Shimogamo Shrine is located at the junction of the Kamo River and the Takano River. For Kyoto, which first started to develop near the Kamo River, Shimogamo Shrine has always been a strong guardian of the city.
Officially, Shimogamo Shrine is called “Kamo Mioya Jinja” (Ancestral Shrine). This is because the two main deities enshrined at Shimogamo Shrine are the mother and grandfather of the main deity enshrined at the related shrine, Kamigamo Shrine.
Before the grandfather deity moved to Kyoto, he lived in Kumano (southern mountain area). He was once transformed into a three-legged crow and guided the first Emperor on a long, difficult journey. Interestingly, that three-legged crow is included as an emblem on the jersey of the Japan National Soccer Team!
To enjoy Shimogamo Shrine more, let me tell you a bit about the story related to the gods and the crow first!
The story of the three-legged crow, “Yatagarasu”
Before Japan became a country, a prince in Kyushu declared that he would lead an army to the east in order to unite the lands. He fought bravely in many places and gained great victories. But when he and his troops came to the forest of Kumano, they lost their way. They were completely at a loss. God in heaven, looking down upon the situation, ordered the leader of the Kamo Family in Kumano to help the prince. So, the leader was transformed into a three-legged craw, and guided the price to Nara. Eventually, the prince won and succeeded in establishing the country that became ancient Japan. He became the first Emperor - Jimmu.
The three-legged crow came back to Kumano, and later he and his whole family moved to ancient Kyoto.
To continue the story...
The daughter of the leader of the Kamo Family was in charge of shrine rituals. One day, she offered up a prayer for the blessings of the gods. While doing this, a red arrow drifted ashore from upstream. She took it and brought it back home. Soon after that, she found herself to be pregnant and soon after delivered a boy.
Some years later, one night at a party where many gods were gathered, the grandfather (the man who had once be transformed into the crow) of this boy asked him to offer a sake cup to his father. No one knew which god was his father. The boy received the sake cup and said, “ I am the son of God in heaven.” And the boy immediately went to heaven with the cup. He disappeared from this earth. The mother and the grandfather grieved deeply. They thought about him every night and finally he appeared in their dreams. He said that when they prepared a rite correctly, he would advent. They held the rite. And he descended to Kohyama.
He was a powerful God and was enshrined at Kamigamo Shrine. His mother and grandfather were enshrined in Shimogamo Shrine.
Passing through the red gate of Ro-mon, there are several buildings in the precincts. The daughter and the grandfather mentioned above are enshrined here in the inner most buildings. You will see a red bridge on the right. The bridge crosses the Mitarashi River, and leads to Mitarashi-no-ike Pond. Here many important rituals are held throughout the year.
When I visited this shrine in the summer, it was the day of a ritual called “Nagoshi Shinji (夏越神事).” At the end of this ceremony, selected men scramble for arrows in the center of the pond. I observed the shrine's priests making a stand for the arrows near the pond.
In the previous year, when I visited on a winter morning, the shrine building roofs were covered with snow. And the Mitarashi River had a heavy mist over it, and was very mystical.
Tadasu-no-mori Forest Walk
The long approach into Shimogamo Shrine cuts through Tadasu-no-mori. It is an age-old forest that is home to a beautiful stream. During my summer visit, kids were playing around and enjoying the water. A teahouse along the approach serves tasty shaved ice. In winter, the forest showed me a mysterious face, as if the three-legged crow was about to emerge from somewhere between the trees!