Okazaki Shrine – The Rabbit Shrine of Kyoto
Calling all bunny lovers! This shrine is a must visit if you’re planning a stop in Kyoto.
Just a few blocks east of the bustling Heian Shrine lies the far more peaceful Okazaki Shrine. Once you make your way inside, you’ll quickly see why it’s become a popular place.
Okazaki Shrine has its beginnings along with Kyoto itself, more than 1200 years ago when the city was being built as Heian-kyo. The shrine was founded along with three others, positioned in the cardinal directions, to protect the city from evil as it was under construction. Since it took the east position, Okazaki Shrine is also known as Higashi Tenno, the “Eastern Emperor.”
Enshrined here is Susano’o, god of storms and the sea. He is known as a bit of a troublemaker for quarreling with his sister, the sun goddess Amaterasu, and causing the light to disappear from the world for a while. But he’s also known as the powerful warrior who tricked and defeated an eight-headed dragon, the Orochi, and rescued his future wife, Kushinada-hime. She and their eight children are also enshrined here.
How did a shrine dedicated to a fierce and boisterous kami like Susano’o become associated with cute, fuzzy bunnies?
Long ago, the shrine’s land and its surrounding area was the natural habitat for a large population of wild rabbits. As the rabbits appeared around the shrine, they became known as the messengers of the kami, and so became an important aspect of the shrine itself.
And what else are rabbits known for besides being adorable and fluffy? That’s right… having lots of babies! For this reason as well as the many children bore by Kushinada-hime, Okazaki Shrine is closely associated with conception and childbirth. It has became a popular place to pray for couples wanting children and expectant mothers.
Though the shrine grounds are relatively small, there are lots of bunnies to be found.
At the chozuya, we have a large black rabbit called the Kosazuke Usagi, which can be translated as the Fertility Bunny. (Her relation to the Easter Bunny is unclear.) Pouring water over her head and rubbing her belly is said to ensure easy childbirth.
Alongside the menacing komainu dogs present at most shrines we have komausagi. These fearsome guard bunnies protect the inner sanctuary against evil influence.
In front of the offering box, we have a pair of manekiusagi, beckoning rabbits.
There are plenty of rabbit themed souvenirs available to commemorate your visit. The mikuji (fortunes) are packaged in small white rabbit containers and are particularly popular. Wooden ema in a variety of styles, on which you can write your hopes and wishes, are also available. The omamori (charms) come in all sorts of colors with bunny images stitched on them. You can even buy your own small Fertility Bunny statue for your house!
We’ve listed only a handful of the many rabbit statues and images within this small and peaceful shrine. How many more can you find on your visit?
From Kyoto station, use the East Underground Exit to the subway station. Take the Karasuma Line on Platform 2 (for Kokusai Kaikan) and get off at Marutamachi Station, four stops away. Take Exit 1 which will place you right in front of a bus stop. Take bus number 204 and get off at the Okazaki Jinja Mae stop.
This bus route will take you past Heian Shrine, so you can easily do both shrines in an afternoon. To do so, get off at the Okazaki Michi stop for Heian Shrine, then continue on foot (or back on bus 204) to Okazaki Shrine afterwards.