Kitano Tenman-gū

sights / Religious

Lonely Planet review

The site of Tenjin-San Market, one of Kyoto’s most popular flea markets, this shrine is a nice spot for a lazy stroll and the shrine buildings themselves are beautiful. It’s particularly pleasant here in the plum-blossom season of March.

Kitano Tenman-gū was established in 947 to honour Sugawara Michizane (845–903), a noted Heian-era statesman and scholar. It is said that, having been defied by his political adversary Fujiwara Tokihira, Sugawara was exiled to Kyūshū for the rest of his life. Following his death in 903, earthquakes and storms struck Kyoto, and the Imperial Palace was repeatedly struck by lightning. Fearing that Sugawara, reincarnated as Raijin (god of thunder), had returned from beyond to avenge his rivals, locals erected and dedicated this shrine to him.

The present buildings were built in 1607 by Toyotomi Hideyori; the grounds contain an extensive grove of plum and apricot trees, which are said to have been Sugawara’s favourite fruits.

Unless you are trying to avoid crowds, the best time to visit is during the Tenjin-san market fair, held on the 25th of each month – December and January are particularly colourful.