Apr. 06, 2020 UPDATE
Delve into the World of the Kitano Tenmangu Area - From Basic Info to Hole-in-the-wall Spots; this is the Kitano Tenmangu Area -
Part 1

Kitano Tenmangu Basic Info

Near the famous Kinkaku-ji Temple (The Golden Pavilion) in the North-west of Kyoto City lies the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine.

The Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is the head shrine of around 12,000 tenmangu and tenjinsha shrines across Japan, and because of its deep history, is beloved by both locals and out of towners alike.
As the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is the head tenmangu shrine, it also strictly observes ancient rituals and ceremonies and takes on the role of continuing such traditions for future generations.

The first-ever shrine in Japan to be dedicated to a once living person, the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine enshrines the Heian period scholar Sugawara Michizane, who came to be worshipped as the deity of wisdom.
During Japan's exam season between school years, students from all over the country visit this shrine to pray for success in their entrance exams.

Also, as Sugawara Michizane was born and died on the 25th, the shrine places great importance on the date and chooses to hold its many big events, including its monthly shrine market, on the 25th.
Bull Statues
Bull Statues
As you stroll through the grounds of the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, you'll come across various bulls of all shapes and sizes!
The reason why these bulls all look so clean and shiny as well is because it's said that wherever your body will be healed wherever you rub the bull.
If you've started to feel the pangs of traveling in your legs and back, then give these miracle-working bulls a rub and wish for them to get better.
Ema
Ema
Ema, translated as “votive plaques” in English, are small pieces of wood that you write your wish on.
Literally translating “a picture of a horse,” ema came to contain the word for horse, because in ancient times, gods were thought to ride horses.
So as these small wooden tablets are meant to transport the prayers to the gods, it was only fitting that they would in some capacity be called “horses.”
An interesting thing about the ema at the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is that they feature pictures of bulls.
If you have an important exam coming up, then pick yourself up one of these rare bull ema, write your wish on the back and hang it up in this shrine dedicated to the god of wisdom and study.
Ura-no-Yashiro – The Shrine Behind the Shrine
Ura-no-Yashiro – The Shrine Behind the Shrine
While the main halls of Shinto shrines are often designed for worshippers to pray at the front, the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine also maintains an altar behind the main hall.
Known as the Goko-no-Mihashira, this altar was placed so that the deities of Sugawara Michizane’s ancestors, grandfather and father could be worshipped with their backs to Sugawara Michizane himself.
In ancient times, including a pray at the Goko-no-Mihashira altar was the way to worship at the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine.
So if you’re planning on giving a prayer at the shrine, then why not follow the ancient traditions of the shrine and make a pray at the Ura-no-Sha altar as well.
Tenjin San Market
Tenjin San Market
If you're interested in affordable Japanese antiques, then the Tenjin San Market is a must-check out.
Held on the 25th of every month, this market of over 1,000 stalls has everything from retro bits and bobs from people’s homes and precious antiques to old kimono and even food.
While stalls start lining the various paths around and inside the shrine from 6 a.m. and stay open until sunset, the best time to go is definitely the morning.
If you’re a lover of markets and hope to see everything, you’ll easily need a good hour or two.
Plum Garden
Plum Garden
Inside the precinct of the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, there is a small plum garden home to around 1,500 plum trees of roughly 50 different varieties. In Japan, plum trees go into flower at the beginning of February and reach their peak near the end of the month.
With colors ranging from pink and red to yellow, many of the flowers of these plum trees also offer deeper colors than their more famous mid-spring cousins, cherry blossoms.
Plum blossoms are also known for their lovely aroma, so one of the best things to do with these little flowers is put your face up close and enjoy their delicate scents.
Sugawara Michizane, the deity of this shrine, once recited the following poem as he thought about his cherished plum flowers, at the time when it was decided that he would be relegated from the capital to a far-away land due to a stroke of bad luck;

"Dearest plum flowers, when the easterly wind blows in the spring, make sure to open up your sweet-smelling flowers.
Even if your master is not with you, please never forget to flower in the spring."

As you walk around the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine’s plum garden, keep this poem in mind and see if you can’t sense what Sugawara Michizane was feeling.
Plum Festival - A Magnificent Open-Air Tea Ceremony
Plum Festival
Toyotomi Hideyoshi was a famous samurai during Japan’s Sengoku period and is most well known for uniting the country’s warring states. In a way, not too unrelated, he was also a huge fan of organizing events.

In 1587, Hideyoshi gathered some 1,000 people acquainted with traditional tea ceremonies from all around Kyoto and held a ginormous tea party on the grounds of the in Kitano Tenmangu Shrine-all as a way to boast his power.
During the party, the invited guests showcased their different styles of tea ceremonies using their most prized teapots, bowls and utensils.
This was Japan's very first nodate outdoor tea ceremony—and it was held to much delight.
Nowadays, every February 25, the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine hosts its Plum Festival to mark this historical event. The culturally and historically significant event now consists of local maiko and geiko performers from the nearby Kamishichiken district serving traditional Japanese tea to guests in the outdoor nodate style.
Odoi - A Hidden Treasure
Odoi
As well as being a man of rare elegance, Toyotomi Hideyoshi was also one of the best samurai in Japan’s history.
As part of his reconstruction plans for Kyoto, which was desolated by many years of war and destruction, he ordered the construction of a giant moat and fort called Odoi (measuring 3.6 m to 18 m wide, with walls up to 36 m high and 22.5 km long) to protect the city’s neighborhoods from invasions and floods.
After the Odoi’s completion, the fear of invasion gradually diminished, rendering the incredible structure useless. Although Odoi was built to surround and protect the city, only a few sections remain to this day. Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is home to one of those remaining sections, and it is now a popular tourist destination for seeing the maple leaves in autumn.
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