Omi-Jingu is seeing a different sort of pilgrimage than it’s used to these days.
Having made the journey to Enoshima last month and seeing that York Shin isn’t likely to be an option anytime soon, there was never really any question that I’d be visiting Omi-Jingu while in Kyoto. And I’m clearly not the only one. Keihan Railways, one of the local transport companies in Kansai, has decorated a number of their trains on the Ishiyama-Sakamoto line with gorgeous artwork from Suetsugu Yuki. And the shrine itself – associated with Karuta long before Chihayafuru made anyone besides Karuta geeks aware of it – clearly saw opportunity knocking here too. In addition to Chihayafuru artwork scattered through the precincts they’ve also dedicated the second floor of their clock museum (a surprisingly interesting place in its own right) to a Chihayafuru display, and set up a video program in the lobby.
Being in the middle of all this felt quite odd in a way, because in a very real sense it’s the most direct convergence of the two Japans I love equally, but have always been separate entities in my experience. Omi-Jingu is a very old place, a big Jinja in dense woods about a half-hour outside Kyoto. It’s full of interesting and beautiful old buildings, and on the morning I was there the Hatsumode fires were still burning and there were miko (!) doing Kagura dances. Yet there were Chihaya and Taichi among the midst of all that. As I arrived at the local station and started snapping photos of the Chihayfuru artwork there, a Japanese family of four (parents, two young sons) stepped off a train and exclaimed at the sight, clearly there for the same reason I was. And I saw that family and several other Japanese at the shrine, taking in all the Suetsugu goodness. I’m sure it’s been quite a windfall for Omi-Jingu, and certainly Karuta hasn’t gotten this much attention in a very long time. Chihayafuru may not have been a commercial powerhouse in BD/DVD terms (though it did pretty well for the genre), but it’s clearly struck a chord with many people judging by the things I’ve seen here, ranging from Omi-Jingu to places like Animate.
The rest of the day I spent in more familiar haunts, mostly in Higashiyama (Eastern Kyoto). Kiyomizudera is a place I visit every time I’m here, both for the temple itself and the incomparable atmosphere in the surrounding precincts. In many ways I think Higashiyama is really the essence of Kyoto – the aesthetic of the place is imbued in the cobbled streets, the temples and parks, and the remarkably fascinating shops, some of which date back centuries under the same family. I also took a trip out to Northwest Kyoto to see Kitano Tenmangu, the hugely popular local Jinja dedicated to Sugiwara Michizane, the Heian noble revered as one of the great scholars and patrons of education in Japanese history. This is the shrine students from all over Japan visit to pray for academic success – though there are hundreds of local branches, this is the head shrine for the country.
Kyoto is a truly unique place, and it quite literally always leaves me wanting more – I’ve now been there four times and I’m nowhere close to exhausting the list of “must-see” places in the city and surroundings. Without a question if you were to visit only one place in Japan, Kyoto would be the choice. To wrap up the trip, there are couple of photos of Fuji-san from the train ride home (8.5 hours), and a video of a geyser erupting at the “foot onsen” in Atami Station, one of the five places I had to transfer making the trip on local trains.