Daishogun Shrine (大将軍神社), Kyoto.
I first visited Kyoto in the late summer of 1984. That was a million years ago. For you Kyoto long-timers, please note that I came into town on the Keihan Line when it still ran above-street, right down the other side of Kawabata-dori, paralleling the Kamogawa. Of course with Kyoto being some 1250 years old, a little 25 year period’s but a blip in time for that ancient city. Nevertheless, for me it was a long time ago. And I’ve been back many, many, many times over the years.
That’s why I always enjoy (and which is part of why Kyoto so intrigues me) running into something new. Something new for me, that is, usually not for Kyoto. Moreover, it can be a little embarrassing when that “new” thing is not exactly hidden-away but, in fact, a few steps away from a street I’ve walked down hundreds of times. Am I that non-observant, or am I just so “focused” that I tend to tune-out what’s not on my mind and in my sights? I’ve salve my ego by thinking the latter, but knowing that it’s more than likely the former.
Getting to Daishogun-Jinja.
Whatever the case may be about two months ago, as I walked down Sanjo Dori (“Third Avenue”) in the early evening from the direction of the Westin Miyako hotel towards Kawabata Dori and the Kamo River I spotted a little combination beer stand/izakaya on the corner of Sanjo and a side street on the left, 5 blocks up from where San-jo crosses Kawabata Dori and the Kamo River. That corner place is “Harumi-ya” ( はるみ屋 in Japanese, which you can see in red on the sign below ). Here’s what it looks like, looking left as one walks towards the Kamo River:
When you take that left and walk down the side street, Harumi-ya will be on your right. You only need to walk about 100 yards/meters to see Daishogun-Jinja (with Jinja meaning Shinto Shrine) on your left. I had never before walked down this street, though I had passed it countless times. The light was failing, on the back side of the gloaming, when I walked in and here’s what I saw:
As shrine complexes go, it’s smallish. But it dates back to the Heian Period (794-1185), though assuredly rebuilt and updated dozens of times over a millenium.
A small sign in English tells the visitor that Daishogun (which means “Great Generalissimo”) Jinja enshrines Susanoh no Mikoto, “a complex, composite deity in Japanese mythology” (says the sign). This is somewhat funny because I’m thinking writing out legend of Susanoh no Mikato was simply too much of an English chore for the city official who wrote the sign to tackle. Here’s a summary of Susanoh no Mikato’s tale:
In Shintō mythology Susano’o was the younger brother of the sun goddess Amaterasu. The legend goes that as a result of his unruly behaviour, Amaterasu hid herself in a cave, thus bringing darkness and winter to the world. Susano’o was banished from the High Celestial Plain to Izumo Province in western Japan. Here he killed the eight-headed and eight-tailed serpent (yamata no orochi) and rescued Princess Kushinada. Afterwards he found in the dragon’s tail the sword which later became part of the regalia of the Japanese Imperial family. Source. A deeper account of the legend is here, in the Wiki.
Here’s a picture, a wood block print, of Susanoh no Mikato battling the dragon (bringing St. George to mind):
Also enshrined at Daishogun Jinja is the spirit of Kaneie Fujiwara, a Heian Period courtier. The little sign at the entrance also says, and I quote verbatim: “The scene of the legend that tells Yorimasa Minamoto killd a monster Nue.” Yorimasa Minamoto was a late-Heian Period poet, courtier and warrior. He was a historical figure, but his exploits became the stuff of legend, including his killing a Nue, a mythical beast, nasty monster comprised of bits of several animals. Here’s a print from around 1840 of Yorimasa Minamoto (L) and Ino Hayata Tadazumi (R) killing a Nue:
Apparently one can see a painting of Yorimasa slaying a Nue at Daishogun Jinja, but as it was getting dark I didn’t have much time to look around for it. I’ll be sure to look for and find it next time I’m there. I also plan to update this post and add details to the photos below as I study and learn more about this ancient shrine. Following are photos I took (with a “Droid” smartphone) as I strolled around Daishogun Jinja, just a block away from San-jo, one of Kyoto’s main streets, but here, in another world. . .
Above: Close up, detail, of “shimenawa (special plaited rope) and shime (strips of white paper). Placed at the entrances of holy places to ward off evil spirits, or placed around trees/objects to indicate presence of kami. Made of rice straw or hemp, the rope is called nawa 縄. The pieces of white paper that are cut into strips and hung from these ropes (often hung from ropes on Torii gates as well) are called shime 注連 or gohei; they symbolize purity in the Shintō faith.” The foregoing is a quote from this excellent site on Shinto.
. . .
Here’s the view from in front of Daishogun Jinji, looking up the street towards San-jo Dori . . .
. . .