梅まつりPlum Blossom Festival (1)

梅まつり Plum Blossom Festival
It’s (finally) that time of year again when the flowers start to bloom!
This post is going to be pretty picture heavy because I love to take pictures of flowers.

From the end of February to the middle of March, the first of the flowering trees start blooming. Last year, I mistakenly believed these to be cherry blossoms. Those come a little bit later, from the end of March until the beginning of April. First are the plum trees.

梅まつり Plum Blossom Festival

I’ve been keeping an eye on the one at work, watching it bloom and getting a whiff of the flowers when I’m outside at recess. Plum trees smell lovely. All of the shops sell fancy sakura scented goods, like hand cream and so on, but what they should package is the plum blossom smell: sweet and a little bit spicy. Yum!

梅まつり Plum Blossom Festival

My first stop yesterday was 亀戸天神, Kameido Tenjin Shrine. I’ve been there before (a few times). Kameido, like all Tenjin Shrines, enshrines the spirit of a historical scholar, 菅原道真, Sugawara no Michizane. (His name as a 神様, a kami (loosely, a “god”), is 天満天神, Tenma Tenjin.)

Originally enshrines to appease his vengeful ghost, Sugawara no Michizane was a Heian Period scholar and poet. Tenjin Shrines popular places to pray for good luck during the new school year, for passing entrance exams, etc. He is a patron spirit of arts, especially poetry.

Sugawara no Michizane also really, really loved plum blossoms, and you can find plum trees at all of his shrines.

梅まつり Plum Blossom Festival

Although Kameido Tenjin is more famous for their wisteria (which bloom in May), there are plum blossoms aplenty to be seen and admired. When my friend, and fellow shrinehopper, Anna, brought her shrine book in to be signed, they stamped it with a special “梅まつり” stamp.

梅まつり Plum Blossom Festival

I happened to catch a glimpse of a stranger’s shrine book while I was out admiring the flowers, and I saw that they have a special purple stamp for the Wisteria Festival in late spring.

Gotta catch ’em all?

My next stop was 湯島天神, Yushima Tenjin Shrine, not far from Ueno Park. I’ve been to Yushima Tenjin Shrine many times before, because I used to live over there. Often, I would stumble upon it by accident while out biking. That was always a good sign, because it meant I could find my way home.

However, I didn’t have my shrine book yet, so I brought that along to be signed.

梅まつり Plum Blossom FestivalI never cared much for handwriting before I started collecting shrine signatures. I love the delicacy of this one; a contrast to the dark, heavy (and still beautiful) signature on the opposite page, which unfortunately bled through the paper in places. Those two signatures are a study in contrasts.

Yushima Tenjin is usually a place of quiet and serenity. It’s a little out of the way from Ueno Park, and not quite famous enough to appear on every tourist’s itinerary. Yesterday, it was just bustling with people come to admire the plum blossoms that cover the grounds.

梅まつり Plum Blossom Festival

There were still opportunities for some beautiful flower photos.

梅まつり Plum Blossom Festival

I haven’t quite figured out who gets lions and who gets foxes for guardians, except that Inari Shrines always have kitsune. Sugawara no Michizane, like fellow deified scholar Ono no Takamura (enshrined in 小野照崎神社, Onoterusaki Shrine, near my old apartment), has lion guardians at his shrine.

Don’t let the old timey flower petals and carved stone lions fool you: on either side of this pedestal was a stall selling delicious fried festival food.

There is a saying in Japanese, “花より団子,” hana yori dango, which means, roughly, “food over flowers.” It’s for someone who goes to お花見, ohanami, flower viewing, for the tasty treats instead of the flowers. That was me, until about this time last year.

Now I’m all about the flowers.

梅まつり Plum Blossom Festival

梅まつり Plum Blossom Festival

 

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Plum blossoms are so important to Tenjin Shrines that the 御朱印長, shrine book, at Yushima Tenjin is decorated with them. ([ctrl]+[f] “湯島天神” to find the right one.)

This afternoon, I’m heading out for another #shrinehoppers お花見  (flower viewing) adventure, this time to 牛天神, Ushi Tenjin. This shrine is entirely new to me, so I’m looking forward to visiting!

If you’d like to go get a jump on flower viewing this spring, check out Time Out Tokyo‘s list of Top 12 Ume Spots.

お楽しみ! Enjoy!

*Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan’s Ancient Religion, by Joseph Cali and John Dougill

亀戸天神 Kameido Tenjin & Surrounding Area

After being cooped up in my apartment for three days with (maybe) the flu, I had to get out and stretch my legs. So I bundled up and left my bike behind to go explore some shrines nearby. It’s still cold outside and I’m still a little sick, so I took the train.

I buy a monthly train pass for work, because it’s cheaper and easier than putting money on my card every day, or even every week. It’s great, because it gives you unlimited travel between your home and work stations along a certain route, so I was able to get to Kameido Station for free.

