Yasaka Jinja (八坂神社) is one of Japan's most famous Shinto shrines, located in the famous Gion district in Kyoto. The ancient shrine is a popular tourist destination, and is also hosts the Gion Matsuri (festival) each year.
Yasaka Jinja (known as Gion-sha until the Meiji restoration) is one of the most important shrines in Japan, with history dating back to the year 656. The shrine is very popular, with around 3,000 satellite shrines across Japan (according to the official website).
Yasaka Jinja is devoted to Susanowo-no-Mikoto, the god of sea and storms and his wife Kushiinadahime-no-Mikoto and their children. Susanowo-no-mikoto, incidentally, is the brother of Amaterasu, the god of the sun, from whom the Japanese imperial line is said to be descended.
Utsukushii-gozensha, a shrine to make you beautiful
The shrine features colorful, beautiful buildings including the main sanctuary and traditional dance stage decorated with lanterns. In addition, there is a secondary shrine for people who want to become more beautiful (including a fountain of water that is supposed to make you more beautiful if you sprinkle it on your face).
In case you're wondering about the correct way to pray at a Shinto shrine, here's a quick overview:
Gion Matsuri is a month-long festival put on by Yasaka Jinja that has been celebrated for more than 1,100 years! It is arguably the most famous festival in Japan, and happens every year in July.
The festival started back in 869, as an attempt to appease the gods when a plague spread throughout Japan. The festival has been celebrated almost every year since, and thousands upon thousands of people flock to Kyoto each year to see the festivities.
If you're in Kyoto during the month of July, the Gion area is the place to be in the evenings after 6pm. The area's roads are blocked to cars, and festival-goers can walk freely on the streets, enjoying the hundreds of vendors offering festival food and drinks!
One of the biggest spectacles of the festival happens on the mornings of the 17th and 24th of July. This is the Yamaboko Junko, or parade of the Shrine mikoshi (wooden floats) along the streets of the Gion district. This is one of the most spectacular parades of its kind, and shouldn't be missed if you're in Kyoto!
Location and access
Yasaka Shrine is located at the end of Shijo-dori in the Gion district of Kyoto. The closest station is Gion Shijo Station, which is about 5 minutes away by foot. The shrine is free to enter, and is always open.
If you're in Kyoto, this is one shrine that you definitely don't want to miss, especially in July during the Gion Matsuri!