Located in central Kyoto, Shimogamo Jinja is one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan. The establishment of Kamo Miyoa Jinja, as it is officially known, dates back at least to the latter part of the 7th century though the shrine itself claims a more ancient past dating back 2,000 years. However, the current structures of the main shrine are much more recent dating back to 1863, having been reconstructed over the millennia. The outlying structures on the shrine complex were built in 1628 and are still used today. The shrine is nestled within a quiet forest, one of Kyoto's oldest natural forests and sits at the fork of two rivers, Kamogawa and Takanogawa. Enshrined in the shrine are, amongst others, the kamiKamotaketsunomi-no-mikoto and his daugther Tamayorihime-no-mikoto.The significance of this shrine, in its legacy and cultural importance is evident in its titles as a National Historic site, a National Heritage site and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Shimogamo was not initially on our plan of shrines and temples to see while we were in Kyoto. It was by chance we were able to visit it. We were nearby having lunch at Doshisha University (where Dr. Roemer spent a year as an undergrad) and had some free time before an appointment with Professor John Breen, one of the foremost scholars on Shinto. Shimogamo was in a convenient area between both locations. The shrine was tucked back in a forest of imposing trees, providing welcome relief from the unrelenting Kyoto sun and overbearing humidity. Like most Japanese we were not sure which kami were enshrine there, it was just a beautiful shrine to spend an hour or so exploring. Many of us wandered about the shrine complex inspecting smaller shrines while one student found a small Buddhist temple which helps you find a mate. Tours were offered past the outer gate for a small fee but I was looking for something more specific.
Last summer a friend had been in Kyoto and had stumbled upon a festival at Shimogamo. The festival seemed to emphasize well-being of the feet, as people waded into a frigid cold river before paying their respects to the kami at a nearby shrine. Having had foot problems since I was a small child I was interested in finding that shrine. Eventually I found it set back outside one of the gates near a small red lacquered bridge. I dropped a few coins into the offering box and bowed twice before clapping my hands hoping the kami would hear my pleas. I posed for a quick photo to capture the moment and then rejoined the larger group. As we started to leave the shrine Dr. Roemer noticed a sign advertising the annual Mitarashi Matsuri, a festival dedicated to the kami of that small outer shrine - it was merely two days later. Unsure if we would be able to make it I purchased an omamori(amulet) to keep with me and followed the group out of the shrine along the gravel path hurrying to meet Dr. Breen at a neighboring shrine.