The main structure of Heian Jingu was originally constructed by the 50th Japanese Emperor, Kanmu about 796 AD as the new capital, Daigoku-den Palace. When the Royal Family moved to the new capital in Tokyo, Kyoto began to decline and the population dwindled. In 1895, the compound was rebuilt as the Heian Shrine in honor on the 1100th anniversary of the founding of Kyoto as capital of Japan. Because there was not enough land available on the site, the reproduction was constructed at two-thirds the original scale.
Arson distroyed the shrine in 1976, and it was again rebuilt with donations.
The Shinto Shrine, Daigokuden, is composed of three buildings: Gaihaiden (Front Shrine), Inner Sanctuary and Main Sanctuary. The ornate architecture is reflective of the acceptance of Chinese influence and arts in the Heian period.
The 8 acre Shin-in Garden (Garden of the Gods) is divided into four parts:
Heian no Sono (south): With its many cherry trees, It also contains many plants identified with passages from the famous Japanese novel, The Tale of Genji.
Seiho (west): The Byakko-ike (White Tiger Lake) is the centerpiece for the West Garden. In June, 2ooo iris are in bloom in the lake here.
Soryu (middle) The Sawatobi ishi known here as Garyukyo (Reclining Dragon) provide a crossing to Sango-jima (Coral Island).
Byakko (east): The East Garden features the Seiho-ike reflecting pond, Shobikan guest house, and the beautiful Taihei-kaku hashidono (covered bridge). Both the bridge and the guesthouse were moved from the Kyoto Imperial Palace. There are also two islands, Kame-shima (turtle island) and Tsurushima (crane island).
From the official website in English:
The main structure of Heian Jingu was originally constructed by the 50th Japanese Emperor, Kanmu about 796 AD as the new capital, Daigoku-den Palace. It was rebuilt as the Heian Shrine in his honor on the 1100th anniversary of the founding of Kyoto at approximately two-thirds the original scale.
The garden surrounding it is divided into three parts, the East (Byakko), the Middle (Soryu), and the West (Seiho) gardens. The Taihei-kaku hashidono (covered bridge) was moved from the Kyoto Imperial Palace. It is an interesting structure, having a multi-layer structure at its mid-point.
From what appears to the be official website in English:
- Emperor Kammu was born in 737 as the crown prince of Emperor Konin and ascended to the throne in 781 as the 50th Emperor of Japan. Realizing that the capital of Heijo was small in scale, Emperor Kammu transfered the capital to Nagaoka in the province of Yamashiro and, further picking the adjoining districts of Kadono and Atago in 793 as the best possible site for the capital, began to construct a new palace. In the following year, the seat of government was moved to the new capital called the Heian Capital.In 796, the Emperor held an audience for the first time at the Daigoku-den Palace at which dignitaries celebrated the New Year. This marked the beginning of Kyoto.
- During his 25 year reign, Emperor Kammu amended the laws and ordinances, gave relief to the destitute, encouraged learning, innovated the domestic administration, and opened the doors to foreign trade, thereby contributing to the development of the country. For more than 1,000 years, until the Meiji Restoration, Kyoto prospered as the capital of Japan.
Gardens of Heian Jingu Shrine:
The Shin’en consists of four gardens which surround the main shrine buildings on the south, west, middle, and east. With a total area of approximateley 33,000 square meters, these stroll-style landscape gardens are designated as a national scenic spot representative of Meiji-era (1868-1912) garden design.
- Nishi Shin’en (West Garden)
The focus of the Nishi Shin’en is a quiet pond named Byakko-ike. The irises around the pond bloom in all their glory in early summer, lending the garden an ethereal beauty. A tea ceremony arbor called Choshin-tei is located in the cluster of trees in the garden’s southwest.
- Minami Shin’en (South Garden)
This garden is a Heian-style garden designed for holding Kyokusui-no-en, a garden party during which aristocrats amused themselves by composing Japanese poems. In spring, the garden is bright with the deep pink blossoms of drooping cherry trees. The cherry blossoms are followed by azaleas in early summer and by hagi (Japanese bush clover) in autumn. The garden contains a smaller garden called Heian-no-sono featuring plants and flowers which appear in Heian-period literary works.
- Naka Shin’en (Middle Garden)
Visitors who pass through the cluster of trees behind the shrine’s main buildings will find a beautiful garden called Naka Shin’en. this garden, as well as the Nishi Shin’en, was constructed in 1895. It contains the Soryu-ike pond which features the Garyu-kyo, a walkway consisting of stone pillars which once served as foundation stones for the girders of Sanjo Ohashi and Gojo Ohashi, famous bridges in the center of the city of Kyoto. The pond is surrounded by an exquisite expanse of rabbit-ear irises.
- Higashi Shin’en (East Garden)
This garden was contructed in the early 1910s. In the center of the garden, there is a pond called Seiho-ike on which courtiers are said to have gone boating in ancient times. Borrowing the Higashiyama hills as background scenery, the garden contains two elegant old-style buidings - the Taihei-kaku and the Shobi-kan adjacent to it - which add to the garden’s overall charm.