July 24, 2012

Yushima Tenjin

Yushima Tenjin, a Shinto shrine about 15 minutes' walk from Ueno. The shrine was established in the year 458, and has had several incarnations throughout the centuries.

I visited there on June 30, which happens to be nagoshi no harae, a summer rite to do away with all impurities and sins. The thatched ring in shrines is also a familiar sight at the end of the year, when the winter ooharae is held. The priests made a rare appearance for the event.

Yushima Tenjin is said to house the Spirit of Learning, and many students make their pilgrimage to this shrine to pray for good luck in passing their entrance exams.

Tenjin, the spirit (kami) of learning, is actually based on a famous Japanese historical figure called Sugawara no Michizane, an essential figure in the 9th century Heian period. The bull plays a large role in myths surrounding Michizane, and figures greatly in the iconography of Yushima Tenjin.

Michizane was also fond of ume (plum) blossoms, which explains the carving of both plum and cow on the doors.

The plum tree garden was unfortunately closed off, but judging from the photos on their homepage, it's well worth visiting during plum blossom time.

 Kikyō (Japanese bellflower) flowers, with their lovely shade of blue and precise shape.

One of the side entrances to the shrine. Go down the steps, and at the foot is Shinjoin, aka the charming turtle temple.

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