As someone living here and traveling a lot around the country, I find that my standards of what I find impressive or "wows" me have definitely gone up. I don't want to be that kind of snob, but it just be like that you know? The cherry blossoms and plum blossoms are all nice, but it really just loses its magic over time.
So I was really on the fence when I was in Kyoto, about to take a bus from Sanjo to Kitano-Tenmangu. I saw the line for the bus and I really had half a mind to just say "fuck it"... and go back home.
After all, I have been to Kitano-Tenmangu many times. I usually visit during the autumn season, as a part of the shrine runs along a stream and it's littered in Momiji. It's truly spectacular if you can catch it at the right timing.
These are my photos from back in 2019, and this wasn't even peak yet:
The most spectacular part of Kitano-Tenmangu's momijis is that it completely surrounds the path and acts as a canopy above you - so the red and orange colors also engulf you as you walk through the garden/park.
So knowing what I know, I was sure Kitano-Tenmangu's Plum blossoms wasn't going to disappoint. On the Keihan website (a true lifesaver, btw), they have a Ume tracker that tells you when everything in the area is full bloom or not. And this was yesterday's forecast (March 4th):
And truly, I was not disappointed. At all.
At the moment, I would say while most of it is in full bloom, it will probably last up for another week at least until March 11th, 2023 if the weather holds up. A lot of the bloom is still just peaking through. But if you have time this week, I recommend you going.
The entry fee is 1200 yen - which is rather steep - but the night illuminations also gives you a free snack ticket you can exchange for a snack and some tea at their makeshift teahouse. Last entry for the ume blossom is around 7:30PM, I believe.
There are two sections for photos & viewing -
one area that faces the shrine:
The dot up there is the moon. Unfortunately my camera phone just isn't exactly up to the task to capture the moon, but it was a beautiful night. There's another building in here that was lit up with just a LITTLE bit of ume peaking through:
Another area that has a tiny pond - an entire ume garden, literally.
This is where all the magic happens:
The ume garden area is quite huge. There's paths snaking in every which direction surrounded by ume trees and a pond right in the middle of it all. At night, this spot is truly magical - like a fairy tale land with candied trees. It helps with the little dangling candles on every tree.
There is a elevated platform that helps you gain a view from a higher spot and through the tree lines just a tad bit:
I imagine this is more helpful during the daytime, so this is still lovely nonetheless.
Here is the pond from the other side:
There was even the infamous monkey performer that seems to make its way to perform in a lot of the shrines across Kansai (maybe even Japan?). The last time I saw this group, they were over in Shitennoji... I wonder if they're all the same group just performing in different places...
But I didn't stick around to watch. Not my type of thing.
Instead, I went to get my snack and hot tea to warm my fingers. At this point, they were so cold I was losing a bit of mobility. When I was taking photos by the pond, I was so scared to drop my phone in there since my fingers were so frozen. Haha.
And that's it!
I hope you get a chance to catch the ume blossoms and the kawazu-zakura (next blog post!) that's blossoming around this time. Here's me trying to get a photo with the ume before I go:
And a shrine cat:
And the awesomeness of the actual shrine.
It was still opened around 6pm when I arrived for the illuminations, but by 8pm when it was just after the cut off time for ume blossom's last entry, this area had already been closed for the day. So if you want to see the shrine, do go here before you enter to view the blossoms.
Entry is free here: