If you are a Japan lover, you might know the series of ukiyo-e paintings by Hiroshige Ando, One Hundred Famous Views of Tokyo? Then you might remember the one that features some wisteria and a drum bridge, yes? That picture was painted more than 150 years ago, but you can still see that scene today! You can still see that place today and it is named Kameido Tenjin. It looks a little different in the twenty-first century, but it is a great place to go, especially to see those lovely wisteria.
But, to start with, a brief history. Kameido Tenjin was named after the 9th century scholar, poet, and politician named Sugawara no Michizane, an official in the Emperor's court. He seemed to have been an influential man, but he suffered from an up and down career, which ended up with him being exiled, due to some court intrigue, and dying out in the provinces. Upon his death there was a plague, drought, sons of the Emperor died, and the palace was hit several times by lightning. And all that was then followed by weeks of rainstorms and floods. Yes, you guessed it, it was all attributed to the angry spirit of Michizane. Poor guy.
In response the Imperial court decided to build a shrine, Kitano Tenman-gū, and dedicated it to him. Posthumously, all his titles and office were restored, and his time in exile was deleted from the record. In later years he was deified as Tenjin-sama (the god/kami of scholarship), hence the shrine’s name. So, in one sense it worked out well, albeit, a little late for Michizane though.
These days, you’ll see many “Tenjin” shrines dedicated to him all over Japan. Kameido Tenjin is definitely one of the more famous ones in Tokyo though. For most of the year on most days it is a very nice but, quiet place.
When you walk in it looks like your typical Shinto shrine with the big torii at the main entrance. Inside though, is a little different.
It has pools, four big pools which are surrounded by trellises from which the wisteria hang. To cross the ponds there are several paths and bridges you can use. The middle path is the most interesting because … it contains the subject of Hiroshige Ando’s famous painting, those big, red drum bridges!
Those bridges make fantastic viewing platforms as from the top you can get a good view of the shrine area and also see Tokyo Skytree in the distance. Just one thing about those bridges, they aren’t the original wood ones as they were destroyed during the bombings of World War Two. The new ones are made of concrete. One word of caution, if you ever use these bridges be careful when you take pictures from them as they become extremely crowded and the steps are rather steep. Accidents might happen up there …
The view is great, and it is, in my opinion, the best place to see wisteria in the metropolitan area. It really is a beautiful scene. I can easily see why Ando Hiroshige decided to make his paintings about this place.
Kameido Tenjin is not about the wisteria as there are plum blossoms there too, about 300 of them. And yes, just like other shrines in Tokyo there are smaller halls, statues and monuments on the grounds. Plus, there are turtles and carp to see in the ponds with the occasional pelican dropping by!
I think it is safe to say that most people will go there for the Wisteria Festival which is held in April/May. Believe me when I say it is very popular. It is a great place for photography with the crowds and the flowers. During the festival you’ll find stalls offering food like okonomiyaki, yakisoba, yakitori and taiyaki, just to name a few.
The grounds are never closed but the administration office is open from 10 AM to 5 PM.
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Bunkyo Civic Center – an observatory with a difference
East Gardens of the Imperial Palace – some nice gardens next door to the Imperial Palace
Hie Shrine – one of Tokyo’s most important shrines
JGSDF Public Information Center – learn a little about Japan’s modern military
Railway Museum – a great place to learn about Japan’s rail history