Shrine Grounds

Shrine Grounds

Honden and Gonden Sanctuaries

Two sanctuaries called the Honden (Main Sanctuary) and the Gonden (Temporary Sanctuary) stand side by side within the main shrine area of Kamigamo Jinja. The deity Kamo Wakeikazuchi no Okami is enshrined in the Honden on the right, which is where the majority of rituals take place. The Gonden on the left is an identical building that is kept ready as a temporary enshrinement site to be used when the Honden undergoes repairs.

Both sanctuaries are constructed in a classic Shinto architecture style called nagare-zukuri, characterized by an asymmetrical gabled roof. They serve as notable examples of an older form of nagare-zukuri which was typically seen in the Heian period (794–1185). The current Honden and Gonden were built in 1863 and are designated National Treasures.

Statues and paintings of mythical komainu beasts and karajishi lions guard both the Honden and the Gonden. The paintings on the walls of the sanctuaries were originally done by artists from the renowned Kano school that was prominent in the Edo period (1603–1867).

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Katayama Miko Jinja Shrine

Katayama Miko Jinja (also known as Kataokasha) is considered the most important of the 24 subsidiary and auxiliary shrines on Kamigamo Jinja grounds. It is dedicated to Kamo Tamayorihime no Mikoto, mother of the deity Kamo Wakeikazuchi no Okami enshrined in the Honden (Main Sanctuary) of Kamigamo Jinja. She is believed to grant luck in love, happy marriage, successful pregnancy, easy childbirth, and safety for the household.

The date when the first shrine to Kamo Tamayorihime no Mikoto was built is unknown, but Katayama Miko Jinja is mentioned in the Engishiki, a compilation of customs and official procedures from the early tenth century that includes a list of all 2,861 Shinto shrines in existence at that time. Many prominent Kyoto courtiers revered Kamo Tamayorihime no Mikoto, including Murasaki Shikibu (973?–1014?), the author of Genji Monogatari (The Tale of Genji), who made a pilgrimage to Katayama Miko Jinja to pray for a good marriage.

The shrine is situated at the base of the small Mt. Kataoka across the stream from the Romon Gate. A rack in front of the worship hall displays colorful ema (votive tablets), each bearing an image of Murasaki Shikibu and the poem she wrote during her pilgrimage, which reads: Oh, songbird! / While I remain here / Waiting for your call / In the forests of Kataoka / My garments grow wet with morning dew.

When important annual rituals are conducted for Kamo Wakeikazuchi no Okami at the main sanctuary, it is customary to start the ritual at Katayama Miko Jinja. In a show of piety toward the deity’s mother, priests at the main sanctuary do not begin the prayer service until they hear a call from a priest outside at the auxiliary shrine, signaling that the ritual is commencing there as well.

Shingu Jinja Shrine

Shingu Jinja Shrine is dedicated to a dragon deity called Takaokami no Kami. The deity is believed to answer prayers about rainfall, field irrigation, flood prevention, safe travel by water, good health, and rejuvenation. The shrine is located on the northeast side of Kamigamo Jinja grounds, next to the main shrine area. The first mention of a shrine building on this site appears in Kamigamo Jinja records from 1048.

Shingu Jinja is also known as Kifune Jinja, after the larger shrine located to the north in the village of Kibune, which was the original center of Takaokami no Kami worship. Kifune Jinja in Kibune was once an auxiliary shrine managed by Kamigamo Jinja. However, as it was difficult for priests to make the pilgrimage to the village in heavy rain or winter snow, sometime in the Edo period (1603–1867) Takaokami no Kami was enshrined on Kamigamo Jinja grounds. The original Kifune Jinja became independent in 1871, but Takaokami no Kami is still worshipped in both locations.

Shingu Jinja is open to the public on the second and fourth Sunday of each month. There is an option of a paid prayer service that includes a kagura dance called Kamo no Mai, which is unique to Kamigamo Jinja. Worshippers that have requested a kagura dance also receive a protective amulet shaped like a gohei (a sacred wand with paper streamers).

Ota Jinja Shrine

Ota Jinja Shrine is located approximately 800 meters to the east of Kamigamo Jinja grounds and is dedicated to Ame no Uzume no Mikoto, a goddess from the famous myth about Amaterasu Omikami, the goddess of the sun. Amaterasu Omikami became angry with her brother Susanoo no Mikoto and shut herself in a cave, plunging the world into unending night. Other deities tried to convince her to come back outside, but all their attempts failed. Finally, Ame no Uzume no Mikoto performed a lively dance while others cheered, which made Amaterasu Omikami curious enough to exit the cave and bring sunlight back to the world. Because of this story, Ame no Uzume no Mikoto is primarily worshipped as a deity that helps improve artistic skills.

