Gion worship

Shinto or Shinbutsu-shūgō faith

Gion worship, or Gion shinkō in Japanese, is a form of Shintoism that used to center around the deity Gozu Tenno. However, during the Meiji era when there was a separation of Shintoism and Buddhism, the Japanese government required that the focus of Gion worship shift to the deity Susanoo.[1]

Yasaka shrine during the Gion festival, the largest shrine and festival of the Gion faith

The primary shrines of the Gion faith are Yasaka Shrine located in Kyoto and Hiromine Shrine in Hyogo Prefecture..[2]

Gozu Tenno was a deity originally rooted in Buddhist-style Onmyōdō and is believed to have served as the guardian deity of Jetavana, the monastery where Buddha is believed to have studied.[3][4] In China, Gozu Tenno was influenced by Taoism, and in Japan, he merged with Susanoo, the Shinto Kami. Both Gozu Tenno and Susanoo were considered plague gods, which led to their association.[5] In Japan, Gozu Tenno was also believed to be the Buddha Bhaisajyaguru. The description of Gozu Tenno in Shinnaiden is particularly prominent.

The Gion faith originated in the Heian period with the purpose of preventing epidemics by pacifying the god of pestilence. In the late 10th century, people in Kyoto started holding an annual festival at Yasaka Shrine (then known as Gion Shrine), which eventually became the famous Gion festival.[6][7] By the Middle Ages, the Gion faith had spread throughout Japan, and Gion shrines or Gyozo tenno shrines were established to enshrine Gyozo tenno. The Goryokai or Tenno Festival was held as a ritual procession during this time.[8]

During the Meiji era, the government implemented a policy of separating Shinto and Buddhism, known as Shinbutsu Bunri. As a result, many Shinto shrines that had previously been associated with Buddhist practices and deities were forced to disassociate themselves from Buddhism. In the case of the Gion Shrine and the Gozu Tenno Shrine, they had to change their names and say Gozu tenno was Susanoo. This was a part of a larger effort to promote Shinto as the national religion of Japan and distance it from foreign influences, particularly Buddhism..

While the worship of Susanoo is often associated with the Gion faith and its origin in the Gozu Tenno deity, there are also many other shrines that worship Susanoo in their own independent traditions. Some of these shrines, such as Susa Shrine and Yaegaki Shrine, have been worshipping Susanoo for centuries before the practice of worshipping Gozu Tenno was prohibited. These shrines have their own unique practices and beliefs, separate from the Gion faith.

Gion shrines


There are many Gion shrines. Yasaka Shrine being the most prominent[2]


  1. 川村『牛頭天王と蘇民将来伝説——消された異神たち』(2007)
  2. 2.0 2.1 kyotokankoyagi (2021-01-06). "Gozu Tenno and Yasaka shrine: The Deity is still alive in the fear of COVID-19 牛頭天王英語で説明". ヤギの京都観光案内/KYOTO GOAT BLOG (in Japanese). Retrieved 2022-06-16. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name ":0" defined multiple times with different content
  3. Lillehoj, Elizabeth (2004-01-01). Critical Perspectives on Classicism in Japanese Painting: 1600 - 1700. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-2699-4.
  4. "Japan Shinto Kami Gods | Gozu-Tennō 牛頭天王| Rods Shinto". shintoshrines. Retrieved 2022-01-10.
  5. McMullin, Neil (1988-02-01). "On Placating the Gods and Pacifying the Populace: The Case of the Gion "Goryō" Cult". History of Religions. 27 (3): 270–293. doi:10.1086/463123. ISSN 0018-2710.
  6. Chapin, Helen B. (September 1934). "The Gion Shrine and the Gion Festival". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 54 (3): 282–289. doi:10.2307/594168. ISSN 0003-0279. JSTOR 594168.
  7. "The Gion Festival: Exploring Its Mysteries". The Gion Festival. Retrieved 2022-01-10.
  8. Teeuwen, Mark; Rambelli, Fabio (2003). Buddhas and kami in Japan [electronic resource] : honji suijaku as a combinatory paradigm. Library Genesis. London ; New York : RoutledgeCurzon. ISBN 978-0-203-22025-2.

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