Matsunoo Taisha Shrine
Matsunoo Taisha Shrine, familiarly known as Matsuo-san, is the dominant Shinto shrine in the western part of Kyoto, and serves residents of Nishikyo-ku, Ukyoku, Shimogyo-ku and Minami-ku : about one third of Kyoto's population.
Unlike most shrines, it features amassive outer gate with two guardian deities, and among its other treasures are three of the oldest and best-preserved solid wood carved images, presumably representing the three enshrined deities: Oo-yamagui-no-kami (male), Nakatsu-shima-hime-no-mikoto (female), and Tsukiyomi-no-mikoto (male).
These statues alone are worth a visit, and along the way one passes through various gardens and can visit the numinous waterfall tricking down from Mount Matsuo (also known as Wakeikazuchi no Yama).
It is said that a lord of the Hata clan was riding in the area and saw a tortoise in the stream at the foot of the waterfall.
From that time worship started. Matsuo Shrine was founded in 701 c.e., making it one of the oldest shrines in Kyoto. It was influential in the move of the capital to Nagaoka-kyo and then to Heian-kyo(present day Kyoto).
Tortoises have long been revered in China, Korea, and Japan as emblems of good fortune, particularly long life and good health. The water from this spring is said to be healthful, and the shrine is visited both by ordinary people to get good water and its benefits and by manufacturers of miso paste and sake brewers, who pray for the success of their enterprises.
Throughout the precincts one will see figures of tortoises, the most famous of which is the Kame-no-I, Tortoise Well, near the entrance to the first garden.
The three gardens were built in the Showa era (1975) at great expense and personal effort by Mr. Mirei Shigemori.
Each is a reconstruction of a garden representative of its era : Ancient (re-creation of a wild mountaintop, with rugged vertical rocks symbolizing alightingplaces of a god and goddess) ; Heian period (rocks and azaleas entwined with a many-curving stream) ; and Kamakura period (islands in a pond in imitation of an ancient Chinese concept of paradise, with the fountain of eternal youth gushing forth).
The shrine complex's oldest building, the inner shrine, dates back to the Muromachi period (1397) and is famous for its unusual roof, which is known as Matsuo-zukuri (Matsuo style) and has been designated an important cultural asset.
On any given day, individuals, families, and businesspeople visit to pray for happiness, health, long life, prosperity, safety, and other wishes.
Throughout the year there is a cycle of festivals and observances which mark the cycle of the traditional rice-growing agricultural year.
Oshogatsu (New Year's) attracts the biggest crowds, but there are many others : Matsuo Matsuri, when six huge and richly ornamented mikoshi (portable shrines) are carried through the streets to the Katsura River and ferried across, where they will enjoy a sojourn on the other side of the river before returning, again with great merriment, three weeks later on Omatsuri (Okaeri), Ondasai, a rice-protective rite in mid-July ; Hassakusai (first Sunday in September), to pray for wind and rain to insure a bountiful crop of the "five grains" (rice, wheat, beans, and two kinds of millet), with sumo tournaments and the Yamabuki Kai (women's mikoshi, which goes from the shrine to Arashiyama and back).
Originally all such festivals were held on certain traditional dates, but with urbanization have come changes, so that now the major festivities are scheduled for Sundays.