Translated by Hilary Keyes
Tanabata At Kifune Shrine, Kyoto - The Star Festival Illuminations
Written by SakamotoAyako
Every July 7th in Japan, the wish-granting festival known as Tanabata (or Star Festival) takes place. In Kyoto, the shrine most closely associated with this holiday is Kifune Shrine.
For time immemorial, the Tanabata legend has been told throughout Japan.
The Tanabata legend is the tale of two stars, Orihime (the star Vega) and Hikoboshi (the star Altair), who fell so madly in love with one another that they began to ignore their work. This angered the Heavenly King (Orihime's father in some versions), and he separated the lovers, only allowing them to meet one another once a year, on the day of the Star Festival, also known as "Tanabata". It's said that, for the sake of that one night together, the two stars work hard all the rest of the year.
Associated with the Tanabata legend and celebrated on July 7th every year, is the practice of writing wishes on long strips of colored paper named tanzaku and tying them to bamboo branches; your wishes are entrusted to the Heavenly King with the hopes that he will grant them.
Read also: Wish Upon a Tanzaku in Tanabata!
Have you heard of the Tanabata legend shrine in Kyoto?
Let's Visit Kifune Shrine - The Tanabata Shrine
The shrine associated with the Tanabata legend is Kifune Shrine, found in the northernmost part of Kyoto city. It is said that not only the Water God (Mizu-no-kami-sama), but also the God of Marriage (Enmusubi-no-kami-sama) are enshrined there, and as a result, Kifune Shrine has visitors coming to pray all through the year.
In the summer, with the sound of the Kifune river gently murmuring nearby, the atmosphere of the shrine couldn't be more Kyoto-like.
Illuminated Wishes For Tanabata
Every year at Kifune Shrine there are illuminations from July to mid-August (for roughly half a month).
It's not only the shrine itself that is illuminated though, the Tanabata wishes on their bamboo stands are also brilliantly lit up.
The atmosphere at Kifune Shrine is completely different; the brilliant lights illuminating the shrine gate will steal your heart away.
As you lively climbing up the stone steps,
you soon see the main shrine building and the beautifully illuminated Tanabata wishes right before your eyes.
Bathed in gentle orange lights, the Tanabata wishes lightly flutter in the warm summer breezes.
From the first day of the season, many visitors come to write their wishes on the long strips of colored paper and hang them on the bamboo stalks.
1 strip costs 100 yen.
It's quite a common sight to see visitors looking at the various slips, trying to choose the best color as well as deciding just what they should wish for at the shrine.
Not only in Japanese, but there are also wishes written in English, Chinese, and Korean - hundreds of wishes written in dozens of languages.
As the deity protecting marriage is also enshrined there many couples come to call on the shrine's power as well.
Once you've written your own wishes, it's also quite fun to take a look at what others have wished for.
And after that, you should definitely check out the "Fortune Slips" (Omikuji) at Kifune Shrine.
For 200 yen you can try the Water Fortune slip (Mizu-uranai mikuji)!
First, choose one paper from the many slips available and then gently dip it in the water.
And then, like magic, text will appear on the once blank spaces! Seeing the characters appear at the instant the water touches the paper is a completely unique experience you can only try at Kifune Shrine.
Though the fortune slips and Tanabata illuminations occur in different seasons, whenever you come to the shrine, you should definitely find out your fortunes from the water deity at Kifune Shrine.
Exceptionally Relaxing Evenings Can Be Had Here
At this shrine surrounded by the refreshing shade of the trees, at night you will almost forget the intense heat of the day. The sound of the bubbling stream, as well as the sight of the gently swaying wish papers on their bamboo stands grant an incredibly soothing experience to the visit.
Experiencing a cool night like this is something rare in this season.
It's easy to lose track of time on a night like that, but be careful not to miss the last bus from Kifune Shrine to the Eizan Electric Railway's Kibuneguchi station, leaving at 20:20 on weekdays, and at 21:20 on holidays. If you are unlucky enough to do so, your only means back may be a 2 km walk along a dark mountain road.
With the only thing you need to worry about being your way home, why not enjoy the cool and stylish summer nights to your heart's content at Kifune Shrine?
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Kifune Shrine 貴船神社
Address: Kyoto, Sakyō, Kuramakibunechō 180
Hours: 6:00-20:00 (5/1-11/30)
6:00-18:00 (12/1-4/30) *The first 3 days of the year the shrine closes at 20:00.
Closest Station: Eizan Electric Railway Kibuneguchi Station (貴船口駅)
Access: A 30 minute walk or 5 minute KyotoBus ride from Kibuneguchi Station.
Home Page: Kifune Shrine (Japanese only)