Located about a 40-minute drive from Kyoto’s center, Kifune Shrine sits at the foot of Mount Kurama in Sakyo-ku. It is resplendent in each of the four seasons, be it the new green of spring, the colorful leaves of autumn or mantled in snow in winter. One look at this picture-perfect shrine set in nature and you will understand why it draws so many visitors throughout the year.
Worshipers come to silently pray to the God of Water at the main shrine inside the precincts
Kasuga lanterns line the stone stairway leading up to the shrine. This otherworldly view representative of the shrine is often shown on TV and in magazines.
After ascending the approach to the shrine and once inside the precincts one must first purify oneself with water. On this day (January 13, 2017) the temperature was right around freezing—biting cold! This pure water cleanses one’s heart.
The exact date when Kifune Shrine was established is not known, but it is indeed very old with records showing that reconstructions have been carried out from 1,300 years ago.
The deity enshrined here is the God of Water, called Takaokami no Kami. We know that it has existed since ancient times because it is mentioned in the Kojiki [Records of Ancient Matters] and Nihon Shoki [Chronicles of Japan], two of the oldest records in Japan.
Successive imperial courts also fervently worshiped here and the Emperor Saga is said to have given offerings of living horses when praying for rain or for rain to stop, and this is said to be where the votive cards picturing a horse originated.
Although there are various theories regarding the origin of the shrine's name, it is said that from olden times it has been written using characters meaning "the source of spiritual energy" and which are also read as "Kifune". It is a place that is the source of the earth's energy, "Ki", and from ancient times has attracted those who believe the divine virtue of good fortune can be obtained here.
This katsura tree is 400 years old. The energy of the god of the earth is said to rise to the heavens like a dragon and this tree is worshiped as a sacred tree embodying that form.
As I mentioned earlier, the deity enshrined here is the god of water, so the pure water flowing here is sacred water and it is possible to take it home with you. You may bring your own container, but if you did not bring one, you can buy one in the precincts for that purpose (300 yen each).
▲One pleasure is to float the fortune slip you received on the sacred water
Also, floating the fortune slip on the sacred water will show your fortune. These water fortune-telling slips (200 yen each) are very popular. Be sure to give it a try when you visit.
Visit the inner shrine to seek the divine virtue of “matchmaking” that has been done since ancient times
Kibune Shrine consists of the main shrine together with the inner shrine and rear shrine which are located a short distance away. The inner shrine located between the main shrine and rear shrine is called Yuinoyashiro and is known as a shrine for matchmaking.The enshrined deity is Iwanagahime no Mikoto, the god of matchmaking according to folklore.
▲ Yuinoyashiro Shrine
Legend has it that the poet Shikibu Izumi, troubled by her husband's inconstancy, visited the shrine and offered a poem seeking help and miraculously her wish was granted.
Today many worshipers visit the shrine seeking similar divine intervention.
▲The Musumibumi, a paper for writing a request (200 yen each). Many musumibumi and votive pictures have been tied to places inside the shrine precincts as offerings.
Proceed even deeper into the grounds of the shrine—discover the place where the shrine was first built
This is the rear shrine and the place where the main shrine originally stood when Kifune Shrine was first built. Just as in the main shrine, Takaokami no Kami and Kuraokami no Kami are worshiped here.
According to the legend of its foundation, the yellow ship (Kifune) on which Tamayorihime no Mikoto, the divine mother of Emperor Jimmu, rode, sailed back up the Yodogawa River and the Kamogawa River arriving at this place and that was the origin of how the shrine came about.
According to the legend, the yellow ship was covered with rocks to hide it from the eyes of men and today it is covered in moss and enshrined near the rear shrine.
The snow illumination is in winter is beautiful—but so are the scenes in each of the seasons
▲ Photo provided by Kifune Shrine
Every year from January 1 to February 29 an illumination event called "Kifune in the Snow" is held at Kifune Shrine highlighting the beautiful winter scenery. The event is only held on Saturdays when the grounds are covered in snow and the decision whether to hold the event or not is posted on the same day at 3:00 p.m. on the official website as well as on SNS (only the main shrine is illuminated).
▲ Photo provided by Kifune Shrine
If you are lucky enough to be in Kyoto when it snows, please visit the shrine and enjoy the otherworldly winter scenery for memories that will remain with you long afterwards.
But visiting the shrine during the other seasons is also highly recommended. In the summer, a platform is erected at the Kibune River that flows beside the shrine, and many tourists gather to enjoy the cool air there. This is a time when the shrine is resplendent in bright, green colors.
▲ The view from this rest area inside the shrine grounds looks just like a painting
In autumn, the trees in the shrine grounds, the surrounding mountains, and along the approach to the shrine lined with shops are all bathed in the bright reds of the autumn colors.
▲ The beauty of the illumination of the autumn colors along the path leading to the rear shrine as well as each of the shrines is timeless and unforgettable.
How did you like it? Why not take a short trip outside of Kyoto and visit this shrine where many come to pray for a successful marriage and enjoy beautiful scenery not found elsewhere?
180 Kuamakibune-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture
5-minute walk from the bus stop ※If you walk from Kibuneguchi Station it takes about 30 minutes
Hours of worship: 6:00 a.m. ~ 6:00 p.m. (December 1 ~ April 30 *Until 8:00 p.m. on the first 3 days of the New Year), 6:00 a.m. ~ 8:00 p.m. (May 1 ~ November 30)
Reception office hours: 9:00 a.m. ~ 5:00 p.m. (All year *Hours are extended during times of illumination)
Closed: Open daily
Text by:Myogaya Nobuhisa