Heian Jingu Shrine Celebrates Reisai Annual Festival

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By Cher
Heian Shrine

Heian Jingu Shrine, A Hallmark of Kyoto’s Rich Cultural Landscape

Situated in the Okazaki district known for its multitude of museums, the Heian Jingu Shrine marks an important component in the storied history of Kyoto. Errected on the occasion of the city’s 1,100th anniversary, it is relatively new but has managed to become a pivotal attraction in Kyoto. The shrine is an immaculate replica of structures prominent during the Heian Period, and features riveting Chinese-inspired architectural elements.

One’s journey through the shrine begins at the Ōtenmon Gate. Beyond this grand entrance lies a sprawling sanctuary enveloped by looming watchtowers. At its center resides a large ritual hall – a symbol of spiritual importance. One of the major highlights of Heian Jingu Shrine is its scenic Shin’en Garden which comprises four distinct sections and is especially popular for its irises in summer and cherry blossoms in spring. The shrine is also home to one of Japan’s largest torii gates which towers overhead at an impressive height of 24 meters.

Reisai Festival – A Timeline to Kyoto’s Past

Every year on April 16th, the shrine comes alive with numerous festivities organized to commemorate the accession ceremony day held in 781, a day that marked Emperor Kanmu – deity of Heian Jingu – ascend to power. The emperor is attributed with moving court from Nara to Kyoto merely ten years after ascending the throne, establishing influence over a region that would later become a cultural hub for a millennium. It’s one of the most awaited Kyoto events in April.

Wome rehearsing

Honouring History Through Traditional Ceremonies

Dedicated primarily to celebrate Emperor Kanmu’s ascension, this annual gathering holds significant religious and historical weightage. Apart from honoring their deity, locals and tourists can witness a profusion of traditional Japanese customs and practices.

Starting at noon, visitors can expect to be entertained by enchanting dances performed by Maiko (apprentices) and Geiko (Kyoto geisha), hailing from four different Kagai or Geisha districts. The festival also provides attendees with insights into Koto (a traditional stringed instrument) performances along with ‘Gagaku,’ – traditional court music dating back over several centuries. Due to the popularity of these events, it is advised for visitors looking to capture these performances photographically to arrive as early as eight in the morning.

As part of ceremonial customs on April 15th, prayers are conducted within the awe-inspiring precincts amidst floral elegance. Consequently, on April 16th, spectators can look forward to musical recitals accompanied by tea ceremonies and customary dances expertly orchestrated by regional Geiko and Maiko artists.

The Reisai Annual Festival thus serves as more than just a popular community event; it acts as an illuminating timeline into Japan’s rich historical narrative.

If you’re in Kyoto and want another fun event to attend, join in the festive spirit, and savor Kyoto’s rich cultural history at Hirano Shrine Okasai. This iconic shrine, renowned for its breathtaking cherry blossom gardens, invites you to witness the spectacular Oka-sai Matsuri, Kyoto’s longest-running event.

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