Names in this site follow the Japanese custom of family name first.

January 4, 2007

Wild boar (Go-o Shrine)

I visited the Go-o Shrine at least three months too early when I came here last September. As you see in the picture below, this is the Shrine of the Wild Boar, so there could be no more fitting destination for your New Year visit in 2007 (but expect some crowds)!

[The wild boar is the messenger of the Go-o Shrine]

The shrine is a relatively modern affair and stems from the State Cult of Shinto in the Meiji period. Go-o means "Protection of the Monarch" and it is no coincidence that the shrine stands next to the former residence of that monarch, Kyoto Gosho.

[Statue of Wake no Kiyomaro in the Go-o Shrine]

The protector of the monarch then is of course none other than the deity who is revered here: Wake no Kiyomaro, the court official who thwarted the evil designs on the throne of the priest Dokyo in the 8th c. (if the history books are right - history after all is written by the victors).

[Go-o Shrine]

Wake no Kiyomaro (733–799) entered palace service as a military guard and early distinguished himself in the suppression of a rebellion. The incident with Dokyo, the favorite of the Empress Shoken, occurred in 769. Later Kiyomaro became the principal adviser to Emperor Kammu and he was appointed to numerous high offices. He also was responsible for moving the capital away from Nara, first to Nagaokakyo and then to Heiankyo (Kyoto) in 794.

Because he had displeased the Empress Shoken (although he had saved the throne) Kiyomaro was temporarily exiled to Osumi (now Kagoshima). On the way there, he hurt his leg, but was miraculously saved when 300 wild boars appeared to protect him. His leg also healed soon.

[Wild boar's head in Go-o Shrine - for once the real thing]

In the Meiji period Kiyomaro came to be considered as a paragon of loyalty to the imperial house and that was why in 1886 the present shrine was set up. His story was widely publicized in school books all over the country.

Thanks to the legend, people now come to the shrine to pray for strong legs and the shrine of course sells the inevitable amulets, something along the lines of the picture below. They are quite expensive as amulets go so the shrine must have some belief in the efficacy of its own products. I still have to put mine to the test.

[Stone amulet for strong legs in the Go-o Shrine]

The shrine has a pleasant atmosphere and is again a good example of the many small , interesting temples that dot the cityscape of Kyoto. Besides the "miraculous wild boar" statue donated by believers in the first picture above, the shrine grounds are filled to the brim with boar-lore, including hundreds of pictures, paintings, statues and dolls of boar in a sort of open gallery. There could be no better (roaring) start for the Year of the Wild Boar!
Access: the shrine stands 5 min walk north of Marutamachi on the Karusuma subway line, west of Kyoto Gosho.