Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is one of the greatest shrines in all of Kyoto for students hoping for a little luck, but it’s also got a lot going on for tourists, too. In the middle of the oldest geisha district of the city, Kamishichiken, this shrine is famous for plum blossoms plus a monthly flea market.
Kitano Tenmangu is associated with Tenjin, the Shinto god of education. That’s why, during examination time, you’ll see crowds of students praying for good luck. According to the traditional custom, you first need to touch the head of the iconic statue of the black bull right outside the shrine’s main building, then make a prayer meant to help you excel in academics.
Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is the very first shrine in Japan where an actual person was enshrined as a deity.
Tenjin is believed to be the deification of a historical figure named Sugawara no Michizane, a politician and poet who lived during Heian period (845-903CE). Sugawara no Michizane was an extremely bright person who read poems by the age of five and wrote poems in Chinese by the age of 11. However, having been unjustly exiled from Kyoto by his political rivals, after his death, people believed his vengeful spirit was responsible for many disasters in Japan. Thus, Kitano Tenmangu was one of the shrines built to appease Sugawara’s rage and to nurture peace within the nation. There are as many as 12,000 shrines in Japan dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane, but Kitano Tenmangu is the main one. In fact, Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is the very first shrine in Japan where an actual person was enshrined as a deity.
Events and seasonal happenings
Being one of the most popular places in Japan to view plum tree blossoms in early spring, Kitano Tenmangu is surrounded by beautiful plum trees, which were the poet’s favorites. During umemi season (plum blossoms viewing), 2,000 plum trees on the shrine grounds bloom and attract thousands of visitors every day, making Kitano Tenmangu a must-see landmark between March and April.
While spring is a sight to see, if you’re in Kyoto in winter don’t miss the baikasai. This is a special tea ceremony held in the shrine on Feb. 25, where geisha and maiko from the nearby Kamishichiken district participate and serve tea to the visitors.
Kitano Tenmangu is also home of a large flea market, Tenjin-san, that takes place on the 25th day of every month where you will be able to buy, all sorts of affordable items, from decorations, clothes and food to paintings and even swords!
The Kamishichiken district itself is one of the most traditional hubs of Kyoto. Just walking the streets, visiting some stores or the nearby shrines will give you an authentic experience. Check out the Kitano Odori, a show performed by maiko and geisha to welcome spring, takes place each year from March 25 to April 7 in the theatre facing Kitano Tenmangu.
Take the City Bus 50 from JR Kyoto station to the Kitano Tenmangu Mae stop ( the ride takes around 33 minutes and costs ¥230). Take the City bus 10, 203, or 51 from Kawaramachi station to Kitano Tenmangu Mae station (about 30 minutes).