北野天満宮Kitano Tenmanguu is a Shinto shrine that was built in 947 to appease the spirit of bureaucrat, scholar and poet 菅原 道真Sugawara no Michizane who had been exiled through the political actions of his enemies in the Fujiwara clan; he was deified in 986. In 991 during the early Heian Period it became one of the shrines to which Imperial messengers were sent to inform of important events. From 1871-1946 it was designated 官幣中社kanpei-chuusha (second rank in government-supported shrines). The grounds are filled with 梅ume (plum blossom) trees, Michizane’s favorite; on February 25th, the day of his decease, the 梅花祭Baika-sai (Plum Blossom Festival) is held along with the monthly flea market there.
Kitano Tenmanguu is popular with students wishing to pass exams because Michizane was a man of knowledge and literature in his life.
I went to Kitano Tenmangu with a friend in late-September 2008, before the leaves changed color for fall. Since we were between seasons, there weren’t so many people, so it was a peaceful visit.
the gate to the shrine
It takes a while to get to get to the main hall.
“Ushi-san (Mr. Cow)”, the familiar of the god of the shrine…many people stroke him for luck.
the 桜門Sakura-mon (the Cherry Blossom Gate)
a red 天狗tengu (long-nosed goblin)
the path up to the central gate
the central gate called 三光門Sankoumon due to the three lights, the sun, the moon and the stars, on it
the 社殿shaden (main hall) where prayer takes place after ringing the bell
an employee of the shrine explaining to elementary students about the different shrines
stairs down to the trees (we didn’t go past this)
lantern (with an illustration of pine trees) hanging from the office building