Kitano Tenmangu Shrine
With gorgeous plum and maple gardens, this famous shrine also has a bustling monthly market. Plus, get good luck for your studies!
Kitano Tenmangu is renowned throughout Japan as a shrine dedicated to learning, but its famous plum garden, as well as its maple trees and a bustling monthly market, provide the perfect timing for a visit.
This is the first shrine in Japan to have enshrined an actual person – Sugawara no Michizane – a scholar and loyal adviser to a Heian Period (794 AD–1185) emperor. Political maneuvering by a court rival saw Michizane exiled to Kyushu, where he passed away a few years later. The story goes that shortly after his death, a series of natural disasters struck Kyoto and a number of Michizane’s rivals also met with ill fate. These events were seen as being caused by Michizane’s powerful spirit and the shrine was founded in 947 to appease his wrath.
Michizane could read poetry at the age of five and wrote his own at 11. He is revered as a deity of learning and Japanese students buy amulets here to help them pass exams.
The current main shrine was constructed in 1607 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi and is a designated national treasure. The Ro-mon Gate and the Sanko-mon Gate were also built at the same time and all three feature golden decorations, detailed sculpting and vivid colors.
Stone lanterns line the path all the way from the first huge stone torii gate through to the main shrine. Along the way are a number of cow sculptures. To fix an ailing body part – so the custom goes – rub it and then the corresponding part of one of the cows.
Entrance to the shrine is free, but its seasonal gardens require an admission fee. The plum garden contains some 1,500 trees of about 50 varieties. Local maiko (apprentice to the geisha) come to serve at the tea ceremony that is held as part of the plum blossom festival on Feb. 25 each year.
The shrine’s maple tree garden, or momoji-en, is well worth a visit when the leaves turn to red in late November.The trees are lit up from dusk until 8 p.m. during the peak autumn foliage season of mid-November to early December. It is also open throughout May, when the fresh green leaves of spring contrast beautifully with the red Uguisu-bashi Bridge.
Grab some hearty Japanese street food, or other goods, on the 25th of each month at the bustling Tenjiin-san market of over 1,000 stalls that is held on the shrine grounds from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. From dusk, the shrine’s 350 stone lanterns and 250 hanging lanterns are lit, giving the place a whole new atmosphere.
Dig this scenery? Check out more temples in Japan.