1. Worth Exploring: Kitano Tenmangu Shrine and Kamshichiken Area

Worth Exploring: Kitano Tenmangu Shrine and Kamshichiken Area

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Yuko Kuriyama

Being a native Kyotoite is not easy; can't get anywhere without weaving through the World Heritage sites, expected to talk like a maiko, and too many old and new restaurants to choose from...and I am loving it! Happy to show you the city I live and love.


 A Nice Mixture of Historical Establishments, Maiko and Geiko

Kitano Tenmangu shrine is located in Kamigyo-ku ward, 30 minutes drive from central parts of Kyoto. The shrine was built over 1,000 years ago and is the most important of 12,000 shrines across Japan that are dedicated to Sugawarano Michizane, a god of academics. The shrine is one of the most famous in Japan for its blessing on studies. Visitors, especially students from all over Japan come here to pray for success in exams. The Shrine is adjacent to one of five kagai (hanamachi, or geisha district) in Kyoto called Kamishichiken (locals pronounce it Kamihichiken) where maiko and geiko (they are called geisha in other parts of Japan) work in Ochaya tea houses. At the open-air tea ceremony held in Kitano Tenmangu shrine in every February 25th called Baika Sai, maiko and geiko are making and serving matcha tea.

Despite of these historically well-known establishments, this area is less crowded with  both international and domestic tourists (with exceptions of End/New Year and plum blossom season). It is basically a rather quiet neighborhood. There are variety of shops and restaurants of local goodies such as delicate creamy tofu and yuba, out of this world peachy shave ice in the summer, and my favorite, soy bean soft serves…details for these food will be on my future blog post which is comig up soon!  All of these can be experienced and enjoyed within walking distance


                                                                   The gate to main shrine. Designated as important cultural properties


                                                                                                              A statue of cow, messenger of god




■ Kitano Tenmangu Shrine 北野天満宮

Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is located northwest of Kyoto which enshrines Sugawarano Michizane, a politician who was unfairly exiled from imperial capital of Kyoto by his political rivals. After his death, a number of disasters had occurred and they were believed to be caused by his curse. The imperial court of Heian period (794-1185 AD) decided to build Kitano Tenmangu Shrine to appease him.


The main gate


Main shrine, designated as a national treasure


So many types of charms to choose from depending on what kind of luck you need


Visitors from across the country make a wish for passing entrance exams or getting good grades hoping for blessing from Michizane since he was known for his exceptional intelligence. There are a number of statues of cow all over the shrine grounds and they are considered to be a messenger of god (Michizane). Visitors not only make a heartfelt wish on exams at the main shrine, but rub the cows as well, just to be sure!





The shrine is also famous for its plum tree grove since Michizane loved plum trees and there are as many as 1,500 of them on the premises. If you visit between early January and late March, you will be amazed by the dreamy fragrance and the beauty of the plum blossoms (flowering time subject to temparature, check before visiting is recommended). 

An annual event of Baika Sai (a celebration of flowering plum trees) festival is held on February 25th which is the anniversary of Michizane’s death. Maiko and geiko from Kamishichiken are making and serving matcha at this open-air tea ceremony.  


                                                                    An extavagant event held in a backdrop of beautiful plum blossoms


Last but not least, the shrine has one more major fun event on the 25th of each month; a street market called Tenjin-san festival. There will be lots of interesting variety of food stands, vendors of antiques and used kimonos, etc. Atmosphere: quite vibrant. Since the market starts from 6:00pm, the whole shrine is lit up as it gets darker so that stone lanterns scattered across the shrine grounds and intricate design of the gates and architecture look different from daytime and they are so picturesque.





■ Kamishichiken 上七軒

There are five kagai in Kyoto and Kamishichiken is the oldest of all, it dates back to mid-15th century when repairing Tenmangu partially burnt down from a riot occurred in the neighborhood and seven tea houses were built for the visitors of the shrine to rest using materials left over from the repair. The tea houses eventually evolved into Ochaya where patrons were entertained by maiko and geiko.

In Kamishichiken, currently there are 10 tea houses and roughly 30 maiko and geiko are working. Major attractions are Kitano Odori, a traditional, theatrical dance and sing performance by maiko and geiko. The shows are performed between March and April for usually 14 days each year.

Another popular attraction is Japan’s summertime favorite “Beer Garden” (beer house)  opens from July to September at Kaburenjyo theater in Kamishichiken attended by maiko and geiko dressed in yukata, an informal summer kimono. They wear a more natural makeup to match this light summer attire and certainly look different from typical maiko/geiko look, but just as stunning as the official look for sure!






■ Maiko/Geiko Makeover  by Former Geiko

Finally, maiko/geiko makeover gets even more special when the transformation is done by former geiko at Katsufumi in Kamishichiken. You will even be able to pick kimono and accessories actual maiko or geiko used to wear.




Kitano Tenmangu Shrine and Kamishichiken area not only has interesting spots, but convenient for Arashiyama. In just ten minutes walk, you will get to Randen train station that leads to Arashiyama.

Shrine and maiko first or Arashiyama first? Take your pick!




■ Information

Kitano Odori    



2017 Schedule for Kamishichiken Beer Garden

When: July 1-Sep 5 (except for Aug 14-16 due to Bon holidays)

Opening hours: 17:30-22:00 (last call at 21:30)

Phone: 075-461-0148

Kamishichiken Kabukai 上七軒歌舞会  http://www.maiko3.com/event/ev-6.html (in Japanese)

To make a reservation, it’s probably best to ask a hotel concierge or Japanese speaker.


Maiko/Geiko makeover

Katsufumi 勝ふみ maikotaiken-katufumi.com/en/index.html





■ References

Kitano Tenmangu shrine 北野天満宮 http://www.kitanotenmangu.or.jp/index.php

7 DWM. (n.d.). Retrieved 2017/06/27, from http://7dwm.com/new-years

Kamishichiken Kabukai 上七軒歌舞会. (n.d.).Retrieved 2017/06/23, from  http://www.maiko3.com/index.html

Katsufumi 勝ふみ.(n.d.).Retrieved 201706/27, from http://maikotaiken-katufumi.com/en/photo.html

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Yuko Kuriyama
Yuko Kuriyama
Being a native Kyotoite is not easy; can't get anywhere without weaving through the World Heritage sites, expected to talk like a maiko, and too many old and new restaurants to choose from...and I am loving it! Happy to show you the city I live and love.