I was in Kyōto. I was looking up something else on my phone and saw “Seimei Jinja” on the screen map, not too far from my ryokan. My metaphorical antennae immediately pricked, and I knew I had to make a detour.
If you’ve read my Kitsune Tales stories, you might remember Abe no Seimei as an important figure in Japanese folklore. He was a real person; we have plenty of documentation for his life. But it’s likely that not quite all of the feats and attributes said of him — being half human and half kitsune, binding 12 heavenly generals as servants, changing oranges into rats, etc. — are as historical.
What we do know about Abe no Seimei is that he served the imperial court as onmyōji, rising in importance to ultimately set his clan in charge of court onmyōdō. (Onmyōdō, very briefly, is a sort of nature magic geomancy related to China’s feng shui. An onmyōji is a practitioner.) He served in the late Heian period (he died 1005, and the Heian era ended in 1085 with the battle of Dan-no-Ura), so we get to imagine him in the sumptuous robes of the time, bent over a chokuban (square wooden board used for astronomy and astrology) or writing ofuda (spells on paper strips).
Alternately, the shrine offers a board for you to imagine yourself as Seimei:
This is not the only shrine honoring Abe no Seimei, not by far. Last year I visited a shrine allegedly personally founded by Abe no Seimei and dedicated to the Kumano deities, shortly before I began hiking the Kumano Kodō route. But this one is important for being founded just two years after Seimei’s death, by the emperor’s order, and for being on the site of his house.
This well gives water which some say is magical. The water was currently shut off (almost certainly due to lingering COVID policy, which led to many restrictions of potential contact at shrines), so I could not run any magical tests. ;)
The Japanese Bellflower has five petals which correspond to the five-pointed star (Seimei Kikyō) which Abe no Seimei used as his personal seal and to represent the five elements. They grow in the shrine, at the temizuya (purification station) and elsewhere, and appear on some of the shrine omamori (protection amulets).
On the outskirts of the shrine, there is a tiny bridge with a figure of a shikigami beside it.
This is a miniature replica of the Ichijō Modoribashi, made from some of the bridge’s materials when it was replaced in 1995. The Modoribashi (literally “returning bridge”) is famous for supernatural events, including its namesake resurrection of a dead man as his distraught son prayed over his funeral procession upon the bridge. Fun tie-in fact: That son was a disciple of the Kumano Sanzan.
I did pass over the miniature bridge, but I did not pass through any magical portal (of which I am aware).
Then I ran down to take a photo of the Ichijō Modoribashi as it appears today:
This photo was snapped just in time as a horde of elementary students on an outing swarmed around me, rendering further photography impossible. (Photographing children is illegal in Japan.) But I got it!
Thanks for coming along with me!