Okera Mairi at Yasaka Shrine, Kyoto: Video Introduction
This video, titled "Yasaka Shrine "Okera Mairi" (December 31, 2021, Higashiyama, Kyoto)" (八坂神社「おけら詣り」（2021年12月31日 京都市東山区）), was uploaded by "Kyoto Shimbun" (京都新聞).
The video introduces Okera Mairi, a New Year's Eve ritual performed by priests on a night with light snowfall. Be sure to check it out as you read along.
Highlights, History, and Facts About Yasaka Shrine
Photo：Yasaka Shrine, Kyoto
Yasaka Shrine is called "Gion-san" ("san" being an honorific title attached to names in Japanese to show respect) by the people of Kyoto. Yasaka Shrine is the head shrine of all 2,300 shrines following the Gion faith in Japan. The shrine's deity is Susanoo no Mikoto, who is believed to be a god who purifies all manner of misfortune. Yasaka Shrine is home to many Important Cultural Properties, including the main shrine, which is also a National Treasure, and is one of the most popular sightseeing spots in Kyoto's Higashiyama district. The shrine is also famous for its beauty and is known as a power spot for love.
The shrine also has a power spot for beauty called "Utsukushi-gozensha." The "biyou-sui" (美容水, "beauty water") next to the torii gate is also popular. Maiko and geiko from Gion, a temple town, as well as people in the beauty and hairdressing industry, and many women from all over the country visit this shrine with prayers of beauty. It's said a few drops on the skin is said to promote both beautiful skin and a beautiful, and it's so popular that visitors come regardless of the season.
Yasaka Shrine is also said to be the largest power spot for love in Kyoto because Kushinadahime (Kushinadahime no Mikoto), a god of love, is enshrined together with Susanoo no Mikoto, the god of the shrine, and they are regarded as a god couple that gets along very well. The shrine is thought to grant good fortune.
Okera Mairi – Event Hours and the Meaning Behind the Event
The Okera Mairi (おけら詣り) event of Yasaka Shrine, held on the night of December 31st (New Year's Eve), is a custom to welcome the New Year and is unique to Kyoto.
Starting at 4:00 a.m. on the 28th, the rhizomes of atractylodes (朮, Okera in Japanese), which are believed to ward off bad luck, are placed in a lantern to make an "okera fire." At 7:00 p.m. on the 31st, the fire is transferred from the okera lanterns in the main shrine to the okera lanterns hanging in the precincts by the priests after the New Year's Eve ceremony. Be sure to watch the video to see what this looks like.
[Video] 0:44 - Priests Solemnly Proceeding Through the Precincts of the Shrine as Snow Falls
Atractylodes (Okera) is believed to ward off evil spirits and protect people from illness and misfortune because of its strong and distinctive smell. After the kitchounawa (lucky ropes) are lit using the fire from the okera lanterns, the ropes are whirled around to keep the fire burning until it is brought back home.
[Video] 2:01 - Shrine Goers Lighting Their Lucky Ropes
In the past, the okera fires were lit in front of the shrine and used as fuel for cooking New Year's food. Later, as lifestyles changed, it became common to display the rope in one's kitchen after the fire had gone out as a good-luck charm to pray for good health throughout the year.
Other Events at Yasaka Shrine
Photo：Yasaka Shrine, Kyoto
Yasaka Shrine is a popular place to visit for Hatsumode (the first shrine visit of the year), with more than 1 million people visiting the shrine during the first 3 days of the new year in recent years. However, many people have refrained from visiting the shrine since 2021 due to the spread of the novel coronavirus. For Hatsumode in 2023, the crowding projections and congestion information have yet to be announced. We recommend checking the latest information before making a visit to the shrine.
The first ritual of the New Year, the Okera Festival will be held in the main hall of the shrine starting at 5:00 a.m. on January 1. In this ritual to pray for a safe and peaceful new year, dried atractylodes roots and special sticks are mixed together. After the sacred okera fires are lit, they are thrown down from the main shrine onto the stone pavement of the shrine grounds to purify it of pestilence and evil spirits.
On January 3, from 9:00 a.m., the heads of the Kongo and Kanze schools of noh will perform a New Year's noh performance, a noh and shimai dance performance, followed at 1:00 p.m. by Karuta Hajime-shiki, a ceremony to start the New Year with a traditional card game called "Karuta." It's a great way to experience the New Year in Japan.
Summary of Okera Mairi at Yasaka Shrine, Kyoto
Yasaka Shrine is one of the most popular and crowded spots in Kyoto during the year-end and New Year holidays. Following the Okera Mairi on the night of New Year's Eve, Yasaka Shrine is filled with the excitement of people visiting the shrine for Hatsumode. During the Hatsumode period, many food stalls are set up on the shrine grounds and around the outer garden, creating a festival-like atmosphere. If you plan to visit the shrine to see the New Year rituals and festivities, we recommend that you allow plenty of time for your visit, as the shrine can be quite crowded.
【Official Website】Yasaka Shrine