Activity: Talk or presentation types › Oral presentation
Since about a decade ago, five Kyoto shrines are actively portraying themselves in promotional material as the ancient guardians of the old capital despite the fact that all but two of these shrines existed around the time of the city’s founding. In this configuration, Kamigamo shrine, Yasaka Jinja, Jonangu, and Matsuo Taisha are made to correspond to the four guardian deities of the cardinal directions (the Black Turtle-Snake, the Azure Dragon, the Vermilion Bird, and the White Tiger, respectively), while Heian Jingu presents itself as the Yellow Dragon of the Center, a directional guardian not typically present in Japanese adaptations of ancient Chinese cosmology. This paper traces the history of each of the shrines to explain how and why they came to be identified with the directional deities. Emphasis is placed on Heian Jingu, the youngest, yet most important shrine in the configuration. Constructed in the late nineteenth century to commemorate the 1100th anniversary of Kyoto’s founding, the shrine itself is replete with references to the four guardian deities of the cardinal directions and therefore also provides an interesting case study of the establishment of a shrine of national importance in the climate of shinbutsu bunri and the process in which the entire shrine set-up, from the actual buildings and decorations to the rituals and the shrine priests, was created.