phone Number: +81-75-561-0751
  • Closed on: Tuesdays
  • Opening Hours: 11:00 AM to 11:00 PM (Last order at 10:30 PM, on Sundays and public holidays last order at 9:30 PM)
  • Price Range:
  • Dinner: ¥2,000 to ¥2,999
  • Lunch: ¥2,000 to ¥2,999

Enjoy Authentic Kyoto Vegetables at “Kyoto Townhouse O-banzai Kohaku” Selected by a Vegetable Sommelier Chef

Located a 7-minute walk from Gion Shijo Station on the Keihan Electric Railway, this is a traditional Kyoto-style o-banzai restaurant. The restaurant offers counter seats, making it easy for solo diners to enjoy a meal comfortably. Indulge in o-banzai dishes rich in Kyoto vegetables carefully selected by a chef certified as a Vegetable Sommelier.

The “Obanzai Assortment of 5 Dishes” is a plate that combines different obanzai dishes prepared fresh each day. It features Kyoto-style ingredients like Shishito peppers and Kujo green onions. If you’re looking for well-prepared dishes that belie their reasonable prices, this is the place to be.

Kyomachiya Obanzai Kohaku Store Information

  • Address: 282-2 Minami Karasuma-cho, Higashinotoin-dori, Sanjo-sagaru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto
  • Map: Google Maps
  • Access: Walking distance from Keihan Electric Railway “Gion Shijo” station
  • Phone Number: 075-252-6555
  • Closed on: Tuesdays
  • Business Hours: 5:00 PM to 1:00 AM
  • Budget: [Evening] 3,000 to 3,999 yen

Known affectionately as “Gion-san,” Yasaka Shrine stands as a symbol of Higashiyama. Designated as an Important Cultural Property, its vermilion-lacquered main hall and iconic structure, the Nishiromon Gate, are just some of its highlights.Within its precincts lie shrines associated with beauty and matchmaking blessings. Combined with nearby tourist and dining spots, a visit to Yasaka Shrine serves as a valuable reference for your outings.

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