In Tokyo’s Bunkyo ward you’ll find one of the Tenjin shrines, Yushima Tenjin that has a beautiful garden filled with plum blossoms. The shrine is dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane, a scholar, poet, politician and diplomat who lived in the 9th century, who, after his death was deified. It is said he had a great love of plum blossoms and that is why you’ll find the trees at his shrines. This shrine isn’t that big, but it is a great place to enjoy a walk.
Yushima Tenjin would have to be one of the most famous places in Tokyo for plum blossoms. And you won’t only find the trees there, but you’ll also find decorations of them all over the buildings
Just don’t get too excited with the garden if it is your first visit. The garden is a little small and you need to be aware that the flowers are smaller than their more famous cousins, the cherry blossoms. They are great flowers though and come in white, pink and red. The trees bloom in late February to March, so if you are planning a visit to this shrine make sure you go then as that is when the shrine looks its best.
Being a Tenjin shrine, you’ll find a cow statue there. The reason for this is that Michizane was born in the year of the cow, and one even pulled the bier that carried his body to his funeral. Many people believe that touching the bronze cow statue will bring luck and success in education and study, and you will see people do exactly that if you visit the shrine.
As you walk around the shrine, you’ll definitely notice lots of ema hanging off boards there, especially during exam season. Ema are small wooden tablets upon which you write your wishes or dreams. And as Michizane is associated with study, the ema at Yushima Tenjin are filled with requests from people who are asking for a little extra help in passing their tests!
Near the shrine, there is a shop if you want to buy ema, omikuji and a few other souvenirs. There is also a treasury room that costs ￥500. The treasury room looks great inside and seems very interesting, but nothing is written in English. So, if you don’t read Japanese, or have a person with you who does, you won’t understand anything you see and that is a real pity as I think many people who are interested in Japanese history would find it very interesting.
Yushima Tenjin is a really nice place to walk around. It was made in the beautiful Gongen-zukuri style and has a big roof covered in copper. Built in 458 for the worship of Ameno-tajikarao-no-mikoto, the kami of sports and strength, it was expanded in 1355 to accommodate the enshrining of Michizane.
A good thing about Yushima Tenjin is that it is close to Ueno so you can find a lot of things to do nearby. Ueno Park, Ameya-Yokocho, the Shitamachi Museum, and Kyu-Iwasaki Gardens are all within easy walking distance. If you want to see another shrine of this type, that is a Tenjin shrine, you could also check out Kameido Tenjin in Koto ward which has plum blossoms, but is better known for its wisteria festival!
Yushima Tenjin is quite a busy shrine, even on weekdays, but it is during early spring when the plum blossoms bloom that is becomes extremely crowded, and that is when I would definitely plan any trip there. At other times of the year, the flowers won’t be in bloom so you’ll obviously miss them!
How to get to Yushima Tenjin
Yushima station (Chiyoda subway line) is very close to Yushima Tenjin, so leave by the number 3 exit. Here is a Google map to help you:
The grounds of Yushima Tenjin are open from 6 am to 8 pm. The treasury is open from 9 am to 5 pm (with last entry at 4.30 pm).
Free, but the treasury costs ￥500.
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