I feel quite silly, I almost didn’t go to Heian Srine, because I worried that I was all shrined out. But I’m so happy I made the trek. Looking around, this is the mental image Japan conjures. It’s bright and over scale, ornate and yet still zen at the same time with its vast plains of gravel grounds.
It was a really dynamic experience, visually stunning, oddly silent minus the white gravel crunching under your feet, so spacious do you don’t feel quite as herded as you might at a host of other worship spots in Japan. Its definitely something I’d recommend.
Here’s a little history:
Heian Shrine (平安神宮, Heian Jingū) has a relatively short history, dating back just over a hundred years to 1895. The shrine was built on the occasion of the 1100th anniversary of the capital’s foundation in Kyoto and is dedicated to the spirits of the first and last emporers who reigned from the city, Emperor Kammu (737-806) and Emperor Komei (1831-1867). Heian is the former name of Kyoto.
Outside the shrine and arching over a busy road is the torii (shrine gate) of Heian Jingu, the largest in Japan. Built in 1929, it is 24.2 meters high; the top rail is 33.9 meters long.
Heian Shrine’s torii.
The orange, green, and white buildings of Heian Jingu are intended to be replicas of the old Kyoto Imperial Palace (destroyed in 1227), at two-thirds the original size. The main buildings are the dignified East Hon-den and West Hon-den (the Main Halls), and the Daigoku-den (Great Hall of State), in which the Heian emperor would issue decrees.
There are three stroll gardens at Heian Jingu, positioned east, west, and north of the shrine itself. They follow the Heian aesthetic of focusing on a large pond, which is a rare feature at a Shinto shrine. The stepping-stone path that crosses the water is made from the pillars of a 16th-century bridge that spanned the Kamo-gawa before an earthquake destroyed it.
One of the things I find especially impressive about Japan is that this shrine was built in 1895 and it’s one of the newest shrines in Tokyo. That’s so different to the shorter history of the US. Everywhere you go, you’re walking in the footsteps some historical happening.
I did skip the garden, with it being winter I don’t think the garden would be at its most impressive. But I definitely will take another trip to Kyoto in the spring to hopefully see it with the cherry blossom in full bloom.