Explore Kitano Tenmangu – A Guide to the Beauty of Historical Shrines and Power Spots, Including the Nade-ushi Tradition

Located in the northern part of Kyoto City’s Kamigyo Ward, Kitano Tenmangu Shrine stands as the guardian of the northwest region of Kyoto.This esteemed shrine is known to have received special protection from the imperial court during significant national events and natural disasters. In contemporary times, it is recognized as a power spot dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane, a respected figure known as the god of learning.

Commonly referred to as Tenjin-san or Kitano-san, Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is considered a focal point of Tenjin faith, alongside Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine. We will thoroughly explore the highlights of Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, including the designated national treasures of its main hall and the presence of more than ten beckoning cows within the precincts.

What is Kitano Tenmangu Shrine?

Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is a sacred place located in Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto City. This distinguished shrine is among the twenty-two shrines highly valued by the imperial court during significant national events. Also known as Tenjin-san or Kitano-san, Kitano Tenmangu Shrine holds a central position in the Tenjin faith. This shrine, dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane, known as the god of learning, features symbolic elements such as cows and plum trees, closely associated with Michizane.

History of Kitano Tenmangu Shrine

The history of Kitano Tenmangu Shrine dates back to the Heian period in ancient Japan. During that time, Sugawara no Michizane served as the Minister of the Right in the capital. However, due to unfounded slander spread by Fujiwara no Tokihira, he was unfairly demoted and sent away from the capital. Michizane spent the rest of his life in deep regret in Dazaifu, present-day Fukuoka Prefecture. Legend has it that Kyoto experienced a series of disasters, including lightning strikes, possibly due to Michizane’s lingering resentment.

To appease the spirit of Sugawara no Michizane, Kitano Tenmangu Shrine was established in the current location in the year 947. In 987, a special imperial ceremony was held with an envoy from the Emperor, and the shrine was given the name “Kitano Tenmangu Tenjin” by Emperor Ichijo. The name “Tenmangu” is derived from the posthumous title given to Michizane after his death, which is “Tenman Daijizai Tenjin.” This title served as the basis for the shrine’s name.

Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, highly esteemed by the imperial court and recognized as one of the twenty-two shrines, has a history of reverence from the Sugawara clan, Fujiwara clan, and the Ashikaga shogunate. In 1587, Toyotomi Hideyoshi hosted a grand tea ceremony called “Kitano Daichakai,” and the historic site “Godoi,” created during this event, is now designated as a national treasure.

As we enter the Edo period, the focus on appeasing Sugawara no Michizane’s spirit diminishes, and he becomes more celebrated as the god of learning due to his scholarly achievements. This shift is reflected in the establishment of temples during the Edo era, where Michizane was venerated as the god of learning. Embracing this tradition, even today, the faith in Kitano Tenmangu Shrine endures. Explore the central shrine of Tenjin faith, featuring numerous attractions such as the designated national treasure main hall, and immerse yourself in the cultural and spiritual heritage of this revered place.

Tourist Information for Kitano Tenmangu Shrine

Address: Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto City, Umayabacho

Map: Google Maps

Phone Number: 075-461-0005

Closed: Open every day

Business Hours: [April to September] 5:00 AM to 6:00 PM, [October to March] 5:30 AM to 5:30 PM (Extended during Momiji-en Illumination, New Year, etc.)

Official Website: Kitano Tenmangu Shrine

Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is a charming destination easily accessible from the heart of Kyoto, approximately a 30-minute journey from Kyoto Station. Taxis are readily available in front of Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, making it convenient for smooth transportation to other attractions, especially when bus schedules don’t align. Featuring mostly flat and cobblestone paths with few stairs, the shrine is wheelchair-friendly and easily accessible for those with limited mobility.

Kitano Tenmangu Shrine hosts various limited-time exhibits and events. The Treasure Hall is open on January 1st, December 1st, every 25th of the month, and during plum blossom, green maple, and autumn foliage seasons. Seasonal highlights include Plum Garden openings from early February to late March, Green Maple viewings at Godoi from early May to late June, and Momiji-en (Maple Garden) openings from late October to early December.

