Okazaki Shrine | Kyoto’s Rabbit Shrine

JAPANKURU
4 min readMar 14, 2023

2023: Year of the Water Rabbit

Were you born in the year of the dragon? Or maybe the rooster?

Those with an interest in astrology might understand that we’re talking about the 12-year system of the “Chinese zodiac,” but did you know that this system is not only included in traditions spanning all throughout Asia, but that the full cycle is actually 60 years? The Eastern zodiac uses not just 12 different animals, but also the five elements, and 2023 is year of the rabbit — water edition. Referred to as “mizunoto” (癸卯) in Japanese, the Year of the Water Rabbit is believed to be “a year not to give up, or to try to hard. A year when hopes and wishes will sprout up from a stagnant world” according to Japanese traditions. Sounds like an interesting fresh start following some very stagnant pandemic years.

Kyoto’s Rabbit Shrine: Okazaki Shrine

Officially titled Higashitenno Okazaki Shrine (東天王 岡崎神社), this minor shrine is located about 10 minutes on foot from the Heian Jingu Shrine, one of Kyoto’s many popular Shinto destinations. But unlike the majestic architecture and vast gardens of its neighbor, Okazaki Shrine is mostly famous for something rather unique: bunnies. This might seem like kind of a wacky symbol for a traditional ancient shrine, but the rabbits are not a gimmick for the Year of the Water Rabbit. At this shrine, just like in many parts of the world, the rabbits are found at the shrine thanks to their reputation for… breeding like rabbits. Bunnies aren’t just cute, they’re also a symbol of fertility — families come to Okazaki Shrine to pray for healthy babies!

Rabbits in Every Direction

Rabbits can be seen everywhere you look at Okazaki Shrine, and these days the most popular ones are the little ceramic rabbits lined up on the edge of the traditional stage at the center of the shrine. These white and pink rabbits are a more recent addition at Okazaki Shrine, because they’re actually omikuji fortunes that the shrine started selling in the last few years. After removing the paper fortune from inside the rabbit figurines, some shrine-goers choose to make their rabbit a part of the growing family on display!

But other rabbits are scattered all over the shrine, starting as soon as you peer through the shrine gate. The shrine has guardian bunnies in place of guardian lions (also called foo dogs, or komainu) watching over the entrance, and the main shrine hall as well!

A Shrine for the Year of the Water Rabbit

The many rabbits at Okazaki Shrine aren’t going anywhere any time soon, so rabbit lovers can breathe a sigh of relief. But if you’re visiting Japan in 2023, this shrine’s unique theme makes it a rather auspicious choice! (Of course, based on the lunar calendar, the year of the rabbit lasts until the lunar new year in 2024, but Japan tends to stick with the common Gregorian calendar even when it comes to the zodiac.) Don’t say no to all the floppy ears and cute little faces — if you can make it to Kyoto during the Year of the Water Rabbit, then add Okazaki Shrine to your plans!

Okazaki Shrine (東天王 岡崎神社)
51 Higashitennocho, Okazaki, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto
Hours: 9:00–17:00
Official Website (jp)

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