Observe traditional Shinto architecture, pretty lanterns and sacred rituals at this historic shrine, home of the annual Gion Festival and Kyoto’s favorite cherry blossom park.
Even in a city famous for its magnificent shrines, Yasaka Shrine is a standout destination in Kyoto. Also known as Gion Shrine or Yasaka Jinja, Yasaka Shrine dates back over 1,350 years and is the much-celebrated site of the annual Gion Festival. Visit Yasaka Shrine to appreciate its beautiful architecture, fascinating traditions and to pray for a little good fortune of your own.
Enter the Yasaka Shrine grounds via the main entrance and you’ll see a lavishly decorated dance stage lit with picturesque lanterns. A purification trough is situated to the side of the stage. You can rinse your hands at the trough by filling a ladle with water and pouring a little water on both hands before tipping the ladle forward, so that the remaining water rinses the handle. Spot the wreaths of “omikuji,” fortune-telling paper slips that predict good or bad luck. You might see a “shimenawa,” a straw rope strung with paper zigzags that represents the boundary of the sacred space.
Walk to the main hall to see the offering box. If you’d like to make an offering, throw a coin into the box, followed by giving two deep bows, two handclaps, a further bow and a prayer.
In July, Yasaka Shrine becomes the site of the Gion Matsuri, a spectacular festival that began in A.D. 869. During the month-long festival, many rituals and traditions are upheld in order to pray for the healthy life of the community and to appease vengeful spirits. Hundreds of participants visit the shrine for each event, including a festive float.
Another good time to visit the shrine is during cherry blossom season in spring. The Maruyama Park, situated adjacent to the shrine, is one of the best spots in the city to see the stunning pink-and-white blooms.
Yasaka Shrine is open daily and has an entry free. It is accessible via bus from Kyoto Station within 20 minutes. Gion Shijo Train Station is also nearby. For a scenic walking route, try the 30-minute stroll from Kiyomizudera through the alleys of the Higashiyama District to Yasaka Shrine.