This shrine not only offers a sacred atmosphere but also showcases the beauty of its Plum Garden, Godoi’s green maples, and autumn foliage, allowing visitors to enjoy diverse landscapes throughout the year. Known as a power spot, Kitano Tenmangu Shrine attracts a large number of students praying for success during exam seasons.

Admission Fees for Kitano Tenmangu Shrine

Treasure Hall:

  • Adults: 800 yen
  • Middle and high school students: 400 yen
  • Children: 250 yen (Preschoolers free)

Plum Garden Opening:

  • Adults: 1,000 yen (includes tea and sweets)
  • Children: 500 yen

Gotdoi Green Maple Opening:

  • Adults: 500 yen
  • Elementary school students and below: 250 yen

Momiji-en (Maple Garden) Opening:

  • Adults: 1,000 yen
  • Children: 500 yen

Access to Kitano Tenmangu Shrine

Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is conveniently accessible within approximately 30 minutes from the central part of the city, using public transportation like buses and trains. Situated on the northern side of Kyoto, the area around Kitano Tenmangu Shrine maintains a tranquil atmosphere despite being part of the urban landscape. The shrine is easily accessible from various stations across Kyoto, including Keihan, Hankyu, JR, and subway stations, making it a convenient location to reach using different modes of transportation within the city.

Access by Train and Bus

  • 5 minutes on foot from Keifuku Electric Railroad’s “Shiramume-cho Station”
  • Take Kyoto City Bus 50 or 101 from JR “Kyoto Station,” get off at “Kitano Tenmangu-mae” just outside
  • Take Bus 203 from JR “Enmachi Station,” get off at “Kitano Tenmangu-mae” just outside
  • Take City Bus 51, 102, or 203 from Subway “Imadegawa Station,” get off at “Kitano Tenmangu-mae” just outside
  • Take Bus 102 or 203 from Keihan “Demachiyanagi Station,” get off at “Kitano Tenmangu-mae” just outside
  • Take Bus 10 from Keihan “Sanjo Station,” get off at “Kitano Tenmangu-mae” just outside
  • Take Bus 55 from Hankyu “Omiya Station,” get off at “Kitano Tenmangu-mae” just outside
  • Take Bus 203 from Hankyu “Saiin Station,” get off at “Kitano Tenmangu-mae” just outside

Exploring the Highlights of Kitano Tenmangu Shrine

Within the expansive grounds, Kitano Tenmangu Shrine boasts a national treasure main hall and numerous important cultural assets. The shrine offers unique features, from cows believed to bring blessings when touched to intriguing ancient legends. Join me, as someone who has visited multiple times, in exploring the distinctive charm of Kitano Tenmangu Shrine.

Hidden Gem “Tohko Kannon-ji” with Stone Lanterns Shaped like Earth Spiders

On the approach to the main hall of Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, you’ll find “Tohko Kannon-ji.” Established in 806, Tohko Kannon-ji, initially known as Asahi-dera, is a hidden gem with a longer history than Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. When the founders of Kitano Tenmangu Shrine built the shrine, they designated Asahi-dera as its associated temple, and Sugawara no Michizane’s Eleven-faced Kannon became its new main deity.

The original main hall had two Kannon statues—one facing east and the other west. Unfortunately, due to several fires, the west-facing Kannon was lost. Empress Shoken, the consort of Emperor Meiji, studied at this temple before her marriage. Please note that photography is prohibited within the temple premises, so consider visiting in person to pay your respects.

Banshi Myo

The ancestral tomb dedicated to the mother of Sugawara no Michizane, the deity enshrined at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, is known as “Banshi Myo.” Originally situated west of the third torii gate of Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, adjacent to Banshi Shrine, it was later relocated to its current location.

In Kyoto, it is customary for bereaved families to visit this tower during the “kuyo-ake” period, which follows the mourning period after the passing of a loved one. This large stone tower, also known as “kuyo-dake” due to this tradition, is one of the hidden gems at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine.

Banji-sha

“Banji-sha,” found along the road, is a small shrine dedicated to the mother of Sugawara no Michizane, the deity enshrined at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. The shrine’s gate, often overlooked at first glance, boasts a unique design counted among Kyoto’s three rare torii gates. Designated as an Important Cultural Property, the construction is distinctive, with the shrine’s name engraved on the upper part of the gate, known as “kasagi.”

