The historic old city of Kyoto was the capital of Japan for more than 1,000 years (794- 1867) but there are temples and shrines in the city that had been there for more than a century before Kyoto became the capital. One such shrine is Shimogamo Shrine, one of 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto and one of the oldest shrines in Japan.

The shrine is a very large shinto complex and is a perfect picture of Japanese shinto shrines as a places of peace and tranquility. The approach to Shimogamo Shrine is via a path through an impressive ancient forest of very large and majestic trees called Tadasu no Mori.

The forest, near the point of confluence of the Kamo and Takano Rivers, is described as a sacred grove of the remnants of a large primeval forest.

After passing through the forest, there’s a very large vermillion colored torii which marks the entrance to the shrine complex. Once past the torii, known as Romon Gate, a number of beautiful sights greet you.

Mitarashi Shrine overlooking a spring and small pond which feeds a stream called the Mitarashi River, Taikobashi, a vermillion colored, arched bridge spans the small stream and nearby Mai-dono Hall with its many lanterns creates a postcard-like scene. Shimogamo Shrine is the terminal point of one of Kyoto’s three major annual festivals, the Aoi Matsuri or Hollyhock Festival.

The procession of the centuries-old festival starts at 10:30 on May 15 at the Kyoto Imperial Palace and winds its way through the streets of Kyoto before ending at Shimogamo Shrine.

In the procession are around 600 carefully selected people dressed in Heian-period clothing and representing different members of the imperial court. Around 2005 one selected participant was a former OSU student who came to OSU via the former OSU-K program.

Her name is Mikiko Mizuno and Mikiko and her sister Kimie took me to Shimogamo Shrine in 2003 when Kayo and I were guests in the Mizuno’s home which is near the shrine.

I thoroughly enjoyed the beauty and historical significance of the shrine and the company of the charming and pretty sisters that took me to the shrine that day. In closing, the Sister Cities Council wishes you a very Merry Christmas.

Larry Jones is a member of the Stillwater Sister Cities Council.

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