When you walk around Arashiyama, you will always, sooner or later, end up in front of Nonomiya-jinja shrine. Close to the famous bamboo forest path and surrounded by many trees, the shrine seems kind of hiding itself. You would almost think how easy it is to miss it but for some reason you never do.
Being inside of this narrow space, it is almost hard to imagine the importance this shrine used to have in the distant past. It was chosen for imperial daughters as a place to undergo long purification rites before becoming the priestess of Ise-jingu shrine(伊勢神宮). For many of them it was not a destiny they would really wish for. It is no wonder that this shrine is often depicted in classical Japanese literature of old times and you can find it mentioned in such a masterpiece like Genji Monogatari(源氏物語).
When you see its Torii gate (鳥居) - a traditional gate of Japanese shrines - in the blink of an eye you will probably notice that there is something special about this one. There are many different types of Shinto gates. They have various shapes and colors and you can find them everywhere around Japan. But this one is even more special in one aspect.
The torii gate of Nonomiya-jinja shrine is called Kuroki Torii (黒木鳥居, lit. ”black tree torii gate”). The reason is that it is made from barked lumber of oak tree to represent the style of ancient torii gates. If you check the post of the torii gate from the inside of shrine, you can clearly see a wood texture under the peeled-off-bark parts.
To be honest, the place itself makes kind of melancholic and lonely impression on me. The darkness of torii gate is even more enhanced by the lindera (クロモジの木) fence around it. Then, when I watch a small moss garden inside and see this small bridge blocked by a tree from one side, the undefined feeling of loneliness strikes me hard. It is the bridge you cannot cross even if you try. Simply said, once you are here you are not allowed to go back - there is no way back. I cannot help it but even bathed in sunshine it gives me the impression of inescapable emptiness. In a way, it could be also viewed as an expression of eternal sadness. You can still somehow feel the grief of those poor women waiting to fulfill their unavoidable destiny here.
It comes interesting to me that the shrine like this - originally place overflowing with a heart-breaking feelings of parting and loneliness, with grounds moistened by tears of sorrow - became the place of prayers for a good marriage tie and easy delivery of child. Although it seems that even nowadays the grounds are moistened with a lot of tears, hopefully now all these tears are of a different kind...