The Emperor Go-toba and Minase Jingu

On the boarder of Osaka Prefecture and Kyoto is Minase Jingu. This relatively small shrine houses the remains of Emperor Go-toba, an ambitious and tragic emperor, whose failed war lead to the creation of the Kamakura Government. Former site of his personal villa, Minase Jingu is the biggest shrine to this fallen emperor on Japan’s mainland.

Rise of the Bakufu

The Kamukura Era (1185-1333) was a very rough time for the emperors of Japan. Just before the Kamakura Era was the Heian Era, a time when the Imperial family had tremendous political power, but in the Kamakura Era various elite warrior clans started gaining power and eventually took control of the government.

portrait of emperor go-toba by fujiwata nobuzane
Portrait of Emperor Go-toba by Fujiwara Nobuzane [藤原信実] via Wikki Commons
These clans built the Kamakura Bakufu, the Kamakura Government, in Kamakura City near Yokohama. Naturally, the Imperial family fought to regain control of the country throughout the Kamakura Era. One such example was ambitious Emperor Go-toba [後鳥羽天皇].

The Jokyu War

It was 1199 when Emperor Go-toba, who was a “joko”, or retired emperor at this time, finally had a great opportunity to seize control from the Kamakura Government. Minamoto no Yoritomo[源頼朝], the head of the Kamakura Government, had died. Soon after Yoritomo’s death, his two sons were both assassinated. Since there was nobody left in Minamoto clan who could take control of Kamakura Government, the Hojo clan led by Yoritomo’s wife Hojo Masako[北条政子], decided they would take control of the government.

Emperor Go-toba immediately challenged their claim and rose an army to fight them. This became known as the Jokyu War[承久の乱] and was the first time in Japanese history that samurai clans fought against an emperor. The bakufu were utterly terrified initially going into battle against Go-toba, as waging war against an emperor, was essentially waging war against a god. The result? Kamakura Government easily defeated the imperial family’s armies. Largely in part to Hojo Masako’s skillful tactics and leadership, the Jokyu War ended up only lasting about one month. This war sent a clear and resounding message to the people of Japan; the Bakufu, and not the emperor, were the ones who controlled the country.

Seta no Karahashi Bridge on a bright and clear day
Seta no Karahashi Bridge, site of the last battle of the Jokyu War

After their defeat, the majority of the imperial family’s land was taken, and Emperor Go-toba was exiled to Oki Island. Go-toba’s exile landed him roughly 50 km away from Matsue, making it next to impossible from him to return to Kyoto. His children, the Emperor Juntoku and Emperor Tsuchimikado, were also exiled to Sado Island and Tosa, respectively.

Vengeful Spirit

Though there are not many records about his life after his exile to Oki, Emperor Go-toba became a monk and seemed to enjoy his life in Oki to some extent, spending most of his time writing poem, one of his favorite pastimes. However, it was clear that he despised the Kamakura Government. After Go-toba’s death, the people were quite scared that his vengeful spirit would return to curse the country. Eerily, the deaths of two very important political figures did in fact happen shortly after Go-toba died. Hojo Yasutoki[北条泰時], who had defeated Emperor Go-toba in Kyoto, died from dysentery, which if you do not know, is a horrible and excruciatingly painful death. At the time of Go-toba’s death, the young Emperor Shijyo was on the throne. One day, while playing with his marbles Emperor Shijyo slipped, hit his head, and died shortly thereafter.

A Brief History of Minase Jingu

During his life, Emperor Go-toba often frequented his favorite villa Minase Rikyuu [水無瀬離宮], which was just past the southernmost point of Kyoto. In Go-toba’s will, he specifically left the villa to the Minase clan, charging them to take care of it. In 1240, a year after Go-toba’s death, the Minase clan converted the villa into a temple to enshrine Go-toba’s memory. After the Meiji Period, the temple became Minase Jingu Shrine [水無瀬神宮], and is the only “jingu” in Osaka prefecture. In addition to Go-toba being enshrined in Minase Jingu, his two sons who had also been sentenced to exile, Jyuntoku and Tsuchimikado, are enshrined along with their father. Since this shrine has a strong connection to Emperor Go-toba, there is an original painting of Go-toba along with Go-toba’s handwritten will inside the shrine (though it is usually off limits to the public). Both of these items are classified as national treasures.

Getting To Minase Jingu

Center map

Minase Jingu is within a stone’s throw of the border of Osaka and Kyoto, located in the town of Shimamoto. To get there, take the Hankyu Kyoto Line and get off at Minase Sta. The shrine is 950 meters northeast of Minase Sta. Once you exit Minase Sta. keep the train tracks on your right and follow the road north. After about 15 minutes you will come to a large intersection. Look for the white board that says 水無瀬神宮 and follow the direction it points (this is a slight left at the intersection). After about another 120 meters you will come to another white board for 水無瀬神宮 that will take you left.

board covered in vines directing visitors to minase jingu
board leading to minase jingu

When you reach the end of that road there will be a large gravel lot on your right, this is the shrine’s parking lot and the shrine is right next to it.

entrance of minase jingu in osaka
Entrance to Minase Jingu

If you want to use the JR lines, then take the JR Kyoto Line and get off at Shimamoto Sta., walk to the Hankyu Station, then follow these same instructions.

Shrine Grounds

Entrance of Minase Jingu built in the Azuchi Momoyama Period—the period that Nobunaga and Hideyoshi conquered Japan.

 On the left upper side of the gate is the handprint of the legendary thief Ishikawa Goemon[石川五右衛門]. Allegedly, he came to Minase to steal sword but he failed. As Goemon fled, he left a bloodied hand print on the gate.

The cage is where the hand print once existed.

The haiden is from the Showa Period, so it is actually fairly new. However, the guest house located next to the haiden, dates back to the Azuchi Momoyama Period.

Minase Jingu haiden
Minase Jingu’s guest house

Minase’s Artesian Water

As soon as you go enter the shrine, you will notice a lot of people lining up with large containers. Minase Jingu is actually famous for its well water, which ranks among the best 100 natural water spots in Japan. You can get water for free but there is a limit of 20 liters per a day per person. Also, be sure to bring your own containers or pet bottles.

This plaque recognizes the purity of Minase Jingu’s water.

From the looks of it, I think more people come to get water, than to actually visit the shrine itself… 

This line was pretty consistent. People regularly came and went while we walking around taking pictures. Many people were obviously hauling 20 liter containers around with them too.
Just a couple water bottles full for us.

Minase Jingu

Address3-10-24 Hirose, Shimamoto, Mishima-ku,
Osaka Prefecture 〒 618-0011
Phone Number075-961-0078
Hours of OperationMon-Sun:
Dawn to Dusk
Admission FeeFree

Despite having the prestigious title of “jingu”, Minase Jingu is definitely a locals’ shrine and has a very casual atmosphere. The Minase clan are still the caretakers and priests of the shrine, and I’d say they are doing a great job of continuing to carry out the wishes of Emperor Go-toba.

Coming next time,

A free azalea event in Sakai City.

The adventure continues…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.