The Love Stones: Kyoto, Japan

One of the great things about the shrines and temples of Japan are the traditions, rituals and trinkets you find there. By the time you’ve visited your second or third temple though, you’re going to see similarities. Such as the –

Ema: wooden tablets on which messages to the gods are written and then hung from frames in front of the temple.

Omamori: good luck charms that sometimes look like little cloth envelopes. Often found hanging from bags and rear-view mirrors.

And Omikuji: paper fortunes written in Japanese (although a shrine/temple in larger cities may have an English translation). Omikuji are selected by way of a lucky dip type process and it’s likely you’ll see them tied near or around pine trees or more commonly on wired frames in and around the temple. In this case, what you’re looking at are bad fortunes that people have chosen to leave at the temple so that the bad luck predicted doesn’t follow them home.

Imma leave this right here.

And while it’s true that, much like churches, many temples and shrines throughout Japan are very similar, there are places which have features, traditions and rituals totally unique to the area, such as the Love Stones of Jinsha-Jinja.

Built before the recorded history of Japan but added to and restored during the Nara and Tokugawa Periods, Jinsha-Jinja is dedicated to the Shinto Gods of love and relationships. It’s located in the Kiyomizu-dera Temple complex in Kyoto and while you’ll definitely find the aforementioned fortune telling items here you’ll also find the Koiuranai-no-ishi or Love Stones.

These two knee-high rocks, set approximately 10 metres apart, were allegedly first meant to lure the Gods to the shrine but now act as a kind of prehistoric love tester. The idea is if you can make it from one stone to the other with your eyes closed then love is around the corner.

However, if you need help from a friend to keep you on the literal straight and narrow (by calling out a series of simple directions) then you’re going to need a little help with your real life journey to love too.

If you do find yourself part of the latter group, and you’d like to improve your romantic fortunes, then head on over to the Otowa Waterfall below Kiyomizu-dera’s main hall.

Also unique to this shrine, the spring waters of Otowa are redirected into three symbolic streams that pour over a stone structure into a pool below.

Stand under the structure, take one of the tin cups on bamboos poles, collect a cup full of water from the love stream marked (there is also one for success at school and a third for longevity) and drink deeply.

Don’t over do it though, drinking from all three streams is considered poor form and will result in bad luck.

Similarly, repeatedly walking between the Love Stones until you make it all by yourself is also frowned upon. Although this frowning is less likely to come from the Gods and more likely to come from your travelling companions and the other tourists patiently waiting their turn.

man holding his temples and looking down
“Oh My God, she’s been doing it for hours!!!!”
(photo: Siavash Ghanbari@unsplash)

Further Reading and Bibliography:


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