Plum Blossoms at Yushima Tenjin
I hadn’t been to Yushima Tenjin for a few years to see its plum blossoms but after learning that they were in bloom, I headed off to see them. If you didn’t know, Yushima Tenjin is one of Tokyo’s more famous shrines, located in Bunkyo ward, but not too far from Ueno. It is devoted to Ameno-tajikaraono-mikoto the god of sport and power, and also Tenjin who is the god of learning. Even though I don’t get to it very often, it really is one of my favourite shrines in the city.
When I went, the weather was great which brought out a big crowd. It was completely cloudless, deep blue skies. Absolutely perfect. The flowers looked great, but I always have the feeling that the plum blossom is the cherry blossom’s poor cousin. Yes, people go out and see them when they are in bloom, but you never really hear people really talk about them. It’s very rare to hear someone say that their favourite flower is the plum blossom. In my twenty-five years in Japan, I’ve never heard it. All I ever hear is talk about the cherry blossom.
It’s a pity as the plum blossom is a very beautiful flower, coming in white, pink or red. During the Nara period (710-794) it was the flower of choice for hanami (flower viewing) parties, but they were eclipsed by the cherry blossom in the Heian period. Since then they’ve never recovered. Kind of like the popular kid who loses his crown to the new boy and gets relegated to the sofa, in the very corner and never quite gets over it. Maybe it explains why plum blossom parties are rather sober and restrained events these days. Poor things.
As I already mentioned the shrine is dedicated to Tenjin, the god of learning, so many people go there to pray, asking him to look on their them favourably when they take exams. One way to pray to the gods is by using “ema”. Ema are little wooden plaques on which you write your request to the god of the shrine you visit and then tie it to a rack which is a symbolic tree. Yushima Tenjin literally overflows with them around exam times in Japan. On the majority you’ll see the kanji 合格 (gōkaku). Gōkaku means to succeed or pass exams. After all, it is the shrine where the god of learning is enshrined.
If you ever have the chance, you should see Tokyo’s plum blossoms as they are very nice. And on top of the flowers they also have tea ceremony and performers of different sorts so there is quite a lot to see there. Yushima Tenjin is a great place but there are several other great places too like Koishikawa Korakuen or Hanegi park. And hopefully if you do see them it might help them in regaining some of their lost prestige.
You can see Yushima Tenjin’s website here.