Posted by: soniahs | July 14, 2012

Shimogamo Shrine

Shimogamo-jinja is a large Shinto shrine complex and UNESCO world heritage site in the northern part of Kyoto. It’s located at the confluence of the Kamo and Takano rivers.

Map of the shrine complex. We entered where the little yellow arrow is pointing at the upper left, and made our way down through the forest. (Photo: Y. Fernandez)

As you might expect, water is a significant feature of the shrine, and apparently has been part of the spiritual significance of the site for several thousand years.

Mitarashi stream rises from a small spring on the shrine grounds. There’s a shrine over the actual spring.

It was one of the least Westernized tourist sites we visited in Kyoto, and virtually none of the signage had English. This would definitely have been a place where having a better idea of what was around us would have helped.

Main grounds and Mitarashi stream.

Ro-mon gate. (Photo: Y. Fernandez)

The shrine complex includes several large buildings, and it serves as the base for several important Kyoto festivals. We’d just missed the Aoi Matsuri (hollyhock festival), their main festival, which includes a horseback archery competition. We did see evidence that the festival wasn’t quite over. though.

We think this truck was being prepared for part of the festivities. (Photo: Y. Fernandez)

On the shrine grounds, there’s a fairly large forested area called Tadasu-no-mori. I imagine this forest represents what the entire confluence point area looked like several hundred years ago.

Tadasu-no-mori and Mitarashi stream. (Photo: Y. Fernandez)

Sacred rock?

One interesting highlight is an archaeological site that dates back roughly 2000 years, indicating that the area has been important for quite a while. Because we were mainly in cities, we didn’t see many Japanese archaeological sites on our trip- at least sites that hadn’t been updated and modified for modern use. There seems to be a tendency for prehistoric sacred sites to have shrines built on them, then more shrines are added to those, then a temple is built, and eventually you have a major shrine complex. Unless, of course, the shrine stays small and residential or commercial development completely surrounds it.

Part of the excavated site in the forest. (Photo: Y. Fernandez)

While the shrine is situated where it is because of the river confluence, you have to walk a bit outside the grounds to actually reach the rivers. The triangle of land at which the two rivers merge is a nice open site with paths on the banks of all the rivers. The rivers themselves are pretty shallow (I’m guessing that might be a seasonal thing), and there are blocks set in the rivers so that you can cross over them on foot. Pretty neat.

At the river confluence. (Photo: Y. Fernandez)

Yan is wistfully wondering where he can rent a bike.

This was also bird central, so we saw a bunch of species, including lots of black kites. They seemed to be the most common raptors around here. We also saw some rodents that looked like capybaras or muskrats or …something. Did Japan have native large aquatic rodents? We had no idea. They were perched on rocks in the river, doing their thing. With adorable babies!

What were these strange little buggers? (Photo: Y. Fernandez)

A few days later, I visited the Natural History Museum in Tokyo, and it turns out that these were nutrias (also called coypu). They’re native to South America, but were introduced to Japan for the fur trade. As we saw in Kyoto, they’ve escaped, and are now a fairly widespread invasive species. So that was our Shimogamo invasive species encounter.

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  1. […] course, there were feral cats a few times, and the nutria in the Shimogamo River. But we didn’t see anything really cool like […]


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