Hari Kuyo at Horin-ji – an Ancient Needle Memorial Service in Kyoto
Osaka, Kyoto and Kansai
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).
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
・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
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!
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Here’s the link. URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/2566/
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