Gokoku Shrine 京都霊山護国神社
This area of Kyoto around Nene-no-Michi and Kodaiji Temple was frequented by many men and women who opposed the Tokugawa regime at the end of the Edo Period of Japanese history - in an era now called the Bakumatsu - literally "the end of the Bakufu."
This period began with the arrival of Commodore Perry's Black Ships off the coast of Shimoda on the Izu Peninsula near Tokyo and was to cause a crisis of response on the part of the Japanese authorities. Various factions gathered in Kyoto, the imperial capital, under the slogan of sonno joi (Revere The Emperor; Expel the Barbarians) hoping to force a restoration of imperial rule to counteract the threat from the encroaching Western powers.
A period of instability and violence was unleashed lasting from 1853 until the Meiji Restoration of 1868 and many of the pro-imperial forces who died in the ensuing 15-year struggle against the Tokugawa are buried in the cemetery behind Gokoku Shrine including such heroes as Sakamoto Ryoma, Nakaoka Shintaro, Kido Koin (Kido Takayoshi) and his geisha lover Ikumatsu, who sheltered him from the Tokugawa's special forces, the Shinsengumi.
Gokoku Shrine History
Gokoku Shrine was established in 1868 and renovated in 1878 and again in 1929. The cemetery on Higashiyama Ryosen contains the graves of 1,356 royalists who were killed during the Bakumatsu Period or died shortly afterwards having participated in those tumultuous events.
The tombs are closely packed among the trees and signs in Japanese point out the famous activists buried here. It is truly an atmospheric scene.
Various festivals at the shrine commemorate the bloody events of the 1850's and 1860's including a Ryoma Festival on 15 November. From a look out among the graves there are fantastic views out over Kyoto city.
Gokoku Shrine took on greater significance during Japan's militaristic period in the early Showa Period in the 1930's and today there are also monuments dedicated to the sacrifice of those who fell in World War II, including members of Japan's kamikaze squadrons. Altogether 73,011 spirits are enshrined here including patriots who fell in the First Sino-Japanese War, the Russo-Japanese War and the Pacific War.
There is also a monument to Justice Radha Binod Pal, an Indian judge at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal, who found all of the accused Japanese innocent on the grounds of "victors' justice." A similar stone plaque stands in the grounds of Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo.
The many Gokoku shrines throughout Japan share many of the same kami as Yasukuni Shrine and have several other associations and connections.
Gokoku Jinja Access - Getting To Gokoku Shrine
Gokoku Shrine is a 10-15-minute walk from Shijo Keihan Station. From Kyoto Station, take the #206 or #207 bus to the Gion bus stop and walk up the hill.
1 Seikanji Ryozancho
Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto 605-0861.
Tel: 075 561 7124
Free admission to the shrine grounds and 300 yen to visit the cemetery.
Gokoku Shrine is located at the top of Kodaiji Minami Monzen-dori.
A visit to Gokoku Jinja can be combined with seeing nearby Maruyama Park, Chionin Temple, Shoren-in, Ryozen Kannon, the Ryozen Museum of History, Kodaiji Temple, the Gion district, and Kiyomizudera Temple. The Okazaki museum district and Heian Shrine with its huge vermilion torii gate are to the north.
Accommodation in Gion
Gion is one of the most popular places in Kyoto to stay on any vacation to the ancient capital of Japan. Some of the accommodation options on offer in Gion are traditional Japanese guest houses, ryokan or minshuku, a few of them converted machiya (Edo Period wooden merchant houses). They offer a traditional Japanese stay, that is sleeping in futon mattresses on tatami (woven straw) floors and sharing a hot tub. (Note: Guests remove their shoes before entering).
Recently to cater to modern, Western tastes many of the guest houses have become holiday homes or apartments: Japanese in spirit, decor and interior furnishings but Western in usage with beds, Wifi and attached showers.
Some recommended places to stay in Gion include Hana-Touro Hotel Gion, with Japanese-style restaurant, concierge desk, plus kimono and bicycle hire, Hotel The Celestine Kyoto Gion, which features an on-site restaurant, Tempura Endo Yasaka, serving Japanese cuisine including tempura and sushi, Iori Machiya Stay, offering machiya accommodation in various locations in Kyoto and Yuzuya Ryokan, a luxurious 5-star traditional inn with antique furnishings and seasonal ikebana arrangements. All rooms include tatami floors and traditional futon bedding.
See a full listing of accommodation in Kyoto's Gion district.