As a shrine, Ota Jinja is said to be even older than Kamigamo Jinja. Farmers worshipped a deity of good fortune and long life at a shrine on this site even before the Kamo clan that founded Kamigamo Jinja immigrated to the area in the sixth century. After Kamigamo Jinja grew in power and influence, Ota Jinja became one of its auxiliary shrines.

The Otanosawa Pond on the shrine grounds is renowned for kakitsubata, or rabbit-ear irises. They bloom in purple clusters in mid-May, covering the entire pond, and the sight attracts countless visitors. In 1945, the iris pond was designated a Natural Monument. The irises at Ota Jinja have been beloved for centuries and were mentioned in several ancient records and poems. A particularly famous poem written by the courtier Fujiwara Shunzei (1114–1204) reads: The sacred mountain / The irises of Ota Pond / People’s deepest wishes / Can be seen in their color.


The prayer hall at Ota Jinja is used for sato kagura, the oldest remaining style of sacred kagura dance. Sato kagura is accompanied by musicians playing cymbals and drums. The words used to describe the sounds of the cymbals and the drums are “chan” and “pon,” which gave rise to the alternative name chanpon kagura. Sato kagura is performed as part of prayer ceremonies held at Ota Jinja on the night of the 10th of each month. It is a registered Intangible Folk Cultural Property of Kyoto.

Romon Gate

The Romon Gate leads into the main shrine area of Kamigamo Jinja, symbolizing passage into the sacred space that contains the most important sanctuaries. The gate is characterized by a two-story construction, hip-and-gable roof, and bright vermilion color intended as protection from evil and misfortune. It is unknown when the Romon Gate was first built, but it is mentioned in shrine records from the Kamakura period (1185–1333). The current gate was constructed in 1628 and is a nationally designated Important Cultural Property.

In front of the Romon Gate is the arched Tamabashi Bridge that spans the Omonoi Stream. As the vermilion bridge is only used by priests and designated participants during certain festivals and religious rites, visitors must cross one of the nearby bridges to access the main shrine area.


Hosodono Hall

The Hosodono Hall is easily recognized by two large sand cones located in front. The cones, called tatesuna, represent the nearby Mt. Koyama, the sacred mountain where the deity Kamo Wakeikazuchi no Okami is said to have descended to earth. Pine needles inserted into the peak of each cone symbolize evergreen trees on top of the mountain. The left cone has three needles (an odd number), and the right cone has two (an even number). This reflects the principles of yin and yang that are used in onmyodo, the traditional esoteric cosmology historically practiced by the Kamo clan, the founders of Kamigamo Jinja.


The Hosodono was originally an open-air building with a hip-and-gable roof, but at a later point wooden outer walls were added to the structure. The walls are removed in the first half of May for the Kamo Festival (Aoi Festival) and on September 9th for the Choyo Ritual and Karasuzumo wrestling, offering a view of the hall as it appeared in its early history. Documents show that a Hosodono existed at the location in the Kamakura period (1185–1333), and the current Heian-style hall was built in 1628 based on historical records from the Muromachi period (1336–1573). The Hosodono is a nationally designated Important Cultural Property.

Historically, the Hosodono was used to host the emperor and other high-ranked visitors before they went to pray at the main sanctuary. At present, the hall is used for religious rites, particularly during the Karasuzumo event on September 9th. When children compete in sumo wrestling matches in front of the Hosodono, the Saiodai (the honorary shrine priestess who takes part in select rituals) and her companions, all wearing elaborate Heian-period robes, watch the bouts from the hall.

The Hosodono is closed to the public and can only be observed from the outside. The hall is sometimes used for Shinto wedding ceremonies and musical performances. In December and January, two large votive tablets depicting the Zodiac animal for the coming year are displayed on either side of the steps leading into the Hosodono.

Hashidono Hall

The Hashidono Hall is an open-air structure that spans the Nara no Ogawa Stream and is used for various rituals, festivals, and sacred dances. The name “Hashidono” combines the kanji characters for “bridge” and “worship hall,” while an alternative name, “Maidono,” replaces “bridge” with “dance,” referring to the hall’s use as a stage. Records show that a worship hall existed at the location in the Kamakura period (1185–1333), and the current structure with a hip-and-gable roof supported by wooden pillars was built in 1628. The Hashidono is a nationally designated Important Cultural Property.

