Kitano Tenmangu Shrine (北野天満宮, Kitano Tenmangū) is one of the most important of several hundred shrines across Japan that are dedicated to Sugawara Michizane, a scholar and politician who was unfairly exiled by his political rivals. A number of disasters were attributed to Michizane's vengeful spirit after his death in exile, and these shrines were built to appease him.
Sugawara Michizane is associated with Tenjin, the kami ("Shinto god") of education. Consequently, many students visit Kitano Tenmangu to pray for success in their studies. The shrine can become especially crowded with students during exam times and school trip seasons.
Michizane loved plum trees, and one tree, called tobiume or flying plum tree, is said to have followed him from Kyoto to his exile in Kyushu. Because of this, a plum tree can always be found standing in front of the offering hall of Tenmangu shrines.
In addition to the tobiume tree, Kitano Tenmangu features an entire grove of nearly 2000 trees that bloom from February to March. The shrine hosts a special tea ceremony, called Baikasai, in this plum grove every February 25th, attended by maiko and geiko of the nearby Kamishichiken geiko district.
A few years ago, Kitano Tenmangu also joined the list of Kyoto's autumn color spots, when the shrine started to open its garden to the public during the peak of the autumn leaf season from November to mid December. Hundreds of maple trees line the garden's river and are lit up in the evenings.
Last but not least, a flea market is held on the shrine grounds and surrounding streets on the 25th of every month. Hundreds of vendors selling plants, antiques, tools, toys and crafts are joined by many food stands selling festival food such as yakisoba, karaage and takoyaki.
Kitano Tenmangu Shrine can be directly reached by Kyoto City Bus number 50 or 101 from Kyoto Station (230 yen, 30 minutes). An indirect but perhaps quicker route during rush hours is to take the Karasuma Subway Line to Imadegawa Station and catch the 102 or 203 bus to the shrine. In either case get off at the Kitano Tenmangumae bus stop.
Kitano Tenmangu Shrine
5:30 to 17:30 (October to March)
Maple Tree Garden
Illumination from early November to early December from sunset until 20:00.