Mysterious Shrine Hidden in the Kyoto Forests – Kamo Jinja

Kyoto is well-known for its elegant and serene Zen temples but this eternal city has a spooky side, as well. I visited one of its most mysterious places in Kyoto, a “power spot” shrine hidden in a thick and tall cedar forest far north from the city center.

Kamo Jinja (賀茂神社 or 加茂神社) is a secret “power spot” located in the dense mountain forests of Northern Ukyo-ku in Kyoto. It’s a very mysterious place, without many details disclosed to the public. In fact, it looks rather abandoned and ominous. Kamo Jinja has a heavy, gloomy atmosphere, perfect for those pilgrims who are interested in occultism and ghost stories.

Stone komainu 狛犬 covered in moss are guarding the shrine.

Founded more than thousand years ago, upon a request of Emperor Sanjo 三条天皇 (1011-1016), the mystical Kamo Jinja enshrines three major deities of the Kifune Shrine (高お神 Takaokanokami), Kumano Shrine (伊弉冊尊 Izanami no mikoto), and Hiyoshi Shrine (国狭立尊 Kunisatachi no mikoto along with 湍津姫命 Tagitsuhime no mikoto). These three shrines are crucial for Japanese Shinto worship. Interestingly enough, all three of them are also considered to be “powerful energy spots” and they’re connected with Japanese occult legends (compare with my article on the Kifune Jinja HERE).

The atmosphere at the shrine is heavy and you can sense that this place has so many dark secrets.

There are over 300 Kamo Shrines in Japan, but the most famous two are located in the Kyoto city – they’re called Kamigamo and Shimogamo. The Kamo Shrine in Ukyo-ku seems to be connected with them in a way, although there’s no solid evidence on that, just a guess. The main deity of this particular Kamo Shrine is 賀茂別雷神 Kamowakeikazuchi no kami, which is the same kami that guards the Kamigamo Shrine in Kyoto. It seems that a festival is held each May 15th, the same day as Aoi Matsuri of Kamigamo Jinja downtown. One of the possible kanji writings for Kamo Jinja is 賀茂神社 that correlates with Kamigamo, the most influential Shinto center of worship. Such shrines commemorate an influential Kamo clan of ancient Japan, a family of Shinto scholars and priests.

There are forgotten ema plates with wishes written on the back. But there’s no place selling them at the shrine…
Ema usually have auspicious motifs painted in the front.
Some of the ema were scattered in the mud.
“Peace for the world. Peace for Japan. Peace for this neighbourhood. Peace for my house”
New Year wishes.
Wooden blocks and an empty bag of rice.

Legend says that this eerie Kamo Jinja was put on fire by the Sengoku period’s military commander, Akechi Mitsuhide 明智光秀, in 1579 and it was rebuilt only in 1612. The current hall of the shrine was erected in 1783. On the left, there’s an altar dedicated to the Kamigamo Shrine. On the right – Kifune and Kumano. The small altar in the middle is strongly connected with the Hiyoshi shrine and its spirits.

Elephant decorations carved from a single block of wood.
The Hiyoshi Shrine’s altar.
The Kamigamo Shrine’s altar.
A withered ritual wand with attached paper shide 紙垂.

It looks like this forest shrine was re-discovered by the locals only around June 2020. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Japanese Instagrammers and bloggers were competing in finding the best hidden spots around Kyoto free of the usual crowds touring the historical capital. Kamo Jinja is still quite forgotten and abandoned. Exploring this shrine is a bit like an urbex experience.

This dense cedar forest is called はたの森 hata no mori by the locals.
The shrine looks like someone left it in hurry and never came back (that is not the case, however).
This metal hall protects the shrine structures from heavy snow piling up in winter.

It’s quite difficult to reach Kamo Jinja if you haven’t got a car and excellent driving skills. The road leading to the shrine is shockingly narrow and steep, signs are misleading, and the drive is 1-hour long. Google Maps is not too helpful, either. The shrine can be accessed only on foot and requires a short hike uphill. It’s a forest path separated from the outside road with a spooky-looking metal gate that needs to be opened and closed by each visitor. This fence is a protection from the mountain bears.

The neighbourhood village.

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Kamo Jinja
京都市右京区京北中江町 Kyoto Ukyo-ku Keihokunakae-cho

5 Replies to “Mysterious Shrine Hidden in the Kyoto Forests – Kamo Jinja”

  1. Is there any way to get to this shrine with public transportation from Kyoto ?

    1. Hi Naomi!
      I’ve heard it’s accessible but you need to walk a lot. I recommend a rental car!

      1. Where do you park your rental car if you plan to visit the shrine? I am looking via google map street view to find any parking lots nearby or a safe pull off spot. I want to be respectful and not block or park on someone’s property by accident

        1. There’s a tiny parking in front of the forests’ gate. I believe it’s not marked on Google Maps.

  2. I really appreciate the fast response on a 3 year old post. Your travel posts has inspired me to plan for a less touristy trip itinerary for later this year!

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