京のキー Awata-jinja


Very close to the Westin Miyako, where we happened to be staying, is the pretty Awata Shrine. Overlooking the Okazaki Park with its museums, parks and the Heian Jingu Shrine, the modest shrine is perhaps most famed for its colourful lantern festival held in October (similar to that of the Aomori Nebuta). On our visit the grounds were completely empty, but a few of the old lanterns were still on display including a depiction of a Genji warrior and the god Ebisu...our timing was fortunate as the very next day the lanterns were shipped off for some loving care prior to the festival.

Awata Shrine takes its name from the clan that lived in this area long before the capital was transferred to Kyoto in 794. The neighbourhood found itself at the Eastern entrance to the new imperial city and was thus renamed Awataguchi* (guchi/kuchi meaning 'mouth' in Japanese), gaining prominence as it sat on the Tokaido Highway between Kyoto and Edo (Tokyo). Due to its strategic importance Awataguchi became busier and more prosperous, great numbers of travelers and commodities coming through during the Edo Period (1603-1868).

From the end of the Heian Period (794-1192) swordsmiths had studios in the neighbourhood, among whom the most famous was Sanjo-Kokaji-Munechika, noted for a legend in which he successfully made a masterpiece sword named 'Kogitsune-maru' by getting a small fox (a 'kogitsune') disguised as a small boy to assist him. Later in the Edo Period the area became famous for producing 'Awatayaki' pottery, the ceramic techniques introduced from Seto, Nagoya.

Although not terribly famous nowadays (drowning amongst the dozens of larger, more famous temples and shrines about it) Awata Shrine is a quiet and beautiful retreat and well worth a visit.

*Awataguchi stretches from East of the Shirakawa Bridge (Sanjo Street) to the vicinity of Keage. As Sanjo Bridge was the official starting point of the Tokaido Highway, it was of great importance.
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