Feb. 08, 2018 UPDATE
The shrines and temples of Kyoto and their traditional Japanese sweets!
Shimogamo Shrine and mitarashi dango
Shimogamo Shrine is a World Heritage Site known for the Tadasu no Mori forest, which is a vast, relaxing green space in the heart of Kyoto. In summer, the forest provides a respite from the scorching heat in Kyoto. If you look closely at the people who are going home from the shrine after praying, you’ll notice that they often stop by the shrine to buy some mitarashi dango, which are small rice balls skewered in groups of five. So, now we just have to find out what they have to do with the shrine!
The official name of Shimogamo Shrine is actually Kamo-mioya-jinja, but the shrine is normally called Shimogamo, the lover Kamo Shrine. The shrine is located by the Kamo River, close to Demachiyanagi Station, and the shrine enshrines Tamayori-hime and Kamo Wakeikazuchi. The shrine is one of the oldest in Kyoto. The shrine buildings are in the Heian-style born over 1000 years ago, so the shrine has a very stately feel to it.
You can also find many smaller shrines at the grounds of Shimogamo Shrine, like Aoisha, where you can pray for a good marriage partner, or Kawai Shrine, where you can pray for beauty. As you can probably guess, these shrines are very popular among women, but the ema votive plaques of Kawai Shrine shaped like hand mirrors are especially popular.
When you talk of mitarashi dango, the little-skewered rice cakes in a sweet soy sauce, in Kyoto, many people start thinking about shrines and temples. The fragrant mitarashi dango are grilled right before they’re served to you, and the color and smell of them are sure to make your appetite run wild.
But here at Kamo Mitarashi Chaya the mitarashi dango is a bit different from the ordinary ones. If you look carefully at them, you can see that the rice cake highest on the skewer is a bit separated from the others; it’s said that the lover four are the limbs of a man, and the highest one is the head. Eating this mitarashi dango is said to bring good health and keep away bad spirits. It’s even said that this was the place where mitarashi dango were first made!
After praying at the shrine, having some mitarashi dango is a tradition well worth keeping alive! The sweet and salty taste of the dango is not only delicious but through them, you also get to take part in the local traditions. This is a great way to experience the local culture!