Kyoto’s 縁切り神社 (The Shrine of Cutting Bonds)

Shinto Shrines (Jinja:神社 or sometimes Jingu:神宮 in Japanese) tend to be full of wooden prayer tablets (ema:絵馬), which can generally be bought for a few hundred yen, allowing the patron to write a prayer to the kami (神god, spirit) of that particular shrine, hang it on the ema rack, and hope for the best. Although some shrines are known for having specialties, such as education (specifically, passing exams), romance, health, etc. most shrines tend to have a pretty repetitive mixture of prayers based on these commonplace themes. There are exceptions though, with the best I have run across being Kyoto’s Yasui Engiri Jinja (安井の縁切り神社, official name is Yasui Konpiragu:安井金比羅宮).

While you may find an occasional prayer for good grades or such by someone who doesn’t quite realize where they are, the majority of ema at Engiri Jinja, appropriately enough, contain prayers related to the theme of engiri, literally meaning “cutting of bonds”-which is commonly used today in reference to the ending of relationships, especially romantic ones. The first part of the word, en (縁) has a few different meanings, including “edge” or “porch-like area in old Japanese buildings”, but most importantly the Buddhist concept of pratyaya which I have not read up on but has something to do with causation, and by extension is taken in reference to such concepts as “fate”, “destiny”, “familial bond”, or “relationship”. The second part, giri or kiri (切り) simply means to cut or sever. This concept of severing “enoriginally meant something more along the lines of cutting away the threads of negative destiny to relieve one’s bad luck, but today has come to refer primarily to the more conceptually simple act of severing personal relationships.

Every ema at Engiri Jinja is a story, with many variations on the general theme including people praying for their own bad relationship to end, people hoping for a friend or relative to break off a bad relationship, jealous people hoping for the object of their affection to break up with their current partner, and even a few people following the old-fashioned meaning of “cutting away” their general bad luck.

Amusingly, the shrine has attracted a cluster of love hotels, which seems to me somewhat counter-intuitive. Who is really going to be turned on by the idea of being brought to a hotel to have sex right next to a shrine devoted to the ending of relationships? Are these half-dozen or so hotels exclusively used by couples in self-acknowledged illicit relationships, stopping by Engiri Jinga to fill out a quick prayer card hoping for their official partner to let them go easily before going into the hotel for some passion?

As I stopped by at night time, my photos of the shrine itself are muddy and poor quality, but to get an idea of what it looks like in the sun, have a look at this photo from some personal Japanese blog.

Despite not really being able to get any good photos of the surroundings, I did manage to photograph a selection of particularly good prayers, some of which I will translate below.

I pray to be able to cut all connection with the fucking bitch Asahi Namiko, and for her not to come to her sister in law’s wedding in Autumn.

I also pray for the practice of taking long vacations and going back to the countryside to end. (Presumably a reference to having to waste time visiting family.)

I also pray for the bonds (en) with my in-laws and home town to weaken, please! Please protect my family.

Please cause the relationship (en) between my son and his girlfriend to end.

I pray for the relationship (en) between Azuma Shogo and Funagashi Miwako to end. -Azuma Keiko

I pray for the relationship (en) between my husband and his lover to end and for him to come home to me. (From name illegible)


I pray for the relationship between myself and K-mura H-ko to end.

I pray for the K. transportation duties to vanish from the N.O. factory and for me not to be scolded by anyone.

I pray for my bad luck (aku-en) to end, and for good luck to manifest.

O-nishi A-ko

I pray for Y.K to separate from his wife!!
I pray for the bond (en) with H to be cut
I pray for Y.K and I to be linked in a good relationship (ryou-en).
I pray to be separated from my bad situation, and for my body to recover.

H.Y.    February 28, 2009

I pray to somehow be able to divorce from Yukio. I pray for en (here meaning both the relationship and her bad luck) to be cut and to become happy.

I pray to be able to quickly and smoothly divorce from my wife and to be able to remarry with Azuma Yuko♡, for my job to go well and to be able to become happy.

Osaka-fe Yao City Kamei-cho
Tanaka Toshihiro

I pray to be able to separate from my boyfriend and be with the person that I love.

Kurada Saki

February 17, 2009

I pray for the M&S Horseriding club to be shut down. I pray for misfortune to befall them and for Aoki Kentaro to be punished. (Definitely the oddest of the lot.)

I humbly pray for the relationship (en) with my daughter to be severed. (Definitely the most chilling.)

Larger versions of these photos can be found on Flicker.

These are just a small sampling of the prayers that can be found there at any given time, and they turnover fast in this popular shrine. A few Japanese blogs have accounts of particularly noteworthy stories that they found at Yasui Engiri Jinja, such as the following one.

The first thing that I saw was three ema that looked to have been written by a group of three high school girls. The same think black pen was used to write the same kind of roundish lettering.

“I pray for the bad en with Akiyama Mika of class B in second year to be severed”

All three of them had written the same thing, and they hung there in a row.

I also found this page with a handful of accounts from people who had gone there themselves, or to other similar shrines such as Tokyo’s Tanomiya Inari Jinja, to pray. This was the best of those.

When by father was constantly being hurt and tormented by things he did because of alcohol, and he was psychologically afflicted, my mother and I went together to Engiri Temple in Kyoto. I was a high school student at the time.

(Note: since s/he writes “temple” and not “shrine” I am not quite sure if this is the same place or another.)

We prayed at a boulder that was so covered in words of prayer that its original form could not be discerned. “Please let father quit alcohol,” we recited repeatedly as we opened up a narrow hole and sought salvation.

