Winter

See Mesmerizing Plum Blossoms at the Kitano Tenmangu Baikasai Festival

Frances

Writer

As the former capital of Japan, the streets of Kyoto seem to breathe timelessness, abundant with tradition and ancient spirituality. The baikasai plum festival in the Kitano area took place for the first time more than 900 years ago. In both commemoration and honor of the deity Tenjin (Sugawarano Michizane).


Background Information & Vocabulary

Sugawarano Michizane: a famous politician, poet and scholar from the Heian Era (8th to 12th century). He was deified after his death and given the name Tenjin. Tenjin is worshiped as the god of knowledge and learning across all of the 10,000 Tenmangu shrines that exist in Japan – the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine being the head of all such shrines.

Baikasai: this simply translates as ‘plum blossom festival’.

Image courtesy of Keiko Shih

What Happens?

The festival takes place on the 25th February annually, to mark the anniversary of Sugawarano Michizane’s death. As both scholar and god of learning, this festival is a popular event for students – especially those studying towards university entrance exams. Prayers are offered to Tenjin in the hope that his spiritual guidance might help with academic success.

Since it is also a time of celebration, the shrine becomes packed with street stands and pop-up shops and is usually very crowded. The climax, however, is by far its unforgettable tea ceremony.

So Why is it Called “Plum Blossom Festival”?

Late February is the time of year in Japan when the bright plum blossoms come into bloom. As with the cherry blossoms in April, the arrival of the plum blossoms has cultural status in Japan, with thousands of people flocking to shrines and gardens simply to view these striking flowers. And what’s more, Sugawarano Michizane actually composed a poem dedicated to his beloved plum tree before he left Kyoto, explaining not only why there are so many plum trees planted in the grounds of Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, but also how the festival gets its name.

Image courtesy of 663highland

Interesting Facts About the Festival

The kimono-wearing and face-painted maiko (apprentice geisha) who participate in the tea ceremony, serving tea and traditional sweets to customers, are all genuine maiko from the local area. Usually secluded and seen by appointment only, this is a unique occasion and extremely rare chance to see and interact with maiko on a public scale.

Information and Advice for Spectators

For any visitors to the shrine at this time of year, the plum gardens are definitely worth entering. It costs 700 JPY per person to enter, however, the price includes a cup of plum tea and traditional Japanese sweets.

For those prefer to avoid the crowds, you can still visit the gardens on any non-festival day (the plum blossoms are usually in bloom from mid-February to mid-March).

Visitors should also note that there is a cap on the number of people who can join the tea ceremony on the 25th (set at 3,000 people), so I’d recommend arriving earlier in order to avoid being turned away!

Image courtesy of Keiko Shih

Tourist Information About the Region

The best way to travel around the area is by Keifuku Dentetsu railway.

From Kitano Hakubaicho station (the closest station to Kitano Tenmangu Shrine), you can travel to the stunning Arashiyama area – famous for its beautiful river bridge and bamboo forest. Arashiyama Monkey Park is also a fun, family-friendly place to visit, where you can see wild Japanese monkeys in their natural habitat. Feeding time is simply a must-see!

Image courtesy of Keiko Shih

Details and Access

Date & time: 25th February every year.

The opening ceremony begins at 10 am.

The tea ceremony is from 10 am to 3 pm (early arrival recommended!).

Place: Kitano Tenmangu Shrine

Address: Bakurocho, Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture

Official website: http://kitanotenmangu.or.jp/top_en.php

Access: 5 min. walk from Kitano Hakubaicho station on the Keifuku Dentetsu line.

Further details:

・Entrance ticket for plum gardens: 700 JPY (350 JPY for children under 12)

・Tea ceremony ticket (includes access to the treasure house and a charm gift): 1,500 JPY per person

Closing Remarks

Japan is a country of great variety, with each area boasting its own treasure trove of festivals and culture. Kyoto and its maze of old houses, shrines, and temples, however, is perhaps the hallmark of Japanese culture seen through foreign eyes. This particular festival, however, boasts something many people long to but will never experience – the chance to interact with genuine maiko. If you haven’t already planned your trip to Kyoto for the 25th February, now is your ideal chance to come and witness something truly unforgettable.

If you would like to see this mesmerizing traditional festival and explore traditional Kyoto with a friendly local guide, please check the banner below!

An Ultimate Idea Source for Your Kyoto Stay!

Kyoto is an old capital of Japan and a cultural and historical mecca for everyone who visits this country. It is the most popular city among tourists and a must-see destination indeed. Kyoto boasts over 4000 historical places including shrines, temples, and attracts visitors with its charming atmosphere of an ancient city. This city is great for shopping, bicycling, hiking, museums, galleries, green spaces, and features many famous festivals. In the following article, you will find 100 things and many ideas on how to spend your time in Kyoto! Please, have a look, URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/events/100-things-kyoto-sightseeing-spots-traditional-japanese-events

Do You Know What to Do in Kyoto this Winter?

Winter might be not the most popular season to visit the ancient capital of Japan. Indeed, the weather is severe and it is much colder in Kyoto than in Osaka or Tokyo. However, this season allows you to avoid big tourist crowds, see famous sightseeing spots from a different perspective, and feel the atmosphere of this charming city even deeper. The following article summed up the most interesting events happening in Kyoto this winter. I am sure, you will find something to fit in your travel plans!

URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/events/popular-kyoto-winter-events-festivals-2018-2019

The Real Kyoto Gion Festival

I hope you enjoyed reading this article. Of course, Kyoto boasts many outstanding events to watch and participate, and you should do it when you have a chance! However, the original Gion festival with much bigger floats takes place every year in Kyoto in July. I am sure you will enjoy one of the most popular Gion festivals in Japan! For more information about Kyoto`s Gion Matsuri click on the link below!
URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/982/

Would You Like to Know How to Enjoy a Japanese Festival Even More?

A lot of people when they get to a Matsuri for the first time feel a bit lost. They confuse about what is happening around. If you are new to Japanese Festivals or want to know an alternative way of how you can enjoy these events, the following article will provide you with a set of helpful tips on how to choose a proper festival and activities you should try there. Please don`t hesitate to take a look at it!

URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/5363/

Enjoy Sakura in Japan!

Cherry blossoms are an essential part of Japanese culture. And, viewing cherry blossoms (Hanami) is very popular in Japan during the spring. This is because cherry blossoms, which the Japanese call “Sakura” are stunning at this season.

If you are planning to visit Japan this spring and want to discover more cherry blossoms spots in Kyoto area, please check the following article. It’s covering the best Hanami spots in the old capital and provides you with the essential information, so you can get the most from your Sakura trip!

Here’s the link. URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/2566/ 

Osaka is very close to Kyoto. It will be a miss if you don’t visit Osaka to see cherry blossoms when you are in the Kansai area in spring. Please check the following article to find out the best cherry blossoms viewing spots in Osaka and Kansai!

URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/events/osaka-kansai-cherry-blossoms-spots-sakura-festivals-feel-spring 

Kyoto and Osaka have many beautiful spots to see Cherry blossoms. However, other areas also have excellent places for hanami. Tokyo features many of those spots as well! If you are in Tokyo around spring and looking for a place to see cherry blossoms, Why don’t you check the following article?

URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/1805/

Frances

Despite having lived here for four years as an English teacher, Japan never ceases to both surprise and delight me.

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