Walking through Kyoto’s Hata Clan Shrines─Fushimi Inari Taisha and Matsunoo Taisha Shrine, Kyoto
essay, Jul. 2019
When I went to Kyoto last time, I visited Fushimi Inari Taisha (shrine) and Matsunoo Taisha Shrine.
Fushimi Inari Taisha has a long path with innumerable red gates called torii (1). When you go through, you will feel as if you are entering another world.
Matsunoo Taisha Shrine has a huge torii standing between the vehicle road leading to the shrine. Both shrines are worth visiting for the torii alone.
Torii tells us that now we enter the area of Gods. So, when I go through torii, I always straighten my back.
A shrine is a religious place in Shintoism, a Japanese local unique religion, where Gods go down to this world from another world. Although a shrine is worth visiting because of its exoticism and originality, if you know its historical context, you will definitely enjoy it more.
Well, there are numerous Gods in Shintoism (we literally call them “eight million gods” altogether), and they could be Gods of mountains, rocks, rice fields, or even Gods of toilets or kitchens!
One tenet of Shintoism is that Gods are everywhere in everything, regardless if its living or not. And each shrine worships each God.
Such Gods behave very likely to human beings, or the Gods of Athens. Therefore, today, when visiting a shrine, even many Japanese people don’t know which God they pray to because Gods are not like absolute, paternal Gods and there are just too many!
As there are many Gods in Shintoism, there are more than 88,000 shrines in Japan and various types of Shintoism.
Among them, the two biggest types are Hachiman Shrine and Inari Shrine (like Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto).
Both of them are related to Hata clan. In the fourth century, the Hata clan moved to Japan via Korea and Central Asia, which was the path of the Silk Road. It is said that they brought a refined way of the orient religion at that time, and it became a basic part of Hachiman and Inari Shrine.
Like the United States or many other countries, Japan became a nation by many clans coming through East Asia and merging (or fighting) with native peoples, mainly from several hundred BC. And it lasted for approximately 1000 years. They brought their own religions and mixed with local ones, just like in the United States.
I think Shintoism was created in this way. That’s why there are different types of Shintoism. For example, Asama Shrines worship Mt.Fuji and Matsunoo Taisha Shrines rocks. There are many Asama and Matsunoo Shrines throughout Japan.
However, regardless of the Gods that shrines worship, their architectures are very similar. In my opinion, the Hata clan also influenced other Shinto shrines beside theirs.
Kyoto, a capital city in old time, was built in the eighth century. However, it was also the place where the Hata clan had been based for hundreds of years before that (just like Boston, where the Puritans settled).
And still today, two shrines protect Kyoto at the west and south entrances to the city.
Yes, they are exactly Fushimi Inari Taisha and Matsunoo Taisha Shrine!
There are many spiritual places in the world, but most of them are in churches or significant natural sculptures.
However, the spirituality of Japan also exists in tiny places, that is, shrines.
Of course, there are huge shrines that many people visit like Fushimi Inari Taisha, but at the same time, there are many shrines that even don’t have names and only a few locals know. Rather, this case would be the majority.
Why shrines always attract me, is their diversity: many different Gods, a long, mixed history, and architecture varying from small to large.
I hope this article leads your deeper understanding of shrines so that you can enjoy and visit more!
1. The Japanese word torii is unique to Japanese religion called Shintoism. It is a traditional Japanese gate or gateway that symbolically marks the transition from the ordinary world to the holy within a Shinto shrine.
Lived in the US, China, Taiwan and HK. Love visiting Japanese traditional places with run. Want visitors to know the unique and deep mystery of Japanese history and enjoy Japan more.
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