Ota Shrine is located in Kita-ku, Kyoto City. Probably for most people it is recognized as a place where one can see the beautiful water iris (kakitsubata) flowers which bloom in May in the marsh adjacent to the precinct. This colony of the wild water iris has been designated as a Natural Monument. However, even without this attraction, the shrine is interesting and worth visiting for its own sake. Though the foundation of the shrine is uncertain, it is surely the oldest shrine in the region, even being listed in the Engishiki jinmyocho (a register of shrines in Japan) compiled in the 10th century. This Shinto shrine is one of the beautiful places to go in Kyoto.
Enshrined here is Ame-no-Uzume-no-Mikoto, who is a female deity appearing in Japanese mythology. She is arguably the first dancer in the history of Japan because she is said to have danced the sacred Shinto Kagura dance in front of the other kami (gods) to entice Amaterasu to come out of Ama-no-Iwato (cave of heaven) because the world had turned dark. For this reason many people, like aspiring musicians and stage artists, visit the shrine today to pray for the improvement of their artistic skills. Among other blessings the shrine is said to bestow upon visitors are longevity, safety of the family, and good matchmaking.
The last time I visited the shrine, I used a taxi instead of a bus from Kitayama Station on the Karasuma Line, Kyoto City Subway. The fare was not so high, and I could avoid all the complications and the waiting time associated with a bus trip. I asked the taxi driver if the water irises were in full bloom:
The taxi driver said, “I think they have just started to bloom, not full though. But I am a little worried about deer because they came out of the woods and ate a lot of flowers last year.”
“Do they go into the marsh, I mean, into the water?”
“No, they don’t. But they only stand outside the marsh and crane their necks. They only eat flowers growing on the periphery of the marsh.”
On entering the shrine precinct, I met an old woman peddling rice cakes. She also mentioned last year’s damage inflicted on the water irises by deer.
I paid 300 yen and entered into the kakitsubata marsh (during blooming season only, admission is required as a “preservation fund.”) Though the flowers were still half in bloom, the beautiful purple color spread on the surface of the marsh, and I could fully enjoy it. They have grown here for more than a millennium, and Fujiwara-no-Shunzei, a poet in the Heian period, actually composed a waka poem about them. It goes like this: “Kouyama (Kamoyama) ya / Ota no sawa no kakitsubata / fukaki tanomi ha / iro ni miyu ramu…..
Ota Shrine is about a 5 minute drive from Kitayama Station on the Karasuma Line, Kyoto City Subway. You can use a bus or a taxi. But please note that the wild water iris in the shrine is in bloom only in early and mid May. If you want to visit other places nearby, there are some interesting places. They are all within walking distance of Ota Shrine. Kamigamo Shrine is one of the oldest and most important shrines in Kyoto. It was designated as an UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994. The shrine’s compound is large, and it includes the woods and a stream, as well as many historically important buildings. Actually, Ota Shrine is one of the auxiliary shrines of Kamigamo Shrine. The Nishimura House is also interesting. Among the shake houses (houses of Shinto shrine priests) near Kamigamo Shrine, only this house is open to the public as of 2016… Strolling through the neighborhood is in itself an interesting experience. Of all the shake-machi (shake towns) in Japan, this one in Kamigamo is particularly distinctive in that it has maintained well the historical atmosphere and characteristics of the old days. For this reason, this area was designated by the nation as an Important Preservation District for Groups of Historic Buildings. If you are interested in a guided tour in and around Ota Shrine, please send an e-mail from the Rates/Contact page of this site.
Photographs: taken at Ota Shrine, by Koji Ikuma,
with Fuji X-T1 and XF 35mmF2R WR