Located in the Gion district in Kyoto, the Yasaka Shrine is a must see for any visitors to Kyoto. Situated at the east end of Shijo Dori in Gion, this shrine, sometimes referred to as the Gion Shrine, is the starting point to Japan’s most famous summer festival, the Gion Matsuri, which has been going on, at least in some form, for over 1,000 years from Yasaka Shrine. The Yasaka Shrine also has the distinction of being one of the only shrines in Japan to become more lively once the sun goes down. In this article, we’ll look at the history of the Yasaka Shrine, how to get there, and what makes it so interesting today.
Discovering Yasaka Shrine
Founded in 656, the final construction date of the Yasaka Shrine is unknown, but became popular with the high ranking Japanese Imperial families of the Heian period. The deities, Amaterasu Omikami and Susanoo no mikoto, are enshrined at the Yasaka Shrine and are worshiped by the locals.
In 965, Yasaka Shrine was one of the 16 shrines in Japan to receive an Imperial messenger on the orders of Emperor Murakami, to give a report to the guardian God enshrined there. Since then, the shrine has been recognized by the Japanese Government through the millennia as a shrine of importance.
You’re able to stumble across the brightly colored Yasaka Shrine easily enough just walking around Higashiyama and Gion. The two-story vermilion entrance gate, situated at the end of Shijo Dori, is hard to miss when you’re on foot.
The main pavilion combines the inner sanctuary and offering hall into one building, and in front of that is a stage, used for dancing, which is lit up in the evenings thanks to the hundreds of lanterns surrounding the stage. The shrine is open everyday of the year and is totally free to wander around in.
Visiting Yasaka Shrine
The best time of the year to visit Yasaka Shrine is either the summer time in July, or Spring. Visiting in July lets you enjoy all the fun of the Gion Matsuri with its parade showcasing massive floats and hundreds of participants from the local area.
Springtime at Yasaka Shrine, like most of Japan, is prime cherry blossom viewing time. The shrine is adjacent to Maruyama Park, one of the famous cherry blossom viewing spots in Kyoto, so it can get very busy during the hanami weeks!
If you’re coming from Kyoto Station, you can take the number 100 or 206 bus and get off at Gion Bus Stop. The total trip via bus is around 20 minutes. If trains are more your style, the closest trains stations are the Gion Shijo Station on the Keihan Line and Higashiyama Station on the Tozai Line with a 9-minute walk. It is recommended to make Yasaka Shrine your last stop on your day walking around the Higashiyama and Gion districts thanks to its magnificent night views.
Yasaka Shrine Night Visits
Yasaka Shrine night time is the best time to view the shrine and its grounds. Each side of the walkway up to the shrine are illuminated by vermilion lanterns and stalls with traditional Japanese stall games, various food and trinkets available to buy. The shrine itself is lit up by lanterns, adorning the entire building. These lanterns showcase local businesses that sponsor the shrine and the Gion Matsuri with their names appearing on the lanterns themselves.
The lovely lanterns help give Yasaka Shrine an air of traditional Japan, and wandering around its grounds at night are an experience that cannot be missed. With the stall and taking in the sights, you can easily lose yourself in the beauty of the 1,000 year old shrine.
- Spot name: Yasaka Shrine
- Street address: 625 Gionmachi Kitagawa, Higashiyama, Kyoto, Kyoto 605-0073
- Access: A 9-minute walk from Higashiyama Station or Gion Shirakawa Station