Looking at the base, you’ll notice unique features, including lotus petals carved on the two pedestals, making this torii gate an eye-catching sight.

Iconic Structures of Kitano Tenmangu Shrine – “Main Hall and Mikado Gate”

the main hall

Two iconic structures symbolizing Kitano Tenmangu Shrine are the main hall and the Mikado Gate.

The complex comprises the Main Hall, Stone Corridor, Prayer Hall, and Music Room, with the Main Hall and Prayer Hall connected by a stone-paved corridor known as the Stone Corridor. The intricately designed Main Hall, featuring the Music Room on both sides of the Prayer Hall, is recognized as a national treasure due to its complex architectural style called “Yatsumune-zukuri” and “Gongen-zukuri.”

Throughout its 1,000-year-plus history, the shrine has been reconstructed after each fire by the imperial court or shogun families. The current Main Hall, rebuilt in 1607 under Toyotomi Hideyori, exudes the opulence of Momoyama culture with exquisite carvings and shimmering golden decorations. Kitano Tenmangu, known as the god of learning, offers various charms for academic success, including pencils and other prayer goods.

In the spacious square in front of the main hall, crowded with worshipers, you’ll find plum trees on the left and large black pine trees on the right. During the early spring, the plum trees burst into vibrant blossoms, creating a picturesque scene where nature and historical architecture blend harmoniously.

Mikado Gate

Standing in front of the main hall, the gate that welcomes visitors is known as the “Mikado Gate,” symbolizing Kitano Tenmangu Shrine.

The lavish construction, adorned with the characters of Kitano Tenmangu written by Emperor Go-West, captures the attention of those who visit. Designated as an Important Cultural Property, the gate is called the “Mikado Gate” due to carvings of the sun, moon, and stars between the beams, representing the three celestial bodies.

Upon closer inspection, you’ll notice that a star is missing, earning it the nickname “Starless Mikado Gate.” The reason behind this is the intentional omission of the star, as when viewed from the gate, the North Star shines directly overhead, aligning with the ancient court’s decision not to carve a star. This legendary gate, blending with the sky and protecting Heian-kyo (ancient Kyoto), is counted among the “Seven Wonders of Kitano Tenmangu” as the “Starless Mikado Gate.”

Seasons Changing at Kitano Tenmangu: Autumn Leaves, Plum Blossoms, and Fresh Greenery

In the vast grounds of Kitano Tenmangu, nature unfolds a changing tapestry of the four seasons for visitors to admire.

Kitano Tenmangu is not just a shrine; it’s also known for its beautiful plum blossoms. The plum trees, starting to bud around the end of December, reach their peak bloom in mid-March.

The precincts boast around 50 varieties and 1,500 plum trees, including early-blooming “Kankoume” and rare varieties like “Kuroume.” Each year from early February to late March, a diverse array of plum blossoms graces the Plum Garden, which is open for a limited time and offers a delightful experience of enjoying tea and sweets while marveling at the vibrant plum blossoms.

Within the precincts of Kitano Tenmangu, you can find the ‘Gotoi,’ an embankment built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi to prevent water damage in Kyoto and its outskirts. The western area of the precincts, where the Gotoi remains, is a stunning autumnal spot with a natural forest that seems almost out of place for a shrine. Around the Gotoi, home to over 350 trees, including those planted later, the site transforms into the ‘Momiji-en’ (Maple Garden) and opens to the public in the fall.

Explore the vibrant autumn scenery, including the vermilion-painted drum bridge ‘Uguisu-bashi’ over the Kamogawa River and trees over 600 years old. From mid-November to early December, the special nighttime illumination adds a mystical touch, revealing a different side of the enchanting forest compared to the daytime. With vivid autumn foliage and the soothing sounds of the river, this area, beloved by Sugawara no Michizane, becomes a captivating autumn spectacle for visitors.

From early May to late June, the temple grounds transform into a lush green landscape, showcasing the fresh foliage of spring. On the western side of the Gotoi embankment, a unique display of vibrant green maple leaves, distinct from the autumn foliage, is unveiled.

