Translated by MATCHA_En
The Scent Of Japanese Iris: Heian Jingu Shrine
Written by Atsuko Yagura
While the rainy season is famously known for its hydrangeas, the Japanese iris also flourishes during this season, and is particularly lovely at Heian Jingu Shrine in Kyoto. Let's visit this historical city and see these lovely purple flowers today.
Kyoto flourished as the capital of Japan for centuries, of particular note was its role in the Heian era where many of the aesthetic arts of Japan had their origins. One such art was the appreciation of flowers, and in particular, the seasonality of them. While the rainy season may bring visions of hydrangeas to the minds of most, the Japanese iris is another flower that thrives at this time, and the best place in Kyoto to see them is Heian Jingu Shrine.
What sort of rain falls upon Heian Jingu Shrine with its long history and huge pond garden?
Heian Jingu Shrine: Facts
“The Heian Era?” would be your first thought from the name of the shrine, but Heian Jingu Shrine was actually built in 1895 (Meiji 28).
In the last day of the Tokugawa shogunate, riots arose in Kyoto. In the following Meiji Restoration, the emperor and the center of Japanese politics was fully moved from Kyoto to the new capital city of Tokyo. These incidents damaged Kyoto both physically and spiritually. Kyoto had immense prosperity under the care of the emperor ever since becoming the Heian capital in 794. It is said the decline of Kyoto was a sight of pity to behold.
But the citizens of Kyoto did not give up and pursued reconstruction projects. A new Kyoto was made with a focus on the education and renewed cultural awareness of the city's past.
In 1895, Kyoto won the competition and the right to be the site for the 4th National Industrial Fair(*1), which coincided with the 1100th anniversary of the Heian era capital relocation to Kyoto. As a result, Heian Jingu Shrine was partially rebuilt as a reconstruction of the original Heian Palace.
*1 An industrial fair the Meiji government held as a part of Japan’s industrial revolution.
The red torii gate is huge. Seeing it yourself looming overhead will have a far greater impact than in this picture. The dark skies of the rainy season almost served to make the architecture more appealing.
2000 Japanese Lilies Adorn the Garden Pond
Let’s go in to the shrine garden.
The shrine garden has many types of plants and flowers, as if it were a botanical garden. Walking along the road, many purple flowers will suddenly emerge right before your eyes. The Byakko Pond on the west of the garden is the main spot to visit during the rainy season.
Along the pond are over 200 types of Japanese irises; all are traditionally Japanese species. There are some 2000 flowers here, all of which come in a myriad of shapes and colors. The magnificent sight of these flowers in full bloom, and the stunning gradation in purples from nearly white to deepest eggplant is hard to express in words. You simply have to see it to understand.
Not Only Japanese Irises But…
If you pass through the west shrine garden, you will get to the central shrine garden. The Seiryuu Pond is home to another gorgeous sight: water lilies.
Continuing onward, you will come to the east shrine garden next, where you will find a bridge called Taihei-kaku.
Taihei-kaku bridge is so magnificent; any angle you take will make a postcard worthy photograph; this spot is the essence of Japanese landscape beauty.
I was sitting on a bench on Taihei-kaku bridge and just gazing out at the pond when the rain started to fall once again; the sound of the rain was like soothing music to my ears.
Despite the long ago turmoil over eras and the location of capitals, nature continued on here, choosing where plants should grow and rain should fall; I think nature worked on its own to give us humans peace of mind.
Heian Jingu Shrine, first built to show the passion the people of Kyoto have for their city despite adversity during the early Meiji era, now thrives as a stunning cultural and natural achievement thanks to the beautiful gardens and seasonal flowers that adorn its gardens. Please pay a visit on a rainy day this summer and enjoy these charming irises for yourself.
Heian Jingu Shrine
Address: Kyoto, Sakyo, Okazakinishitennocho
Garden Hours: Jan-Feb 8:30-16:30, Mar 1st-14th 8:30-17:00, Mar 15th-Sep 3rd 8:30-17:30, Oct 1st-31st 8:30-17:00, Nov 1st-Dec 31st 8:30-16:30
* 9:30 -11:30 on Oct 22nd due to Jidai Matsuri (23rd in the case of postponement)
* Garden closes 30 minutes after final reception
Credit Cards: None
Other Languages: Japanese, some English
Nearest Station: Jingu Marutamachi Station, Keihan line
Access: 15 minute walk from Exit 2 of Jingu Marutamachi Station, or 5 minute walk from Kyoto Kaikan Bijyutsukan-mae bus stop, on Kyoto city Bus line 5, 32, 46, 100
Shrine Garden Fee: Adult 600 yen, children 300 yen (Main Shrine free of charge)