Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Kamigamo Shrine

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Kamigamo Shrine is situated in a quiet residential area in the north of Kyoto, and is a little off the main tourist routes and therefore often less-crowded than shrines in the city centre, though no less impressive.
The shrine is a designated World Heritage site, and most of the shrine buildings are classified as Important Cultural Properties.
Established in the 7th Century, a hundred years before Kyoto (Heiankyo) was founded, it is nevertheless about one hundred years younger than its sister shrine, Shimogamo Shrine.
Both shrines were built by the powerful Kamo family who moved to this area from Yamato (Nara) probably to control this outlying area of mainly immigrants from the Korean Peninsula.
When the Imperial capital moved to Heiankyo (present day Kyoto) the Kamo shrines enjoyed imperial patronage and support that has continued to the present.
Kamo Sai, the correct name for Aoi Matsuri, one of the 3 major festivals of Kyoto, ends here after beginning in the Imperial Palace and passing through Shimogamo Shrine.
One approaches the shrine across a large open space that is lawn, rather than the more usual gravel, and this gives it the feel of a park.

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The most unusual thing about the shrine is the 2 large sand cones that flank the entrance to the main shrine building. Known as Tatesuna, opinion differs as to their original meaning, but the most commonly accepted is that they represent the sacred mountain just to the north of the shrine. Small cones of salt outside restaurant entrances are said to derive from the Tatesuna. Many of the smaller, local shrines in this part of Kyoto also have the tatesuna.
The sacred mountain is Koyama, about 2K to the north, and it is believed that the shrine was originally built much closer to it. Interestingly, Koyama is a Kannabiji, a sacred mountain where the kami resides inside it, rather than the more usual situation of a mountain that the Kami sometimes descends onto. Kannabi seems to be a concept from Izumo, and the original home shrine of the Kamo clan is at the base of Mt. Katsuragi between Osaka and Nara, and it is also a kannabiji with an Izumo kami, so there might be a connection between the Kamo and ancient Izumo.

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On September 9th the shrine holds the Crow Sumo ceremony, where young boys from the neighborhood compete at sumo to entertain the gods. Before the sumo, shrine priests perform rituals while emulating the call and movements of crows, hence the name.
Entrance to the shrine is free, but at 9:30 most mornings there is a short tour of the shrine including a purification ritual for which a 500yen “donation” is asked.
With advance notice, groups can book a tour of the shrine with a lecture in English, plus view some of the shrines treasures not normally open to the public.
Kamigamo Shrine can be reached by Kyoto Bus numbers 30, 32, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, and 39, or Kyoto City Bus numbers 4, 46, and 67.

See more photos of Kamigamo here
Review of a book on Kamigamo here

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