Fire and water, Shinto style

Mt Kifune and Mt Kurama sit next to each other to the north of Kyoto. Located on their slopes are two remarkable Shinto shrines dedicated to water and fire respectively. I was fortunate to be able to visit them both last week. All you need to do is climb over Mt Kurama! Although steep in parts, the mixed deciduous-conifer forest you walk through makes it worthwhile. You also get to see the impressive Kurama Buddhist Temple complex that lies between the two Shrines.

Shinto is based on animism, believing that plants and animals have spirits. The English language brochure for Kifune Shrine says it is the best example of animism in Japan with the “Water God”, Okami-no-Kami enshrined there. The kami is the provider of water to others, such as in the form of rain or snow. The site of the shrine was selected by a female kami who came to Mt Kifune on a boat is search of water. According to ancient sources, she found a spring and the shrine was built there for Okami-no-Kami. Soon after the female kami became a dragon, an incarnation of the Water Kami. Her boat was covered in stones at the shrine and is there to this day.

The Yuki Shrine, located in the valley next to the Kifune Shrine is the location for an annual fire festival, held on October 22nd and 23rd. According to the ‘Welcome to Kyoto’ website the festival is said to reenact the scene of the enshrined deity (Yuki Myojin) greeted after traveling from the Imperial Palace to Kurama village, around 1000 years ago.

The festival sounds spectacular. On the evening of October 22nd watch fires are lit at the entrances to the local houses in Kurama, and at 6 pm in the evening the town is lit up with torches carried by children. Soon after that the locals, wearing straw warrior sandals, parade through the streets carrying a great torch and yelling along the way until they gather at the sacred precincts of the Yuki Shrine. Two portable Shinto shrines are carried amongst the sparks from the torches. The return celebration is held on the 23rd.

The Yuki Shrine also has unique architecture and some awe-inspiring 800 year old cedar trees. Mount Kurama, where the shrine and Kurama Buddhist Temple are found, is often referred to as “the birthplace of Reiki”. It is believed that the founder of reiki, Mikao Usui, practiced and developed his teachings here, and that he embarked on a 21 day spiritual retreat on the mountain. There are many ‘power spots’ identified on the mountain. For me, standing on the summit amongst the forest with the wind blowing had the greatest energy.

John Dougill, the author of the Green Shinto blog, recommended that I visit Mt Kifune and Mt Kurama. Thank-you John! The Shinto and Buddhist sites in the mountains have many connections to the elements. It is a special place.

This is my last blog on the move in Japan during my stay in May 2014. Soon it will be back to cooler temperatures and shorter days of the Southern Hemisphere.


The boat of the female kami covered in stones at Kifune Shrine. The white folded paper and straw rope show this is a sacred site.


Two emas from Yuki Shrine (fire) and Kifune Shrine (water; represented by the female kami) respectively. Emas are small wooden plaques that wishes and prayers are written on.

2 thoughts on “Fire and water, Shinto style

  1. Your travels in Japan have resulted in you visiting some extraordinary places – this climb over Mt. Kurama would have to be high on your list of ‘memorable places I have visited’! I liked the story of the female kami that turned into a dragon. It was also interesting to read that this place is associated with the birthplace of reiki.

    • It is definitely high on my list. Seeing a snow-capped Mt Fuji for the first time in it’s full grandeur was also very special. Previously it has been enveloped in clouds. You can understand why it is so important to the Japanese. The reiki connection at Mt Kurama was interesting. I can see how people could be energised and inspired by the setting.

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