Okazaki Shrine

Okazaki : The Bunny Shrine

Rabbits have always been these cute furry creatures we always associate with Easter. In Japanese culture, rabbits are known to be used in many traditional  items such as in a kimono, obi, table ware and other various local merchandise. The Chōjū-giga scrolls or “The Scrolls of Frolicking Animals”, considered to be the oldest work of manga, featured rabbits in the first scroll. It illustrates rabbits and monkeys bathing and getting ready for a ceremony. The Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga scrolls are now in the care of the Kyoto National Museum and Tokyo National Museum.

Bunnies at Okazaki Shrine

Bunnies at Okazaki Shrine

Japanese see rabbits as a lucky symbol for advancement because they always seem to only move forward without stepping back. Rabbits are also considered a symbol for cleverness and self-devotion.

The Japanese even have a tiny island called Ōkunoshima in the Inland Sea of Japan, in the city of Takehara in Hiroshima Prefecture. It could be just any small island out of Japan’s 6,852 islands. What makes Ōkunoshima different is that it is also known as Usagi Jima (うさぎ島) or Rabbit Island because of the unbelievable number of feral rabbits that call it home.

Okazaki Shrine in Kyoto

Kyoto was once the capital of Japan and was the residence of the emperor from 794 until 1868. It is one of the country’s biggest cities. Over the centuries, Kyoto experienced many wars and fires  but it was spared from the ravages of World War II. That is why there are still numerous temples, shrines and other historical structures that remain in the city today. One such shrine is the Okazaki Shrine dedicated to none other than the adorable furry mammals.

Okazaki Shrine is a Shinto shrine located north east of the Okazaki museum district and the famous Heian Jingu. Okazaki Shrine has a long history dedicated to the mythical kami Susano-no-mikoto and Kushinadahime-no-mikoto and their three daughters and five sons. The main focus of the shrine is the fertility in childbirth, and we all know the saying, “breed like rabbits”. But is that really the origins of the shrine?

Statue at Okazaki Shrine

The History of Okazaki Shrine

Okazaki Shrine is considered to be one of the four shrines that was built to serve as rhumb lines or compass points of the then new capital of Japan, Kyoto, heralding the beginning of the Heian Period by Emperor Kanmu. Okazaki Shrine at the time was known as Higashi-tenno or Eastern King. The shrine was supposed to protect the emperor from malevolent forces coming from the eastern direction.

Statue at Okazaki Shrine.

The successful birth of an empress in 1178 allowed the shrine to receive imperial favor and made it a popular shrine associated with childbirth as well as the initial purpose of preventing evil from the east.

Known for their proclivity in producing offspring, rabbits are the servants of the enshrined kami and statues of rabbits are seen all over the Okazaki Shrine grounds. Rabbits are also depicted on the shrine’s wooden tablets where worshipers write messages expressing their wishes to conceive or give birth safely to healthy children.

Okazaki Shrine today is a popular place to celebrate traditional Shinto marriages  with the hope that the lucky couple will be blessed with a full and healthy family.