It’s impossible to miss the larger-than-life red shrine gate at the entrance to Kamigamo, one of Japan’s oldest shrines. Built in the year 678, it pre-dates Kyoto’s reign as capitol of Japan by over a century. Its longevity lends a hand to Kamigamo’s regard as one of the country’s most sacred and divine shrines: it housed and played host to four Emperors between the 8th and 18th centuries. Kamigamo’s esteemed history is celebrated every year during Aoi Matsuri, one of Kyoto’s three biggest festivals, when a large procession dressed in Imperial garb from the days of the Heian period marches to the shrine.
Kamigamo and its sister-shrine, Shimogamo, are situated in the ancient Tadasu no Mori, a preserved forest with trees over 600 years old. Visitors flock to two sand cones that rest in front of the shrine’s main building. These structures are said to protect and purify the grounds. Of the shrine buildings, the worship hall is the most famous.
By train, the shrine can be reached in 30 minutes from Demachi-Yanagi Station or by a 15-mintue walk from Kitayama Station on the Karasuma Subway Line. By city bus, take #4 to the last stop, Kamigamojinja-mae. Kamigamo’s main buildings are undergoing renovations until 2015 and are covered by scaffolding. The shrine is open year-round and there is no entrance fee.