Hidden Gems Within the Grounds – Nade-Ushi Power Spot and the Treasured Hall

Nade-Ushi

At Kitano Tenmangu, the sacred creature associated with the deity is the cow. According to various beliefs, it is said that Sugawara no Michizane, the enshrined deity, was born in the Year of the Ox and passed away on an ox-related day in the Ox month. Most of the cow statues at Kitano Tenmangu are depicted sitting, possibly reflecting the belief that the ox carrying Michizane’s remains sat down and refused to move out of grief.

The dozens of cow statues within the shrine grounds, also known as “Nade Ushi” or stroking cows, are believed to have healing powers. Touching the statues on specific body parts is thought to bring relief to corresponding areas of one’s own body. The shiny appearance of areas commonly touched, such as the head and back, attests to the multitude of visitors who seek the blessings of this power spot. There is one statue within the grounds that stands, so finding it can be an interesting quest.

Kage-muki Matsu

The “Kage-muki Matsu” is a large pine tree located right next to the main torii gate, the entrance to Kitano Tenmangu.

This pine tree, present since the shrine’s establishment, is said to be associated with a legend. It tells that from the beginning of winter to the day before the first day of spring, when the first snow falls, the deity Tennin (celestial being) descends, and one can witness the god reading poetry. Even today, on the first snowy day, a ritual takes place where a writing set of inkstone, brush, and ink is offered to the sacred tree.

Ro-mon

The impressive two-story “Ro-mon” gate, towering above when you look up, is built in the elegant Momoyama architectural style. In the center of the gate, there’s an inscription that pays tribute to Sugawara no Michizane, reading, “Bundo Daiso, Fugetsu Honshu.” Next to this powerful gate, you’ll find remnants of the grand tea gathering “Kitano Daichakai,” held during the era of Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

Explore the vicinity to discover the “Taiko Ido,” a well known for being used by Sen no Rikyu when preparing tea with water, and a monument commemorating the Kitano Daichakai.

Treasure Hall

With a history spanning over 1,000 years, Kitano Tenmangu is a shrine rich in cultural treasures left behind by various individuals, including the imperial family, court nobles, and samurai.

Within the temporarily opened Treasure Hall, you can find numerous treasures, including the designated national treasure “Kitano Tenjin Engi Emaki Shokyu-bon,” a scroll depicting the shrine’s history. This scroll, designated as a national treasure, is not only one of the oldest existing scrolls but also impressively large, ranging from 8.42 meters to over 12 meters in length.

In addition to the permanent exhibition, the Treasure Hall hosts special themed exhibitions with a diverse range of treasures, including ancient documents, swords, lacquerware, and tea utensils. Explore and appreciate these treasures within the Treasure Hall during both regular and special exhibitions.

Exploring Attractions Around Kitano Tenmangu Shrine

In the vicinity of Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, you’ll find numerous attractions, including shrines and unique Kyoto architecture. Here, we’ve carefully selected places that are easily accessible within 30 minutes from Kitano Tenmangu Shrine for you to explore.

Explore the Kyoto Imperial Palace, the Former Residence of Emperors, for Free

Built in 1331 and serving as the imperial residence and political center until 1869, the Kyoto Imperial Palace offers a glimpse into Japan’s historical past. This vast complex, spanning approximately 11,000 square meters, became open to the public free of charge in 2016.

Within the palace grounds, you’ll discover notable landmarks such as the “Shishinden” (Purple Imperial Hall) and the “Oike-Niwa” (Imperial Garden). The “Shishinden,” once the main hall of the imperial residence, hosted numerous crucial state ceremonies. Its central elevated floor housed the Emperor’s throne, the “Takamikura,” while to the east, the Empress’s throne, the “Gochodai,” was placed.

Particularly noteworthy is the southern garden with white sand, known as “Dantei,” providing a serene backdrop to the significant historical ceremonies held in the main hall. The Kyoto Imperial Palace offers a profound experience, allowing visitors to sense the weight and solemnity of past events.

Kyoto Imperial Park, adjacent to the Kyoto Imperial Palace, was transformed from a district featuring over 140 mansions of samurai and aristocrats during the Edo period into a beautifully landscaped public park.

