In the former imperial capital of the Land of the Rising Sun, the native Japanese religion of Shinto as well as Buddhism, which found its way from India to the Far East, occupies a special position not only in the local community, but also in the country. While kami are worshiped in the Shinto universe, like Inari, the kami of rice, sake, agriculture and industry whose messengers – the foxes – are ubiquitous at Fushimi Inari-taisha, the multiple branches of Japanese Buddhism emphasize the worship of deities.
At the heart of Kyoto, Yasaka Shrine is a Shinto compound dedicated to Amatsukami and Kunitsukami, the kami residing in the heaven and on the land of Japan, respectively. With its history dating back to the seventh century, the shrine’s prominence grew in the centuries that followed which eventually led to its designation as one of the Kanpei-taisha, the most highly ranked imperial shrines of Japan, in the 19th century. Due to its significance, throughout its history Yasaka Shrine witnessed more and more accommodation being built nearby to cater for pilgrims and visitors to the shrine. However, today this district, Gion, is better known for its geisha, skilled female artists recognizable from their elaborate makeup and costume.
Chion-in, on the other hand, is a temple of Jodo Buddhism, one of the main schools of the religion in Japan which was established by a spiritual leader called Honen in the 12th century. Honen himself was a reformer, Japanese Buddhism’s own version of Martin Luther, who founded Jodo (Pure Land) Buddhism independent from Tendai, a school of Mahayana Buddhism popular in Japan at that time. His teaching focuses on the veneration of Amida (Amitabha), a celestial Buddha attributed for his comprehensive love and blessing for all beings. The main temple dedicated to Amida was constructed in the 13th century, a few decades after Honen’s death. However, the most impressive part of the temple compound is arguably the Sanmon, a 17th-century colossal wooden gate that soars 24 meters high on the slope of a verdant hill.
Both the houses of the kami and Amida are now among the treasures from Japan’s past that managed to avoid the destruction wrought by bombs and modern weapons which have annihilated invaluable monuments all over the world, from churches in Europe to ancient Hindu temples in Vietnam. Some of those have been rebuilt to their original appearance, but one can imagine how much more fascinating the world would have looked had those masterpieces from the past survived. Yasaka Shrine and Chion-in are a testament to what peace can bring to humanity, when compassion is nurtured and hatred is buried. May the two temples stand for many more generations to come.