The Great Shrine in Kamishichiken
Kitano Tenmangu is a major Shinto shrine located in the north-west of Kyoto. It is the first of 12,000 spiritual places dedicated to Tenjin, the deified Sugawara no Michizane. The shrine is adjoining the Kamishichiken Geisha district and is famous for its tea ceremony performed by Maiko in February, under 1,500 plum trees in bloom.
Sugawara no Michizane was an intellectual, poet and an influential politician at the imperial court of Heian. His rivals from the Fujiwara clan succeeded in having him unfairly exiled in Dazaifu in Kyushu in 901. According to the legend, not long after he passed away, a series of great natural disaster and mysterious deaths struck Kyoto and especially Emperor Daigo’s family.
Kitano Tenmangu was established in 947 to soothe Sugawara’s vengeful spirit. After the posthumous reestablishing of his honor, he was then deified in 986, under the name of Tenjin; It was the first time a human being was elevated to the status of a god. He became the god of honesty and sincerity, able to dismiss false accusations. Tenjin is nowadays considered the deity (kami) of studying and success in studies, thus respected and maybe worshipped by all the students in the country, especially during exam periods.
The entrance to Kitano Tenmangu is quite impressive, with its huge stone torii ⛩️ gate, with two komainu, the dog-wolves guardians. A paved alleyway then unfolds, bordered by numerous stone lanterns and sculptures of oxen, Tenjin’s messengers for prayers against disasters.
Built in 1607 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the main worshipping building and the others connected pavilions are listed National Treasure of Japan. The architectural style is of Azuchi-Momoyama period (1573-1603), namely a solid, dark red wood architecture. Moreover, the wonderful metal and paper lanterns suspended under the cypress bark roofs, covered in moss, bolster the elegance of the architectural complex.
The blooming of Sugawara’s plum trees in February
- On February 3, for Setsubun;
- From mid-February for the blooming of the 1,500 ume plum trees (Sugawara’s favorite flowers); and especially
- On February 25, for the outdoor tea ceremony performed by Kamishichiken district Geisha apprentices.
Each month, on the 25th, the shrine also hosts one of the most important flea markets in Kyoto, named Tenjin Matsuri.
Around July 7, for Tanabata Stars festival, the shrine’s alleyways are ornamented with bamboos bouquets with small multicolored cards attached, named tanzaku, on which people write down their wish. When exams periods draw near, many students come to pray by ringing the shrine’s bell in the hope of attracting good luck.
Kitano Tenmangu’s park houses about 350 Japanese maple trees, that can best be admired from the end of November to the beginnings of December during koyo 🍁 season.