Kameido Tenjin Shrine - An Impressive Shrine Worth a Visit
Kameido Tenjin Shrine is a shrine that associated with the 9th century scholar, poet, and politician named Sugawara no Michizane (born 845-died March 26, 903). Michizane was one of the most significant politicians in the history of Japan. By the late 9th century, he was appointed the governor of Sanuki province and other important posts by the Emperor Uda. However, at the beginning of 10th century Michizane's position became vulnerable; he was accused of plotting the throne. As a result, the poor politician was banished from the city and was demoted to a minor post in the island of Kyushu.
Two or three years after his lonely death, a series of catastrophes —droughts, fires and the death of a son of Emperor Daigo — were attributed to an angry spirit of Michizane. Then they decided to build a Shinto shrine in Kyoto dedicated to him; and deified him as "Tenjin Sama" or the god of study. There are many Shinto shrines devoted to him around the country, including Kameido Tenjin Shrine.
Kameido Tenjin Shrine was built in 1646 to enshrine Michizane. This beautiful shrine has been worshiped at for centuries in order to pray to the god for success in examinations. Sadly, during World War II the original shrine was largely burnt down by the Allied fire bombing. What is seen today is mostly reconstructed and restored with concrete, metal and other modern materials.
After the restoration the shrine rose as gorgeous as when it was built. It is famous among the prayers and travelers alike. Aside from worshiping, people come for the drum bridges, plum blossoms and wisteria.
Kameido's Drum Bridges
A drum bridge or a moon bridge is a highly arched pedestrian bridge associated with garden in Japan. There are many of them dotted in the country but Kameido's drum bridges are probably the only ones in Tokyo, as far as I know.
Looking at the great steepness of it, you might wonder why such a bridge was built in a country that prone to earthquakes. Historically, the design has several functions. It reveals a circle or a full moon reflection over the still water. The steepness forces the visitors to slow down, putting them in the right state of mind before entering the shrine. It also allows the boats to pass underneath.
Kameido Tenjin Shrine is known for its gorgeous ume, or plum blossoms. It is a home to more than 300 plum trees including plum bonsai and the renowned "Goken no Ume," which has both red and white blossoms. Annually it hosts a month long (mid-February to mid-March) plum festival filled with plum-themed food stalls.
On a clear day, you can see the Mejiro or the lovely Japanese white eyes sitting happily on the trees. They are especially fond of the plum nectar. To me, this is the best part of plum blossoms viewing.
Wisteria is a species of flowering plant in the pea family Fabaceae, native to the United States, China, Korea and Japan. It is a woody climber that grows up to 30 feet. Japan has more than 20 species of wisteria featuring a lot of blue, purple, pink, white and yellow. At full bloom, the blossoms create a huge stunning fairy tale tunnel. In Tokyo, the flowers bloom all at once from late April to the beginning of May, one to two weeks earlier than Fuji of Tochigi.
Being a home to a lot of purple Fuji flowers, Kameido Tenjin Shrine is among the best spots for viewing the flowers in the city. By late of April every year, the shrine commemorates Fuji Matsuri (wisteria festival).
This Matsuri also includes many staple Japanese food stalls, serving delicious Okonomiyaki (a savory pancake made with several ingredients), Yakisoba (stir fry egg noodles), Yakitori (grilled chicken), choco banana, etc.
For the last couple of years, the blossoms were lit up with multi-color LEDs at night to draw in festival patrons. Hence, during the peak bloom the place can be packed with both Tokyoite and travelers, so just go early.
Neighboring Places Worth a Visit
I think nobody would get bored of enjoying the scenic shrine and its beautiful blossoms. However, if you have extra time and want to catch an aroma of this shitamachi town, I recommend you to start with Kameido Katori Kachi-Un Shotengai, a charming traditional market where locals do their everyday shopping. Another must see is Sano Miso, an 80-year-old miso specialist located just a 5-minute walk from Kameido station, where you can sample their delicious traditional soy bean paste before purchasing.
If you prefer doing some fun and cheap shopping, head to Arcakit Kinshicho for a large scale Daiso 100 yen shop or visit a famous Don Quijote, Kameido Ekimae.
By Train: 15 min. walk from the North Exit of Kameido Station on the Sobu Line, or 15 min. walk from the North Exit of Kinshicho Station on the Sobu Line or Tokyo Metro Hanzomon Line.
By Bus: Get off at the Kameido Tenjin-mae stop on the Toei Bus.