The Heian period (794-1184) is known to have been an era when the full-fledged metropolis of Heian-kyo was founded and Japan’s indigenous national culture known as Kokufu and aristocratic cultures flourished. However, this period was at the same time full of unease, plagued with repeated disasters and epidemics. The still rudimentary fields of medicine and science could not overcome these successive disasters, and it can be well imagined that all citizens, bureaucrats and commoners, were terror-stricken.

Disasters were then considered to have been brought about by ghosts of people of high rank. Thus, they began to hold rituals called Goryo-e to enshrine and calm down these ghosts as departed souls or Goryo, so that they would in turn provide protection from future disasters. Early on, these souls were enshrined individually in different shrines in the suburbs of Kyoto. Later on, it came to be believed that by worshipping these departed souls all together as the Eight Goryo, their godly powers would be intensified. In consequence, Shimogoryo Shrine was founded. Persons of exalted rank who became these ghosts were members of royal families or aristocrats who had unfortunately lost their lives, falsely charged through political conflicts.

The oldest record of a Goryo-e ritual in national history can be traced back to that from May 20, 863 (Jogan 5) in “Nihon Sandai Jitsuroku,” Japan’s national historical document. Presumably, such ceremonies quickly became extremely popular across the country.

The following is an excerpt from this literature:

On this day in the sacred garden of Shinsen-en, a Goryo-e ritual was held. The ceremony was supervised by Fujiwara Mototsune, in obedience to Imperial command, with all people of noble rank, feudal lords, as well as warriors in attendance. An altar arranged with offerings of flowers and fruits was created in front of the six Goryo gods. The ritual was conducted in a profound manner, with the eminent Buddhist priest Etatsu reciting excerpts from the “Golden Light Sutra” and the six volumes of “Heart Sutra.” The Emperor had airs composed by court musicians and had children of Emperors’ courtiers and respectable families act as dancers to Daito Korai, a domesticated form of music originally from China and Korea. Furthermore, actors and comedians were brought in to provide the best in entertainment. On this day, the four gates of Shinsen-en were opened to allow even the commoners to freely enter this holy site.

The so-called Goryo gods are Emperor Sudo, Prince Iyo, Madame Fujiwara, as well as inspector officials (kansatsu-shi), Tachibanana-no-Hayanari and Funya-no-Miyatamaro. Spirits of those that had lost their lives due to false charges reappeared as divine punishments. Frequent epidemics to which many lost their lives were then believed to have been caused by Goryo. The Goryo-e rituals that originated in the Kyoto Region eventually spread to the other localities and it became customary to hold seasonal Goryo-e ceremonies each year.

It was such diseases as enzootic fever, smallpox, or dysentery that prevailed through the densely-populated city. In those days when the field of medicine was still underdeveloped, many people died from these ailments. It can be imagined that Kyoto as the largest metropolis was hit hard by such highly contagious epidemics, while nothing could be done to tame their spreading. People were terrified and it was possibly for these reasons that the custom of worshipping Goryo appeared as an earnest wish for relief from these troubles. The Imperial court must have been eager to hold such grand government-headed “Goryo-e” rituals as well. To open the Shinsen-en garden to the public was also a truly special occasion. From this time on, other similar ceremonies such as the Gion Goryo-e and Murasakino Goryo-e came to flourish.

At the Shimogoryo Shrine, there are eight gods enshrined – six from those enshrined at the Shinsen-en Goryo-e plus two additional gods – calling them Hassho-Goryo, literally meaning eight Gods. Though the precise period of enshrinement is not clear, it may possibly have been around the time of the Shinsen-en Goryo-e ceremony. These Gods are believed to have been originally enshrined within the grounds of Shimo Izumo-ji Temple (later dilapidated) in Izumo Village, Atago County, to the north of present day Teramachi Imadegawa. In later years, they were transferred to the west of Shinmachi Demizu and in 1590 (Tensho 18), relocated to the present site.

Worship by the Imperial Family
Highly worshiped as the guardian deity of the Imperial Palace from the ancient times, Emperor Reigen at the time of his imperial outing to Shugaku-in Palace on the two occasions of April 6, 1808 (Kyowa 8) and February 11, 1813 (Kyowa 13), stopped his carriage in front of Shimogoryo Shrine to pray. The shrine has been worshipped by each of the Imperial reigns; every time there was a celebration within the court or when there was a festival held at the shrine, various ceremonies such as visits by proxy, prayers, ”Yutate” boiling water rituals, and dance dedications were held. Also, on the occasion of sacred rituals, re-enshrinement, or building repairs, the shrine was always gifted with some silver or other forms of donation from the Emperor, regardless of the scale of the event. After the Meiji Restoration, on February 1, 1877 (Meiji 10) when the Meiji Emperor made his Kyoto visit, Imperial representative Horikawa was sent to the shrine to provide offerings and on the following 10th, a sum of 700 yen was bestowed for eternal preservation of the shrine’s properties. There were frequent visits by members of Imperial families, such as Arisugawanomiya, Kan-innomiya, Kuninomiya, Kayanomiya, and Kitashirakawanomiya. In 1923 (Taisho 12) when the phoenix palanquin storehouse was newly dedicated, the shrine was provided imperial grants by Kayanomiya, as well as for repairs of shrine structures including the main sanctuary from Takamatsunomiya, Kan-innomiya, and Kayanomiya.

From the following description of Shimogoryo Shrine in “Kyō Warabe,” the oldest guidebook of Kyoto from the early Edo period (17th century), it is evident that within the parishioners’ district, close to the Imperial palace and mansions of royal families, were many residences of court nobles.

“God’s dignity is heightened by people’s worship, while God’s virtues bring the people good fortune. The shrine blesses all people, from the revered noble men to the countless shrine parishioners. ”

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