The most atmospheric Shintō shrine in northwest Kyoto, Kitano Tenman-gū is also the site of Tenjin-San Market, one of Kyoto’s most popular flea markets. It’s a pleasant spot for a lazy stroll and the shrine buildings themselves are beautiful. The present buildings date from 1607 and were built by Toyotomi Hideyori; the grounds contain an extensive grove of plum trees, which burst into bloom in early 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 hit 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.
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.