Several annual ceremonies take place at the Hashidono. During the Kamo Festival (Aoi Festival) held on May 15th, a chokushi (imperial messenger) sits in the hall facing the main shrine area to read an address to the deity Kamo Wakeikazuchi no Okami on behalf of the emperor. A purification rite called Nagoshi no Oharae takes place at the Hashidono in the evening of June 30th, when Shinto priests chant prayers and scatter thousands of small paper dolls from the edge of the hall into the stream below.

The Hashidono is closed to the public, but visitors may cross one of the bridges on either side to appreciate the hall’s architecture and the surrounding landscape.

Shinmesha (Stable of the Sacred Horse)

Near the second torii gate of Kamigamo Jinja, along the path toward the main shrine area, is a stable that houses the sacred horse (shinme). The horse is dedicated to the shrine to serve as a divine messenger for the deity Kamo Wakeikazuchi no Okami. It was once common for Shinto shrines to keep sacred horses on the grounds, but most discontinued the practice due to the extensive care required.

In modern times, only white horses are chosen to be the shinme of Kamigamo Jinja. The “duties” of the sacred horse include greeting shrine visitors and participating in certain festivals and ceremonies. For example, during the Hakuba Soran (“sacred horse inspection”) ritual on January 7th, the horse wears ceremonial tack and is walked through the grounds to pay respects to the deity at the main sanctuary. Seeing the sacred horse during this event is believed to ward off bad luck for the year.

Outside of shrine events, visitors to Kamigamo Jinja can meet the shinme on Sundays and public holidays from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. During this time, they may give the sacred horse slices of carrots that are provided at the stable.

Rules for interacting with the sacred horse:
  • No flash photography.
  • Please be quiet.
  • Do not touch the horse on the head.
  • Offer carrots from the plate, not your hands.

Shokei’en Garden

The Shokei’en Garden on the eastern side of Kamigamo Jinja grounds is designed around a winding stream. The layout is inspired by a garden style that was popular in the Heian period (794–1185), a peaceful era characterized by flourishing arts and culture centered upon the imperial court. The garden was created in 1960 by the renowned landscape architect Nakane Kinsaku (1917–1995) in celebration of the birth of Emperor Naruhito. The Shokei’en features bright iris flowers in spring and colorful maple leaves in autumn. A large, 300-year-old tree in the center is believed to bless families with happiness because it consists of several trunks that grow from a single root system.

Another feature of the Shokei’en Garden is a large, curiously shaped boulder in the corner. The stone is called Onmyoseki (“yin and yang stone”) and appears as if two halves have melded into one piece. The name refers to onmyodo, a traditional esoteric cosmology historically used in Japan for divination. Another name of the stone is Negai-ishi, or “wishing stone.” Visitors usually place hands on both halves of the stone to make a wish and then pray at the nearby Kamo Yamaguchi Jinja Shrine (also known as Sawada Jinja).

Negai-ishi “wishing stone.”

A poetry-writing event called Kamo Kyokusui no En (“winding stream banquet”) is held in the Shokei’en Garden in April. It is a modern reenactment of a poetry competition between nobles that was hosted in 1182 by Kamo Shigeyasu, the head priest of Kamigamo Jinja at that time and a renowned poet himself. During the event, prominent tanka poets in ornate Heian-style court attire sit on the banks of the meandering stream and compose poems based on the theme chosen for the year. Small wooden boats are floated along the water, carrying cups of sake to the competitors as they write. Historically, poets would attempt to complete the composition before the sake cup arrived. When the writing is complete, each participant submits one poem to be recited as an offering to the deity of Kamigamo Jinja.

Mt. Koyama

Mt. Koyama is integral to the history of Kamigamo Jinja as the place where the deity Kamo Wakeikazuchi no Okami is said to have descended to earth. According to shrine legend, Kamo Wakeikazuchi no Okami was the divine son of a high-ranking woman from the Kamo clan. After he ascended to the heavens during his coming-of-age ritual, his mother prayed to meet him once more. The deity then appeared in her dreams, giving instructions on how to welcome him. When the required offerings were prepared and rituals were held, Kamo Wakeikazuchi no Okami manifested on Mt. Koyama in an adult form. This is considered the origin of both Kamigamo Jinja and the Kamo Festival (also known as the Aoi Festival), the shrine’s most important ceremony.

Mt. Koyama is located about 2 kilometers north of Kamigamo Jinja and is clearly visible from the path near the shrine office. On the main shrine grounds, the sacred mountain is represented by the twin tatesuna sand cones in front of the Hosodono Hall. Artifacts discovered in the area around Mt. Koyama during archeological excavations date to the Jomon period (10,000–300 BCE), indicating that people have dwelled there since ancient times.

Please note that hiking on Mt. Koyama is not allowed.