The Sports Shrine of Kyoto: Shiramine!

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Shiramine Shrine (白峯神宮) is a Shinto Shrine in Kamigyō-ku, Kyoto. The Shrine is dedicated to the veneration of the kami of Emperor Junnin and Emperor Sutoku. Annually in mid–September two Noh performances are held at the Shiramine Shrine in memory of Emperor Sutoku. Shiramine is also home to the deity Seidai Myojin. This deity is known as the spirit god of ball sports, and the shrine “store” is the only one in Japan which sells “fighting spirit” amulets. Therefore, famous sportspersons and club members visit this shrine to buy them and carry them for luck in competition. In 2002 and 2006, the Japan Football Association offered up to the shrine the official balls used in both the World Cups of those years, and the Japan Women’s Volleyball Association also offered up a ball which they had used in the trials for the Athens Olympics.

There are two former emperors of Japan buried in this shrine: Emperor Junnin and Emperor Sutoku. Emperor Junnin was born in 733, and was known as Haitei, or the unthroned emperor. He did not appear on the official list of Japanese emperors until the late 19th century, and was given the name of Emperor Junnin by Emperor Meiji. Emperor Junnin was responsible for great work, however, such as relief for the poor, tax reductions, and the striking of new currency. Nevertheless, following an epic battle, he was exiled to Awaji Island and died there in 765.

Emperor Sutoku was born in 1119, and came to the throne as the 75th emperor of Japan in 1123. After a long reign, he lost a major battle in 1156 and was exiled to the Shikoku region. Unfortunately, he died there in 1164 and was buried on Mt. Shiramine in Sakaide, Shikoku. After his death, severe famine and war were to plague his home province, and many believed these to be acts of vengeance by his spirit. During his life, he displayed a real talent for poetry and wrote a lot of famous poems. He was also a good Gagaku musician. Gagaku is ceremonial court music and is used to accompany many traditional dances in Japan.

Many years later, Emperor Koumei attempted to have the grave of Emperor Sutoku relocated to Kyoto in order to calm the wrath of his vengeful spirit. Unfortunately, he was unable to achieve this in his lifetime. Therefore, it was left to the Emperor Meiji, the second child of Koumei, to complete the task. The present shrine was established by the Emperor Meiji in September, 1863, and Sutoku’s grave given a new home. Following this, in 1873, the grave of Emperor Junnin was also relocated to the shrine, away from Awaji Island. Originally the home of the nobleman, Asukai, the shrine became the base for the ancient game of Kemari and a form of Japanese poetry known as Waka.

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