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Did You Know About These Must-See Spots?! An In-Depth Guide to Kitano Tenmangu Shrine

Dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane – the deity of learning, Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in Kyoto is a famous sightseeing spot visited by a lot of worshippers each year. Here are some of the charms and attractions at this shrine!

What is Kitano Tenmangu Shrine?

Kitano Tenmangu is the head shrine of Tenmangu and Tenjin-sha, which has about 12,000 shrines throughout Japan. Built in 947, it is a distinguished shrine that has come to be widely worshipped in Japan and lovingly called by the name “Kitano no Tenjin-san”. Its enshrined deity is the god of academics, Sugawara no Michizane, so throngs of students taking tests come here each year to pray for success.

What is Kitano Tenmangu Shrine?

Bakuro-cho, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto

Who is Sugawara no Michizane?

The deity enshrined in Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, Sugawara no Michizane (845 – 903), was a man of unmatched talents who earned the deep trust of a lot of people. He had been a great student since he was young, leaving behind many great poems. He also served as a politician, ultimately ascending to a position that oversaw national affairs. However, in 901, he was falsely accused, so he was demoted and transferred to Kyushu from Kyoto. Two years later, he died in despair. His genius and misfortune in his later years gave birth to various legends that then amassed many followers until today.


1. Ro-mon Gate

This is the two-storied gate at the entrance of the shrine. Inscribed on the plaque hanging on top of the gate are the words “Bundo no Taiso Fugetsu no Honshu” (The Founder of Learning and Poetry). The huge ema (wooden plaque) put up at the end of the year is a famous winter scene in Kyoto.

2. Sanko-mon Gate

The Sanko-mon Gate is a splendid gate that is said to be the symbol of Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. It has been designated as an Important Cultural Property of Japan. It originally bore the inscription of Sanko (three lights: a sun, moon, and star), but for some reason, the inscription for the star is nowhere to be found. They say that the reason behind this is that the North Star shone right over the gate when someone made a wish in the place, which once housed the imperial court.

3. Shaden (Main Shrine)

The shaden (main shrine) is a luxurious and gorgeous building that was built in 1607. It is filled with impressive features, such as karahafu (cusped gable), golden decorations, and elaborate sculptures. A precious remnant of Gongen-zukuri (an architectural style characterized by the main hall and worship hall linked by a stone-paved passageway), it is designated as a National Treasure.

4. Gyusha

There are several statues of cows lying down scattered throughout the shrine’s precinct, and it is believed that rubbing them will heal your illnesses. In particular, the Ichigan Joju no O-ushi-san inside the gyusha (cow barn) at the northwest side of the grounds is said to grant just one wish if you rub it.

※ Statue of a cow in Kitano Tenmangu Shrine

5. Higashi-mon Gate

Located east of the shrine, Higashi-mon Gate (east gate) is a gate facing Kamishichiken, where old-fashioned traditional houses still remain intact. It is characterized by its kirizuma-zukuri (gabled) roof that looks like an overturned book, and its copper-plated shisokumon (four-legged gate). This gate has been designated as an Important Cultural Property of Japan.

Tenjin-san (25th of Every Month)

Tenjin-san is a festival held inside the shrine’s grounds on the 25th of every month (6:00 am – around 9:00 pm). The approach to the shrine is lined with stalls selling antiques, kimono, and other products. Lanterns are lit up from sunset until 9:00 pm, and the illuminated main shrine and gates create a magical vibe.

Odoi no Momiji-en

The Momiji-en (autumn foliage garden) is an attraction at the western side of the shrine’s precinct, where a portion of the odoi (earthen wall that was built to protect the town from foreign invasions and river floodings) still remains. It is one of the best momiji (autumn foliage) spots in Kyoto, thanks to the beautiful colors created by the approximately 300 maple trees planted there. It is usually open from late October to early December. Meanwhile, the Ao-momiji (green foliage) is also open around May of each year, and the nearly see-through fresh verdure will apparently soothe you.

Admission fees:
Momiji-en: Adult: 700 JPY, Child: 350 JPY (including tea cake)
Ao-momiji: Adult: 500 JPY, Junior/senior high school student: 250 JPY, Child: 150 JPY (including entrance ticket for Homotsuden (Treasure House))

Bai-en Garden

Ume (plum), which announces the onset of spring, is a flower that Sugawara no Michizane loved. There are about 1,500 plum trees of 50 varieties planted in the precinct. Inside the Bai-en (Plum Garden) that is usually open from early February until late March, you can stroll through vibrant plum trees in bloom, or gaze at the flowers while drinking tea and eating sweets at the teahouse.

Admission fees: Adult: 700 JPY (junior high school student or older), Child: 350 JPY (including tea cake)

Aside from the attractions listed above, there are many other must-see spots inside Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, such as the sacred tree called “Yogo no Matsu” and the teahouse. Please check it out!

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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