This harmonious park, seamlessly connected to the Kyoto Imperial Palace, offers an abundance of nature, providing an ideal setting for leisurely strolls and relaxation. In mid-March, the peach blossoms bloom, and during spring, the vast grounds transform into a renowned cherry blossom viewing spot. Take a moment to visit and experience the rich blend of history and natural beauty.

Kyoto Imperial Palace Visitor Information

  • Address: Kyoto Gyoen 3, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan
  • Map: [Google Maps]
  • Access:
    • Just a 5-minute walk from Karasuma Line “Imadegawa Station” (Kyoto Municipal Subway).
    • Alternatively, a 5-minute walk from the bus stop “Torikawa-Imadegawa” served by City Buses.
  • Phone Number: 075-211-1215
  • Closed on: Mondays, New Year’s holidays, and other special event days.
  • Opening Hours: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
  • Admission Fee: Free
  • Official Website: [Kyoto Imperial Palace]

Explore Kyoto’s Charm at Soko-ji Temple, the Main Temple of the Rinzai School!

Just a 5-minute walk from the “Imadegawa” bus stop, you’ll discover Soko-ji Temple, a prestigious Zen temple in Kyoto, ranked second among the Kyoto Gozan (Five Mountains). Known for being part of the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism, Soko-ji Temple shares the spotlight with renowned tourist attractions like the UNESCO World Heritage sites, Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) and Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion). Famous artists, Shubun and Sesshu, have roots in Soko-ji Temple.

Dating back to 1392, the temple’s Dharma Hall holds the title of Japan’s oldest, standing since its reconstruction in 1605. Inside this designated Important Cultural Property, you’ll find the captivating “Singing Dragon” painted on the ceiling by artist Kano Mitsunobu. Give a gentle clap under the dragon, and experience the resounding echoes of its mythical roar throughout the Dharma Hall.

Soko-ji Temple Visitor Information

  • Address: Imadegawa-dori Karasuma Higashi-iru, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan
  • Map: Google Maps
  • Access: A 5-minute walk from Imadegawa Station on the Kyoto Municipal Subway Karasuma Line or Imadegawa Bus Stop for city buses.
  • Phone: 075-231-0301
  • Closed: Open every day
  • Hours: 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM
  • Admission: Adults/University Students 800 yen, 65 and older/High School Students 700 yen, Elementary School Students 400 yen
  • Official Website: Soko-ji Temple

Powerful Spot Dedicated to Abe no Seimei – Seimei Shrine

Seimei Shrine is a Kyoto shrine located in the Kamigyo-ku district, dedicated to Abe no Seimei. This shrine honors Seimei, a figure known not only for his skills in astronomy but also for his mysterious ability to control shikigami (spirit beings), making it a recognized power spot. Seimei has gained fame through novels and movies, and the shrine has attracted attention for visits from Olympic gold medal-winning skaters. It’s a popular destination for many seeking Seimei’s divine presence.

The main hall of Seimei Shrine, known for its protective and warding-off powers, features a pentagram called “Seimei Kikyo.” Adjacent to the main hall, you’ll find a peach-shaped statue known as the “Yakuyoke Momo” (Warding-off Evil Peach). Traditionally, peaches have been considered symbols of protection against misfortune, and rubbing this peach statue is believed to ward off bad luck.

Explore other unique features of Seimei Shrine, such as the “Seimei Well,” said to have been created by Seimei using telekinesis to produce water, and charms like the “Mizukagami Mamori” that enhance focus during exams, tests, or competitions. Discover the distinctive attractions and merchandise that Seimei Shrine has to offer.

Seimei Shrine Visitor Information

  • Address: 806 Horikawa-dori, Seimei-cho, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan
  • Map: Google Maps
  • Access: A 2-minute walk from the city bus stop “Ichijo Modoribashi – Seimei Jinja Mae.”
  • Phone: 075-441-6460
  • Closed: Open every day
  • Hours: 9:00 AM to 5:30 PM
  • Admission: Free
  • Official Website: Seimei Shrine

We’ve introduced the highlights of Kitano Tenmangu, along with recommended nearby attractions. Enjoy sightseeing at this historic shrine, which also serves as a picturesque spot with changing seasonal landscapes.

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