What is Omi Jingu (近江神宮) like? It’s a fiery place that burns with the passion of every Karuta player who has played in a competition. Discover the charms of Omi Jingu, the Holy Land of Karuta!
Omi Jingu is a shrine in Otsu City (大津市), Shiga Prefecture (滋賀県). It is located at the foot of Mt. Usa (宇佐山) with an overlooking view of Lake Biwa (びわ湖). The shrine is dedicated to Emperor Tenji (天智天皇; 626-672), 38th Emperor of Japan who reigned from 668-672. Emperor Tenji has a close tie with Karuta, his poem being the first one in the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu anthology (小倉百人一首).
If you are visiting Omi Jingu, here are some of the best things you should do while you’re there.
When you say Omi Jingu, the image that may come to mind is that of its bright red Romon Gate (楼門) which truly stands out in the middle of the forest that surrounds it. It has also been a key point in the Chihayafuru (ちはやふる) animated series. The opening sequence of the Chihayafuru shows this picturesque facade as well as other parts of the shrine.
Omi Jingu houses the first rokoku, or water clock, in Japan. How can you possibly tell the time using a water clock? After pouring water into it, you can tell the time by the position of the arrow. It’s a fascinating piece of history you can’t miss.
The Rokokusai (漏刻祭; Water Clock Festival) is held every year on June 10 to commemorate the first use of the water clock. There are also different types of clocks in Japan and the worlds that are displayed at the Clock Museum and Treasure House (近江神宮時計館宝物館) within the shrine grounds. The museum is open from 9:30am-4:30pm with an admission fee of ¥300.
Karuta players competing for the top title of Queen or Meijin wear a traditional Japanese attire during their championship match. Experience dressing up as one at Omi Jingu! The rental fee is ¥500 for an hour. If it is your first time wearing a kimono (着物) and hakama (袴), you can ask for help from the staff and they will assist you on how to wear them properly.
Otsu City’s mascot makes an appearance at Omi Jingu! Otsu Hikaru-kun loves poetry and Karuta. This mascot character is modeled from Hikaru Genji (光源氏), the protagonist of Murasaki Shikibu’s (紫式部) novel, The Tale of Genji (源氏物語). You will also see him all over Otsu, from magazines manhole covers!
Otsu Hikaru-kun merchandise, such as purses, keychains, and fans make good souvenirs too, and you can get them at Omi Jingu!
Can you name which poems are in these giant Karuta cards? In Karuta, there are two sets of cards – the yomifuda (読み札) and the torifuda (取り札).
Yomifuda are the reading cards which includes the entire poem written in kanji and hiragana together with an image of its poet. These cards are used by the readers in a Karuta competition. The torifuda are playing cards which only have the second verse of the poem written in hiragana. (Picture: yomifuda).
There are special omikuji, or fortune-telling paper strips, that you can get only in Omi Jingu – Chihayafuru omikuji! There are two illustrations you can choose from, each featuring the key visual of the first and second season of the Chihayafuru animated series. The Chihayafuru omikuji costs ¥300.
Every shrine has different kinds of omamori, or Japanese amulets, and each kind is meant to bring luck. Most of the omamori at Omi Jingu cost ¥1,000. Click here (automatic translation available) to find out more about the amulets.
If you want to be at the right place at the right time, it is recommended you get the blue omamori on the upper right of the (picture above). This omamori shows its bearer the time and direction they should go. The three-eyed guardian on the black omamori possesses the ability to look at the past, present and future. Other amulets give luck related to academic skill improvement, traffic safety, and health protection. There’s also one to help you achieve victory in a championship match; it’s perfect if you are participating a competition!
The Omi Learning Center is the stage of the Karuta Queen and Meijin Tournaments held in January and the National High School Ogura Hyakunin Isshu Karuta Tournament held in July. This building appears in the Chihayafuru animated series and live action movie.
While the ground floor is open to the public, access to the second floor is limited. It also holds the Uruyasu (浦安ルーム) Room, where the top female and male Karuta players are determined and awarded the titles Queen and Meijin.
In 2016, two live action Chihayafuru movies were shown on the big screen. The first movie Chihayafuru: Kami no Ku (ちはやふる上の句) was released in Japan on March 19 and the second movie Chihayafuru: Shimo no Ku (ちはやふる下の句) was released on April 19. In Karuta, “kami-no-ku” refers to the first verse of the poem and “shimo-no-ku” refers to the second verse. Both movies were also screened at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal, Canada in July 2016.
Part of the Chihayafuru movie is also set in Omi Jingu. Movie memorabilia, such as the posters and train plate used in collaboration with the Keihan Railway, are on display. The board (pictured above) is autographed by the Chihayafuru movie cast.
There are many Chihayafuru goods that you can get only in Omi Jingu like shirts, cookies, and coasters, but the best one to bring home with you is none other than your own set of Karuta cards! One kind even has the unique syllables of the poem as watermarks on the torifuda, similar to the ones characters in Chihayafuru used when they were still learning how to play Karuta.
A story of bonds made and strengthened by Karuta, Chihayafuru is an ongoing manga series by Yuki Suetsugu (末次由紀) published in the magazine Be Love by Kodansha (講談社コミック). It was adapted into an animated series with two seasons that aired in 2011 and 2013, and later into live action movies.
Fall in love with Omi Jingu. Think back fondly as you remember each step you took to a place where dreams of becoming the best in Karuta are pursued and may very well come true.
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