History and museums
Yasaka Shrine (八坂神社, Yasaka-jinja), once called Gion Shrine (祇園神社, Gion-jinja), is a Shinto shrine in the Gion District of Kyoto, Japan. Situated at the east end of Shijō-dōri (Fourth Avenue), the shrine includes several buildings, including gates, a main hall and a stage.
Initial construction on the Shrine began in 656. The Shrine became the object of Imperial patronage during the early Heian period. In 965, Emperor Murakami ordered that Imperial messengers be sent to report important events to the guardian kami of Japan. These heihaku were initially presented to 16 shrines; and in 991, Emperor Ichijō added three more shrines to Murakami's list. Three years later in 994, Ichijō refined the scope of that composite list by adding Umenomiya Shrine and Gion Shrine.
From 1871 through 1946, Yasaka Shrine was officially designated one of the Kanpei-taisha (官幣大社), meaning that it stood in the first rank of government supported shrines.
In 869 the mikoshi (divine palanquin) of Gion Shrine were paraded through the streets of Kyoto to ward off an epidemic that had hit the city. This was the beginning of the Gion Matsuri, an annual festival which has become world famous.
Today, in addition to hosting the Gion Matsuri, Yasaka Shrine welcomes thousands of people every New Year, for traditional Japanese New Year rituals and celebrations. In April, the crowds pass through the temple on their way to Maruyama Park, a popular hanami (cherry blossom viewing) site. Lanterns decorate the stage with the names of festival sponsors.