Ekijin petrel guardians against bad luck and the birthplace of setsubun: Yoshida Shrine, Kyoto

Yoshida Shrine in Kyoto is particularly famous for driving away evil spirits (as well as bad luck). It is said the first shrine of driving away evil spirits is here.

Yoshida shrine is located on Mt. Yoshida in the eastern section of Kyoto.

Apart from the main shrine, Hongu, there are ten other shrines in Yoshida Shrine.  And this is the only shrine where you can worship all these gods:  Takemikazuchi, Iainushi, Amenokoyane, and a god of Him, the main Gods at Yoshida Shrine.

The shrine became the object of Imperial patronage during the early Heian period.[2] In 965, Emperor Murakami ordered that Imperial messengers were sent to report important events to the guardian kami of Japan.

Tsurezurenaru mamani higurasi…” — was written by Kenko Yoshida, a famous literary man in Japan, born in 1283, at the end of the Kamakura era, about 720 years ago. and author of a collection of essays, “Tsurezure gusa.” His works are a part of Japanese literature texts read by junior high school students.  Kenko Yoshida and his family were connected to the The Yoshida Shrine. 

From 1871 through 1946, the Yoshida Shrine was officially designated one of the Kanpei-chūsha (官幣中社), meaning that it stood in the second rank of government supported shrines.  Yoshida Kanetomo, founder of Yoshida Shinto, is buried here.

The shrine is notable for the following ceremonies and festival events:

(1) Setsubun Festival: Yoshida Shrine is famous for a grand festival called Setsubun held yearly from February 2nd to 4th. Setsubun is February 3rd, and is defined as the day before the beginning of spring and was New Year’s Eve according to the lunar calendar. It is a Japanese custom at Setsubun to scatter roasted soybeans while saying “Fukuwauchi, Oniwasoto” which means “Happiness come in! Demons go out!” The roasted soybeans are then eaten, in the same number as one’s age so as to not suffer from any illness during the year. Soybeans are said to have originally symbolized “peace” (Perhaps because peas live harmoniously in a pod?) and eating them signifies one’s wishes for peace and happiness. This festival has been held more than 500 years and held every year after Kengu Yoshida established Daigengu, one of the shrines in Yoshida Shrine, in the Muromachi era.  Daigengu is a national treasure now. Other events the shrine is famous for include:

(2) Ekijin-Festival: Ekijin means “petrel,” a type of God who brings bad luck. This festival is held to wish that petrels(tube-nosed seabirds) will not be in a bad temper and will be calm in the mountains and rivers. [This idea probably derived from the region’s superstitions. In Russia, many petrel species of the order Procellariiformes are known as burevestnik, which literally means ‘the announcer of the storm’. Sailors’ legends are said to regard the storm petrels as warnings of oncoming storms. Petrels were also considered to be “soul birds”, representing the souls of drowned sailors, and it was considered unlucky to touch them. Source: Carboneras, C. (1992) “Family Hydrobatidae (Storm-petrels)” pp. 258–265 in Handbook of Birds of the World Vol 1. Barcelona:Lynx Edicions, ISBN 84-87334-10-5]

(3) Tsuina Ceremony: Tsuina means “to drive out evil spirits.” This festival has been held since the early Heian period (from 794 to 1192) following the ancient customs and exhibiting a Heian flavor.

(4) Karo Festival: Karo means “the place where you can make a fire.” The bonfire consists of piled timber, 5 meters in height. As the flames reach up to the sky, spring comes.

(5) Natsugoe Daifutsu Ceremony: Another ceremony is held on June 30th. Natsugoe means “the passing of summer,” and Daifutsu means “to wipe out.” On this day at the middle of the year, visitors pass through a large thatched ring built in front of the torii (the gateway at the entrance) three times in order to purify themselves and to wish that the rest of the year will be calm. About 1,000 visitors come to this ceremony every year. You will receive a small thatched ring for free as a talisman.

The shrine is closely affiliated with the Kyoto University, offering protection over the university (see  Kyoto University: “The Ancient Shrine Continues to Watch Over Kyoto University.”)


Visit Jeffrey Freidl’s blog for his beautiful photos of the Yoshida shrine

Wikipedia article Yoshida_Shrine

Kyoto Visitor’s Guide

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s