At an ancient shrine in Uji, Kyoto, you can feel the eternal flow of time.
Written by National Government Licensed Guide Interpreter Ikuko Kubota
Walking along the Uji river towards upstream, you’ll reach an ancient shrine designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Let’s pass through a red Torii gate which is a symbol of Shinto shrine.
Surrounded by a lush green forest, you are already in the precincts of the Ujigami Shrine. The air is fresh and clear.
The main hall has remained largely intact miraculously for around a thousand years. This national treasure hall is believed to be the oldest extant shrine structure in Japan.
Although there is no official record of when it was first constructed, dendrochronology (tree ring dating) shows that Ujigami Shrine structures date to around 11th century. It’s really old, isn’t it?
This building is also magnificent. It’s the worship hall built around the 13th century. This structure reflects an aristocratic residence rather than a shrine, which makes it extremely valuable and a national treasure. Here, I bow deeply to show respect and pray to the deities.
Here is an unusual hut. What is it? Stepping into the hut, I found a spring water inside. It’s called Kirihara spring water, one of seven excellent fountains in Uji region. This is the only one extant spring water among the seven. Dipping my hands into the cold spring water, I feel refreshed and purified. This clear water has been used as cleansing water for worshippers since ancient times.
Moving on to the back, the main hall will reveal itself in front of you. I feel the solemn atmosphere of the shrine which has existed for a long enough to show signs of age.
The Ujigami Shrine is dedicated to the Emperor Ohjin, the 15th Emperor of Japan and his two sons, the imperial princes. There is a moving but sad story. The imperial brothers offered the throne to each other and finally the younger prince, Uji no Wakiiratsuko committed suicide in order to let his elder brother to be enthroned and solved a dispute over the issue of imperial succession by his own death. This shrine was originally built in his honor.
As a matter of fact, the three inner sanctuaries are housed within this building. Let’s have a look-in. Here you can really see the three shrines inside! Each sanctuary enshrines the father emperor, the elder prince and the younger prince. Thanks to this outer building, they say the inner sanctuaries were able to survive for such a long period of time.
Just around the corner of Ujigami Shrine stands Uji Shrine. The two shrines used to form one single shrine until they were separated during the Meiji period (1868-1912). The shrine has also been closely linked to nearby Byodoin Temple as its guardian shrine.
Walking around quietly on the grounds of the shrine surrounded by a rich forest, you can feel the eternal flow of time while viewing moss-covered roofs and stones as well as the ancient shrine structure which has existed there for nearly one thousand years.