by Shannon Schiner
August 18, 2004
Upon approaching the shrine you will first see the main gate or "Torii"; however, when I was visiting the shrine the gate was being renovated and was therefore covered. The next most obvious feature before entering the shrine is a trough of running water surrounded by wooden dippers and covered by a roof. This trough is for purification, one is supposed to cleanse both hands and their mouth before entering the shrine.
As a traditional shrine, it has all of the traditional features. A shimenawa is a rope with strips of paper that marks the area of something sacred. You walk under this to enter the sacred area of the Heian Shrine. Once inside the main area there is a large open space in front of the main and offering hall, it is used for festivals. On the approach to the main building of the shrine look to the left to see a tree filled with omikuji, the fortune telling papers from the shrine. There is a tradition of tying your fortune to the branches of the tree after you read it, a good fortune will come true or a bad fortune will go away. Near the tree is a small shed filled with wooden plaques containing handwritten wishes.
The offering hall of the shrine is an important area, where the Shinto gods can be summoned. From here you can view the main hall, which contains the sacred objects that represent the gods, these are deep inside the innermost chamber and cannot be seen.
After visiting the shrine, do not miss the gardens. A small entrance fee applies, but it is well worth it! The gardens at this shrine are particularly beautiful, filled with many types of flowering trees and plants as well as several ponds of quoi.
Shrines are a popular place for special events. It is not uncommon to see a newborn baby being brought in for their first visit just a few days after birth. It is also very common to see weddings at the shrines on the weekends.
The easiest way to get to the shrine is by taking the Tozai Line of the subway to Higashiyama Station and then a short 10-minute walk.
As the plaza in front of the shrine is a wide open space covered in white gravel, it becomes VERY hot in the summer. If you are visiting in the summer be sure to either visit the shrine early in the day or bring a hat to shade yourself.
From journal Sites of Kyoto