On the western side of Kyoto’s Imperial Palace lies a Shinto Shrine known as ‘Goo Shrine’. It enshrines Wake no Kiyomaro, a high-ranking Japanese official of the Nara period. It is guarded by boar statues which are believed to protect him. There is a good story behind all this, let’s dig deeper into it!
Wake no Kiyomaro was born to an important political family, but became a devoted Buddhist who tried to keep religion and politics separated. During his life’s journey, he became a trusted adviser of Emperor Kammu, the 50th emperor of Japan. He took a great advantage of the position by allowing Buddhism to flourish without posing a threat to the government.
According to some history texts, Kiyomaro was sent to the Usa Shrine in the city of Oita Prefecture. There, he received a divine message regarding who should become the next emperor. It stated that only a descent of Amaterasu, a major deity of Shinto religion, could become the emperor. However, it contradicted a previous divine message that Yuke no Dokyo, a Japanese monk and political figure, was to be the next emperor.
The new divine message angered Dokyo so much that he was going to issue an order to send Kiyomaro into exile. It was Empress Koken who actually gave the order, for she was thought to be Dokyo’s lover. Upon his exile, Dokyo also ordered Kiyomaro’s sinews to be cut. He then started fleeing, and was able to get away from his pursuers due to the protection by three hundred wild boars which suddenly appeared out of nowhere…
As a way of praising the boars that have protected him, Go’o Shrine became an iconic symbol of these animals. You can see a pair of stone boars standing on the main entrance, and in front of the main worship hall. Every year on the first day of November, a Boar Festival is held. It is at this time of the year that the shrine receives many guests who have leg ailments or injuries, which are tightly associated with the whole story. Some of them are just praying for safe travels or avoidance of disasters. So if you are visiting the Imperial Palace in Kyoto, be sure to stop by this nearby shrine to pray for your protection by the boars!