You probably assume that all the shrines in Japan would have a minimum of a few centuries of history. However, this isn’t the case for Ōmi Jingū (近江神宮), close to Lake Biwa in Ōtsu City! Although it was founded only in 1940, the shrine’s location and the god enshrined hold some important Japanese history dating back to the mid-7th century.
Recently, the shrine became even more well-known due to the film based on a popular Japanese comic, Chihayafuru (ちはやふる), being shot there.
The god of Ōmi Jingū is the 38th emperor of Japan, Emperor Tenji (天智天皇), who accomplished many achievements and made many positive contributions that helped shape the Japan we know today. His legend begins with taking Japan back from the Soga clan (蘇我氏), a powerful family at the time. Then he issued Japan’s first written constitution (the Ōmi Code (近江令)) and also established a family registration system, school system, tax system, and many more.
He is also the emperor who moved the capital to Ōtsu in 667 (although it was moved back to Nara after five years).
Due to his importance and significant contribution, people come to Ōmi Jingū for almost all types of prayers and wishes that they need assistance with.
The Founding of Ōmi Jingū
Since the Meiji period (1868 – 1912), those who admired the achievements of Emperor Tenji petitioned to have a shrine built for him. This was finally accepted and approved by Emperor Shōwa. As part of celebrating the 2,600th anniversary of Japan’s imperial court, Ōmi Jingū was successfully erected in 1940.
On the Precinct of Ōmi Jingū
Ōmi Jingū has a total of two torii gates. The first one you will encounter is Ichi no Torii (一の鳥居) in a residential area. If you pass the first Myōjin Torii (明神鳥居), then you are on the sacred ground.
The approach is lined with trees making the atmosphere solemn.
Then at the top of a short set of staircases is where the second Myōjin Torii standing. Passing this gate, you will see many big and small rocks with Japanese poems carved on them, all by famous Japanese poets.
Passing the purification fountain at your left, there is a gorgeous vermilion-painted tower gate at the top of another staircase.
This tower gate is basically the main symbol of the shrine. It also appeared in one of the scenes in the movie Chihayafuru, where the main characters prayed for their success in winning the Karuta cards competition.
Beyond the tower gate is where the worship halls are located.
Although normal pilgrims can only pray at the outer worship hall (Gehaiden, 外拝殿), you can still somewhat see the inner worship hall (Naihaiden, 内拝殿) behind it.
The main worship hall is located even further back.
One of the major achievements of Emperor Tenji is the creation of a water clock in 671. The water clock was located in the Ōtsu Palace, close to where Ōmi Jingū is today.
Because of that water clock, the palace was able to introduce the idea of “timekeeping” to its citizens. Drums and bells were then rung at certain times of the day to notify the commoners what the time was.
Since the shrine is all about Emperor Tenji, a replica of the water clock was made and given to the shrine by the agent of OMEGA in Japan in 1964.
In 1920, the 10th of June was set to be the Day of Time (時の記念日) to commemorate the day when the first clock in Japan was completed (equivalent to the 25th of April of the lunar calendar used back then). On the day, the Rōkokusai Festival (Water Clock Festival) is held at the shrine, where clockmakers and watchmakers pray for the success of their businesses.
In 1979, another replica of an ancient clock was gifted to the shrine by Rolex. This time, it is a fire clock.
The type of clock was used in China around 4,000 years ago at night. Hanging on the body of the bronze dragon are 14 bronze balls. Connected to a thread, the balls will fall one after another as the fire of incense reaches the thread.
Clock Museum (時計館) and Treasure Hall (宝物館)
If you have time, stop by the Clock Museum and Treasure Hall. You will find around 3,200 clocks and watches from various periods of time across the world and some ink paintings from the Edo period!
Not too far from the entrance of the museum/treasure hall, there is another traditional clock standing. The sundial is somewhat special in the way the directions of a couple of major shrines in Japan are marked.
Ōmi Jingū – The Palace of Karuta (かるたの殿堂)
If you know a bit about Japanese culture, you might have heard of the traditional card game, Karuta. The game consists of two players, each with 100 Karuta cards in front of them. They are usually given 15 minutes to memorize the positions and what poems are written on the cards. When the time is up, all cards are flipped over, and the game begins.
A third person will then start reading the poems written on the Karuta cards. The two players will then compete to grab the card being read out. If the card was placed in front of the other player and you managed to grab it, you can give one of your cards to your opponent. You win the game if you clear out all the cards in front of you.
The game may sound a bit too easy, but to be good at it, it requires a good amount of concentration, mental strength, and level of reflexes and physical strength. In fact, this game has been classified as an ‘athletic’ activity!
One version of the Karuta cards has the poems of Ogura Hyakunin Isshu (百人一首) printed. The first waka poem of Ogura Hyakunin Isshu (百人一首) was written by Emperor Tenji and is said to be the oldest waka poem that existed.
Since Ōmi Jingū’s establishment, the final round of Karuta has been held in the shrine every year in January.
At Ōmi Jingū, you can reserve to try out one of the traditional clothing during your visit. Reservations can be made by the below methods.
Horseback Archery (流鏑馬)
Since 2015, on the first Sunday of June, Ōmi Jingū has been hosting traditional horseback archery as part of the ritual where people pray for prosperity. On one side of the 200-meter-long approach, three targets are set for the rider to shoot with bows and arrows.
Horseback archery may be more famous in Kyoto’s Shimogamo Shrine (下鴨神社), but there is usually less crowd at Ōmi Jingū, so you should be able to enjoy the event more here!
The Cherry Blossom and the Autumn Foliage Season at Ōmi Jingū
- The cherry blossom season is from early to mid-April.
- The autumn color usually peaks from mid-November and lasts all the way to early December.
Ōmi Jingū’s Opening Hours, Admission Fee, and Access Information
- The opening hours of Ōmi Jinū are from 6 am to 6 pm.
- The shrine’s office is open from 9 am to 4:30 pm daily except Mondays, unless it is a public holiday.
- Overall, including visiting the Clock Museum, it will take you around 45 – 60 minutes to explore the shrine
- The admission fee to the clock museum and treasure hall is
- 300 yen for adults
- 150 yen for elementary and junior high school students
- From Keihan’s Ōmi-Jingu-Mae Station (近江神宮前駅), it is around a 5 to 10-minute walk.
- If you are taking a JR train, you can change at either Ishiyama Station (石山駅) or Zeze Station (膳所駅) for a Kaihan train.
- From JR’s Ōtsukyō Station (大津京駅), it is around a 20-minute walk.
Discover Other Attractions in Ōtsu City
Ōtsu, the capital of Shiga Prefecture, is filled with rich cultural and historical elements. Although it only lasted for five years, we are sure after you admire the scenery of Japan’s biggest lake – Lake Biwa, it won’t be hard to understand why Emperor Tenji (天智天皇) wanted to stay close to it!
For more information, please refer to our article on Ōtsu City (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ.