This weekend we visited Yushima Tenmangu a Shinto shrine more commonly called Yushima Tenjin for the plum blossom festival. Yushima Tenjin was originally established in 458 A.D. in order to worship Ameno-tajikaraono-mikoto, one of deities that appear in Japanese myths. However, in 1355, Sugawara Michizane, a historical figure, was also enshrined here to venerate his extraordinary virtue as a scholar. It is also said that he had a great love of plum blossoms.
Nowadays many students visit this shrine to pray for their success in passing examinations. Around the temple tied on racks will be, `ema`, votive tablets upon which they write their wishes or dreams. During the peak exam times in Japan, the racks on the temple grounds are literally covered in them.
But for the majority of foreign visitors the shrine is most famous for the beautiful blossoms of Ume (plum blossoms, also known as the Japanese apricot) on its grounds. Every year, in February and March, “Ume Matsuri” (Ume festival or plum blossom festival) is held, and it attracts many visitors who enjoy the blossoms. The buildings at Yushima Tenjin were rebuilt in December 1995 in the traditional way.
Unfortunately we didn`t pick the best day to visit. It was a rather cold and gloomy day. But this didn`t stop the crowds from attending to admire the flowers. Being quite cold, the the flowers weren`t quite in full bloom, but they were good enough to keep everyone happy.
Yushima Tenjin is actually quite small. After entering the shrine grounds through the main entrance on Kasuga-dori (or Kasuga road) you`ll see the main hall of the temple directly in front of you and behind it will be the garden with the plum blossoms. You`ll be surprised by the compactness of the area. But within that small space the gardens and trees are exquisitely arranged, with a waterfall, a bridge and space for a tea ceremony.
The flowers on the trees come in shades of white, pink and red. And during the Nara period (719-794) they were actually the preferred flower in Japan. However, it wasn`t until the Heian period (794-1185) that the cherry blossom became the more popular. The contrast between the colours is amazing and lovely to look at.
As well as enjoying the trees, during the festival you can also enjoy the typical foods found at festivals throughout Japan. Okonomiyaki (some people compare it to a pancake that contains meat and vegetables), frankfurts, takoyaki (like a small dumpling containing octopus), yakisoba (fried noodles containing meat and vegetables) and a whole lot more waiting for you to discover them.
This festival is rather quiet and sedate, an extremely pleasant way to fill in an afternoon. On a bright sunny day, it is absolutely glorious. People tend to walk around the area taking pictures of the trees, looking at the wares at the stalls or enjoying something to eat and spending time with family and friends.
If you are in Tokyo during February or March, check the shrine`s homepage, which can be seen here, and head on over. Also close to the shrine is Ueno. So on one day you could attend see the plum blossoms and also see Ueno zoo, park or the Shitamachi Museum which is very close to the zoo.
How to get to Yushima Tenjin
Yushima Tenjin is located in Tokyo`s Bunkyo ward and is extremely easy to get. Located on Kasuga-dori (Kasuga road), there are three subway lines you can use: the Chiyoda (Yushima station), Ginza (Ueono-hirokoji station) and the Marunouchi (Hongo-sanchome station). Plus you can also use the JR Yamanote line (Okachimachi station). All of these stations are less than a ten minute walk from the shrine. We also have a map here to give you a better idea:
View Yushima Tenmungu Shrine and closest stations in a larger map
Best time to go to the Plum Blossom Festival
Without doubt it is the February/March period for the plum blossoms. Just remember to check the web for the correct date of the festival. The shrine`s homepage has an English section but it doesn`t seem to display the correct date every year.