In Kyoto you can find Kitano Tenmangu Shrine which is the base shrine for tenmangu around Japan. It is known for it’s enshrined deity, Michizane Sugawara, a god of scholarship, but this shrine also has 7 Wonders. There are some which are still mysteries, so we hope you will visit with your kids and try to solve the mysteries together!
About Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in Kyoto
Kitano Tenmangu Shrine enshrines Michizane Sugawara, also called Kitano no Tenjin san. Michizane Sugawara was a scholar and politician in Japanese history. He was somewhat of a child genius and is therefore known as a god of scholarship. Because of this, many students visit the shrine to pray for good scores on their exams. In the springtime plum trees, which Sugawara loved, bloom and many people come to take in their beauty. This time we will tell you about the Seven Wonders of Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. You can have a look around with your kids and even learn a little history!
Just after you enter through the main torii gate, to the right you will see a pine tree known as Yogo-matsu (yogo means shadow and matsu is pine). It is believed that after Michizane Sugawara, who had been demoted and moved to Dazaifu (currently Fukuoka Prefecture), died that his ashes flew from Dazaifu to this pine tree and fell on it with the first snow. Since then it is believed that with the first snow of each year Michizane Sugawara comes back and composes songs as he watches the snow.
2. Misplaced Main Hall
At most shrines you will find the main hall directly in front of the path from the shrine entrance. However, at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, the main hall isn’t directly in front of the path, but is a little to the left of the path. The reason it is moved to the left is that before Kitano Tenmangu Shrine was built these grounds were home to a different shrine and therefore the main hall couldn’t be built directly in front of the path. Knowing that bit of information makes the slightly misplaced main hall seem a bit charming.
3. Missing Star Sanko Gate
At the Central Gate, there are carvings of a sun, star, and moon and is therefore called the Sanko Gate (Sanko means three lights). However, if you look closely at the gate you will see that the star is missing. Therefore this gate is referred to as the “Missing Star Sanko Gate.” It is said that the star is missing because when the supreme ruler was praying at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine the North Star was shining so brightly just above the Sanko Gate. So it is believed that when the gate was made the they mistook the North Star as being a part of the gate already and didn’t make another star. It`s a bit of a romantic story, isn`t it?
4. Lanterns of Daikokuten
To the east of the Sanko Gate you will find a lantern with Daikokuten carved on the pedastal. (In Japan, Daikokuten is believed to be a god of fortune). When visiting, place a small pebble on Daikokuten‘s mouth. If the pebble doesn’t fall down, you should place it in your wallet and it is believed that it will protect you from money troubles. Students preparing for entrance exams also pray here for good luck on their exams and that they can get into the school of their choice. When you visit Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, please try placing a pebble in Daikokuten’s mouth for good fortune.
5. The Lone Standing Ox
Michizane Sugawara had a deep relationship with oxen. At Kitano Tenmangu Shrine there are many statues of the cows Michizane used. It is said that that ox which was pulling the cart with Michizane’s body after he died suddenly lied down and refused to move. The ox statue at the worship hall, though, is standing and the reason why is, even to this day, a mystery. You can tell your kids this story and imagine together why they placed a standing ox statue at the worship hall instead of the statue of the ox which refused to move.
Typically at shrines, you see visitors praying at the front of the main hall. At Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, however, there is a place visitors can pray other than the front of the main hall. Behind the main hall is another hall known as Gokounomihashira. In this hall, Michizane’s ancestors are enshrined. From long ago, visitors praying at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine have prayed not only at the main hall, but also at the Gokounomihashira. When you visit Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, please walk around to the back as well.
7. Tengu hill
In the northwest part of the shrine grounds is a hill known as Tengu Hill. Tengu are typically red-faced and have a long nose. Some places see them as gods, in other places they are considered to be monsters.You can read more about tengu here. There are paintings of the area around Kitano Tenmangu Shrine here which are from the Muromachi Era (1333-1573). Where the Tengu Hill is there is a painting of a crow-billed tengu. Perhaps this area is haunted by tengu. Tengu Hill is considered to be one of the most sacred spots within Kitano Tenmangu Shrine.
Thoughts on the 7 Wonders?
What did you think of the 7 wonders of Kitano Tenmangu Shrine? It may be a bit difficult for younger kids to understand these 7 wonders which make you think about Japanese history. If you would like to visit Kitano Tenmangu Shrine to see the 7 wonders for yourself, but worry your kids are too small to enjoy it, please contact us about our Kids Club. We can take care of your kids and ensure they have a good time while you enjoy your visit to the shrine.
How to get to Kitano Tenmangu Shrine
From Kyoto Station take bus 50 or 101
From Kyoto Station take subway to Nijo, then bus 55
From JR Enmachi Station take bus 203
From subway Imadegawa Station take bus 51, 102 or 203
From Keihan Demachiyanagi Station take bus 102 or 203
From Keihan Sanjo Station take bus 10
From Hankyu Omiya Station take bus 55
From Hankyu Saiin Station take bus 203
From Keifuku Hakubaicho Station walk 5 minutes
For all buses, get off at Kitano Tenmangu Mae
Kyoto-shi Kamigyo Ward Bakuro-cho
・Sakura Gate: April – September: 5:00 – 18:00; October – March 5:30 – 17:30
※There are special night hours during the autumn colored leaves season and New Year holidays
・Shrine office / reception: 9:00 – 17:00