Translated by Richard Perkins
Modeled After An Ancient Emperor's Residence?! Heian Jingu In Kyoto
Written by Hiromasa Uematsu
Okazaki Park, found in the Sakyo ward of Kyoto city, is where you will find the National Museum of Modern Art, the Kyoto Municipal Zoo, and Heian Jingu Shrine, whose great red torii gate stands strikingly against the clear blue sky.
Okazaki Park, found in the Sakyo ward of Kyoto city, is where you will find the National Museum of Modern Art, the Kyoto Municipal Zoo, and many other attractions. This is an area full of culture, as well as of many different places to enjoy, and overall is a great area to sightsee in.
In one corner of Okazaki Park, there is a giant red torii (shrine gate) that rises above as if it were covering the sky.
A torii is the part of a shrine that marks the entrance to sacred grounds. However, around this torii there are no other buildings that look as if they’re part of a shrine. Believe it or not, this torii actually denotes the entrance to Heian Jingu Shrine.
Take a careful look at the picture of the torii of Heian Jingu that’s posted above. At the end of the road that pierces through the torii, you can faintly see a Japanese looking building. This building is the otemon or the entrance to Heian Jingu.
Once you pass through the torii you’ll be on the sando, the path that leads up to the shrine. Once you start walking down this road you’ll be able to get a clearer view of the shrine. You’ll be able to get an idea of just how big Heian Jingu is.
When you’ve made it this close, you’ll finally be able to see a stone pillar with the Japanese characters reading 'Heian Jingu' (Heian Shrine) carved into it.
A Shrine Dedicated to an Ancient Emperor
Heian Jingu Shrine was built back in 1895, which compared with other temples and shrines in Kyoto, makes it relatively new. It is dedicated to Emperor Kanmu who is remembered for making Kyoto the capital of Japan.
In addition, Emperor Komei, who was the last emperor to have reigned in Kyoto, is also enshrined here. The home of the current reigning imperial family is in Tokyo.
While we’re on the subject, in addition to the buildings here, the outer grounds have all been restored to the original state that they were in when Kyoto became the capital of Japan back in 794. The shrine is only 5/8 the size that it actually was, but here you can take in the over 1200-year-old atmosphere of Kyoto.
Because this shrine is dedicated to past emperors, you’ll find the chrysanthemum family crest all over the place, which is the mark that represents the Imperial family.
This picture is of a chochin (a Japanese style paper lantern) that has the chrysanthemum crest. This crest can be found all over Heian Jingu Shrine, so when you visit try having a look around for more of them.
Feel the Charm and Beauty of Kyoto at the Outer Shrine
When you go past the otemon, you’ll be in a space where fine white gravel have been laid out all over.
The building that you can see in the middle of the photo above is what’s known as the gaihaiden (outer shrine). Just like other temples and shrines, this building is where you give a small amount of money as an offering to a god and then pray.
The gaihaiden takes after the daigokuden, the council hall of the imperial palace, that is in the outer grounds. The daigokuden is the building where events such as the enthronement of the emperor and a number of other political ceremonies took place.
The ukon-no-tachibana tree
The sakon-no-sakura tree
On the sides of the outer shrine are two trees that protect it. When looking at the outer shrine from the otemon, you’ll see the ukon-no-tachibana tree on the left and the sakon-no-sakura tree on the right.
These are two trees planted at Heian Shrine with the same names that mimic the trees planted in the former outer grounds. Even now people come to view the cherry blossoms when they bloom here in the spring. Believe it or not, these cherry trees have been close to the Japanese since long ago, being around for over 1200 years.
A tachibana tree is one that bears a type of citrus fruit similar to a small orange. Long ago this type of citrus fruit was believed to be a type of medicine, used for perpetual youth and longevity.
The Heian Shrine Sacred Garden
After viewing the outer shrine, why not go to the Heian Shrine sacred garden that spreads around the perimeter?
The Heian Shrine sacred garden is a Japanese garden that spans an area that’s roughly 33,000 square meters. In the spring you can view the cherry blossoms, in the summer Japanese irises, the changing color of the leaves in autumn, and in the winter a landscape of snow.
The Jidai Festival - View an Annual Festival in October
One of the three biggest festivals to take place in Kyoto is the Jidai Festival, which takes place at Heian Shrine.
Jidai means 'era' in Japanese. The festival is exactly as its name indicates; this is a festival where in one day you can view the history of Kyoto and all its different eras.
This festival takes places every year from October 15th to 23rd, but the most anticipated event is the Fuzoku Gyoretsu or ‘line of clothes’ that takes place on the 22nd. On this day those taking part in the festival wear clothing from Japan’s various eras, form a line and walk in procession throughout Kyoto. They start off at Kyoto’s Imperial Palace (which is where the emperor of Kyoto lived) and travel all the way to Heian Jingu Shrine.
This is the perfect opportunity to closely experience both Japanese clothing and culture. For those visiting Heian Jingu in October, this is a must-see event.
Heian Jingu is a fantastic spot for being able to experience the atmosphere of Japanese tradition throughout your entire body. Along with the Heian Shrine's sacred garden, there is also a zoo, an art museum and so on close by, so it’s possible to do some sightseeing in Kyoto based around Heian Shrine without needing to travel very far. For those of you who’ve gained an interest in Heian Shrine, by all means, please go and visit it.
Heian Jingu Shrine
Address: Kyoto, Sakyo, Okazaki, Nishiteno-cho
Hours: 06:00-18:00 (Sacred Garden from 08:00-17:30)
Closed: Open all year long
Credit Cards: -
Other languages: English
Nearest Station: Higashiyama Station (Tozai Subway line), Sanjo Station or Jingu-Marutamachi Station (Keihan Oto line)
Access: 10 minute walk from Higashiyama Station, 15-minute walk from Sanjo Station or Jingu-Marutamachi Station
Religious Information: Shinto
Website: Heian Jingu Shrine (Japanese)