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Yakumo Shrine

Official Name Yakumo Shrine {Pronounced yah-koo-moh}
Religious sect Shinto
Founded in circa 1082
by Yoshimitsu Minamoto {yo-she-me-tsu me-nah-moh-toh}
Main object of worship Susanoo-no-mikoto {soo-sah-noh-no-me-koh-toh} and other mythological deities
Address 11-22, Omachi 1-chome, Kamakura, Kanagawa 248-0007
Area size 1,000 square meters
Location 600 meters southeast of Kamakura Station
Time needed to get there 10 minutes
Admission Free (open yard)
Annual event Grand Festival starts on second Saturday of July
Phone number 0467-22-3347
Rest room Not available

Historical Overview



The Shrine was established by Yoshimitsu Minamoto (1045-1127), great-great grandfather of Yoritomo Minamoto (1147-1199), the founder of the Kamakura Shogunate, at the time he was on the way to the northern part of Honshu to fight against an enemy clan. The battle started in 1082 and ended two years later. Back then, an epidemic was rampant in Kamakura. At the sight of suffering people, he thought that erecting a shrine here as an offshoot of Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto and pray to its god would be best since Yasaka Shrine was reputed for its ability to protect people against evils and epidemics. Yasaka Shrine accepted Yoshimitsu's request and permitted him to found a sub-shrine under the name of Kamakura Gion-sha {ghee-on-shah}. As expected, the epidemic simmered down after it was erected. People in Kamakura were grateful for the divine power and revered the god deeply.

One of the oldest shrines in Kamakura, older than Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, it has long served for the people in Kamakura, those in Omachi district in particular, as a tutelary shrine to prevent sickness.

Like Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto, the object of worship or enshrined gods here are those appearing in the Japanese mythology including Susanoo-no-mikoto . When Yasaka Shrine was founded in 876, however, it was called "Gion-sha", and was built to ward off epidemics in Kyoto. The epidemics were believed to have been brought by the curse of Gozu-ten'no {go-zoo ten-noh} or Gosirsa-devaraja in Sanskrit, which, according to Buddhist teachings, resides in Gion Shoja {ghee-on sho-jah} (Jetavanavihara in Skt. An ancient temple in India built for Sakyamuni) as a guardian deity. After Yasaka Shrine was built to appease the curse of Gozu-ten'no, the epidemic then in prevalent in Kyoto was crushed out. From then onward, people in Kyoto began to venerate the god.

In Kamakura, the Satake {sah-tah-keh} clan, Yoshimitsu's descendant, enshrined the souls of their ancestors in the Shrine during 1392 to 1428, and therefore, the Shrine was also called Satake-ten'no {sah-tah-keh ten-no}.

Later, merging of Buddhism with Shinto elements was seen between Gozu-ten'no and Susanoo-no-mikoto because of their similarity in divine character. In other words, Gozu-ten'no was thought to be a vicar of Susanoo-no-mikoto, thereby it became the main object of worship in Yasaka Shrine and its branch shrines as well.

After the Meiji Imperial Restoration in 1868, however, Gion-sha in Kyoto was forced to change its name to Yasaka Shrine following the government's instruction to segregate Shinto from Buddhism. This is the reason the structures at Yasaka Shrine still looks like a Buddhist temple. Likewise, Gion-sha in Kamakura also had to be renamed Yakumo Shrine. But, people in this neighborhood continued to call the Shrine "Gion-san" (san is an honorific title), and the hills lying behind the Shrine is still called "Gion-yama" (Mt. Gion), where a hiking trail leads to Hokaiji district.

Gion has long been so popular among Kyoto residents, that Yasaka Shrine still retains its name of Gion with the spectacular Festival called Gion Matsuri {mah-tsu-re}, one of the three Great Festivals in Japan. (The other two are Kanda Matsuri in Tokyo and Tenjin Matsuri in Osaka.) It starts on July 17 through July 24 every year. The climax is a parade of massive man-dragged floats, more than 30, all beautifully decorated, marching throughout streets in Kyoto. Originally, it was a ritual to pray to the god wishing to end a plague sweeping the city. Why in the dead of summer? Because, epidemics used to rage at this time of year.

Since there were many geisha houses in the area, geisha girls worshiped the god and joined the festival making it even more gorgeous. According to Memoirs of a Geisha written by Arthur Golden, one of the recent best sellers in America, there were 700 to 800 geisha serving in the mid-1930s at Gion district, and they must have made the festival brilliant. The story is about to be filmized by Director Steven Spielberg. It will give us a good chance to see how geisha girls were like those days at their peak era. Kimono and kimon-wearing manner must be finest of all, and it will be a yardstick to evaluate the film because the heroin was one of the top geisha of the days in Gion district, and Gion district was the center of geisha houses.

In case of Yakumo Shrine in Kamakura, the festival starts on the second Saturday of July and continues for three days, during which four portable shrines, not floats, march in a procession through the street of Omachi district, hosted by the parishioners. The festival here is said to have begun in 1349.

Of particular significance in Yasaka Shrine and its offshoots including Yakumo Shrine here is that they have long been patronized and supported by the mass of people, not by the imperial court, nor by the government or by the Shogunate.

The present structures was built in 1929 after the old one was destroyed by the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. On the left-hand side of the main hall is a treasure house, in which the four portable shrines, one made in 1724 and the others in 1860, old masks worn when Shinto music and dances are performed, stone monuments etc. are on display. Admission: 50 yen. The office is located south of the main hall over the fence.

Yasaka Shrine has approximately 3,000 sub-shrines nationwide. In Kamakura, there are two other shrines named "Yakumo Shrine", one at Tokiwa, Nishi-mikado and the other at Yamanouchi. The name Yakumo came from the tanka poem read by Susanoo-no-mikoto, which is said to be the very first tanka ever read, and it starts with the word yakumo. Later, the word became to mean tanka itself.


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