Of course there was no way that father would quit alcohol immediately just because of that. However, the truth is that I was able to feel a little bit better, much like the feeling you get when you suddenly reach shelter in the midst of a downpour.

To express in words exactly what I was feeling then now that 15 years have passed is difficult, but it is carved deeply into my heart.

Located just a few minutes walk from the famous Yasuka Pagoda, I stumbled across it entirely by accident wandering around at night, but you can find it by following this nifty little map I just prepared showing both the very noticeable Yasuka Pagoda and the inconspicuous Engiri Jinja.


View My Saved Places in a larger map

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13 thoughts on “Kyoto’s 縁切り神社 (The Shrine of Cutting Bonds)”

  1. In America we just listen to Outkast to give us the strength to dump people:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xrr81SRhp_s

    According to the website the shrine was built as a Buddhist temple in the 7th century AD and only relocated to its present location in 1695 (later converted to a Shinto shrine after the Meiji Restoration). The practice of using the shrine as a place to pray for an end to relationships came during when at the end of the “reign” of the Emperor Sutoku in the 12th century he renounced earthly desires at the original site and became a monk.

    The shrine is not only for people to pray for an end to relationships but also to get rid any other negative *en* that keep men and women apart. It also takes other negative *en* such as illness, alcohol, and corruption, and replaces them with good en. The site also reassures couples that visiting the site does not *cause* relationships to end. Incidentally, the shrine is also beneficial for maritime safety and traffic safety.

    BTW, I think the love hotels make sense because illicit couples can take a trip to the shrine, pray for more legitimate circumstances, and then head off to continue their affairs.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emperor_Sutoku
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heian_period
    http://www.yasui-konpiragu.or.jp/ryakki.html

  2. Very interesting post, Roy.

    Although I am myself a believer in “tariki hongan” as a central component of faith, it strikes me as kind of sad that the people in your photos who have written these “ema” are seemingly unaware of who or what they are praying to.

    I agree with Adamu’s assessment of the love hotels, although that too makes me sad.

  3. “Haha, these are pretty impressively awesome in a creepy sort of way. Bravo Roy.”

    Mrs. Adamu, who was raised Shinto whatever that means, felt that Roy photographing people’s innermost wishes like this violates the sacred nature of the Ema.

    I guess in some sense the shrines are analagous to our churches or the Arlington National Cemetery, so maybe this is a little like how Americans might feel a little cheapened watching a group of Japanese tourists posing in front of the tomb of the unknown soldier without appreciating or respecting what it means.

  4. Let me state for the record that I am not offended by the idea of tourists posing in front of the tomb of the unknown soldier. I mean, maybe if I knew the guy…

    In my half-hearted defense, all of the half-dozen or so Japanese blogs writing about visiting this shrine also felt compelled to post transcripts of some of the more interesting ema, even if they didn’t post actual photos.

  5. I also don’t mind nor offended by the idea of foreigners posing/protesting/filming documentary film with funding from GoJ in front of the tomb of the unknown soldiers.
    However, unknown soldiers are all anonymous and dead.Not so about people who wrote(or written on) the ema.

  6. Adam, thanks for filling in those details from the website. I didn’t read through it because the horrible background was making my eyes hurt. But seriously, if you want to pray for traffic safety than you should be going either to Koutsuu Jinja (交通神社) or Seimei Jinja (晴明神社). The gods here are obviously busy enough with all the breakup requests.

  7. Wow. I actually think that’s great. I would love to have a little place to go to where I could focus my energy on ending bonds or relationships that are damaging to me(not just people, but ideas, habits, etc)

    As in anything, people may use spirituality to justify their own selfish gains or silly behavior. It doesn’t take away from the intent though.

  8. I have to agree with Mrs. Adamu on the privacy point. I understand that there is anthropological value in reporting on the content of the Ema. But I recon you could have left out the peoples names.

    That said, I’ve actually walked through this shrine dozens of times as a short cut through Gion, and never taken the time to really understand what it was dedicated to. Cheers for the post – benkyo ni narimashita.

    Adding to Adamu’s point that the “love hotels make sense because illicit couples can take a trip to the shrine, pray for more legitimate circumstances, and then head off to continue their affairs,” its worthy also to note the proximity of those love hotels to the Gion to frame the areas context more completely. Gion is after all the Kyoto’s most prized district of “water business” that specializes in catering to men who want to engage in extramarital activities. It makes sense that there would be a place to vent the emotions associates with this.

    As an interesting tangent to that idea, there was an interview in the Kyoto Journal with Yoshikawa Sakiko that discusses (amongst other things) the function of “spaces of healing” (癒しの空間 iyashi no kuukan) in Japanese society as important outlets for various kinds of emotions. While these spaces of healing would obviously include the more significant temples, shines and other places of warship, the interviewee was careful to highlight their function of providing an outlet for negative emotions, such as what you see in Yasui Konpiragu, but also on the more basic level the jizo that can be seen in the neighborhood shrines found everywhere (I can’t remember their proper name – maybe yagura?) that serve to not only protect children, but also as an outlet to people mourning lost and even aborted children. As a more extreme, and totally interesting, example she discussed the statue of Enma (閻魔) – who was the adjudicator of Buddhist Hell (kind of a reversed St. Peter figure) – as not being a scary figure despite his appearance, but a compassionate one that helps give people who have lost loved ones peace of mind. (One of the best examples of this can be found at the Senbon Enmado which is not revealed to the public except for the month or so following Obon – a must see for fans of freaky Japanese culture.)

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