I’ve been to 亀戸天神, Kameidoten Shrine (also known as Kameido Tenjin or Kameido Tenjin Shrine) before: I biked there when I was living near Ueno Park over the summer, and walked there recently to take some pictures in the snow. The weather yesterday was much more agreeable, so I took a leisurely stroll, starting with another local shrine: 香取神社, Katori Shrine.

Katori Shrine

Kinshicho Station, the next stop over from Kameido Station on the JR Sobu Line, is a twenty minute walk from the Tokyo Skytree and it dominates the area. Everywhere you go, you can see the Skytree looming above the other buildings.

It’s great for me when I’m out on my bike, because as long as I can find my way to the Skytree, I know how to get home. It also makes for some nice pictures. This one was taken from under the 鳥居, torii gate, leading into the shrine area.

From Katori Shrine, I set off to Kameido Tenjin Shrine. I didn’t have my shrine book with me when I went to take the snow pictures, because I left from work and I don’t usually carry it around with me unless I plan on going out on an adventure.

Kameidoten Shrine

Fun fact: the 亀 “kame” in 亀戸 “Kameido” means “turtle,” so there are lots of turtles to be found around the shrine area. In the summertime, you can see them swimming in the pond. Yesterday, there wasn’t a turtle to be seen – but there were two herons! Unfortunately, they were too far away to get a good photo.

I stopped to get my shrine book signed and noticed that I’m already running out of pages! The paper in my book is very thin, so the ink has bled through in some places, like behind the 王子神社 Oji Shrine signature, which is very bold and dark.

So while I waited, I looked at the books on display. A purple one with gold embroidery caught my eye, so I picked up the sample to get a closer look. Imagine my surprise when there was printed writing inside! That’s not how it’s supposed to work!

I flipped back to the front and took a moment to actually read it (whoops) and noticed something exciting:

Tokyo Ten Shrine Pilgrimage

御朱印長東京十社めぐり, or “Shrine Book for the Ten Shrines of Tokyo Pilgrimage.”

There are a lot of shrines in Tokyo. (Believe me, I know!) The Ten Shrines of Tokyo (東京十社, Tokyo Jissha) are the ten most important shrines in the city. I’ve visited many of them before, before I had my shrine book. This one is a special pilgrimage book, with a space for each of the ten signatures, and the facing page has some information about the shrine. (In Japanese, of course, but that’s why I bought an electronic kanji dictionary.)

I know what I want for my birthday.

Once I had my signature from Kameido Tenjin Shrine, I set off to the next one marked on the guide map outside of the shrine: 天祖神社 Tenso Shrine.

Tenso Shrine

I thought the route looked familiar, and I was right: I had been here before. It was no less creepy than any of the other times I’ve visited, and it’s not just that mysterious shadow across the shrine. It feels at once lived-in and neglected, and it sends a shiver down my spine every time I’ve come here.

I was a little disappointed to find that I’ve been here before. Tokyo is secretly the world’s smallest town. You end up in the same places, over and over again, quite by accident, and run into classmates you haven’t really seen or heard from in years while you’re out doing a little shopping.

By this point, I was drooping and it was time to go home. I had planned to go out one stop further than my workplace, to 水天宮 Suitengu Shrine, but my (re)visit will have to wait until another time when I’m not still fighting off the flu.

That’s okay. Maybe when I go, I can take my bike. You miss a lot by going on the train, but I wasn’t up for it yesterday. I’m glad I was able to get out of my apartment, even if I did end up sleeping for ten hours last night.

亀戸天神 Kameido Shrine

We had a snow day at work today, so I was out by two o’clock. Usually by the time I get out, shrines have closed up shop for the day, so I took advantage of the rare time off – and even rarer snow in Tokyo. We aren’t looking at a piddling few inches, either; I’ve got at least five inches on my balcony. I’m looking at it from the comfort and warmth of my futon, but I’ll get to that part later.

After leaving work, I couldn’t decide where to go. I tried to find a shrine near Kinshicho Station, but the one I went out looking for was mysteriously missing. Maybe it’s one of those shrines that are rumored to exist on the roofs of buildings? I don’t even know for sure that those exist. Has anyone else heard of them?

Eventually, I made my way through the slush and freezing rain to Kameido Shrine. In the springtime, it’s covered in beautiful wisteria blossoms. Today, it was covered in snow.

Kameido Shrine 1/14

The snow was falling so heavily that it was impossible to see very far. There is a shrine hiding back there, I promise! I just didn’t get a picture, because after all that, my camera (phone) was dying by the time I made it there.

Whoops.

I did manage to get a few more pictures while I was there, despite a dying camera battery and freezing fingers.

Kameido Shrine 1/14

Kameido Shrine 1/14 Kameido Shrine 1/14

Although the trek back to the station was miserable, I was so cold and wet, today’s trip was definitely worth it. I’ve lived in Tokyo for almost a year and a half(!), and this is only the second time I’ve seen snow. I’m grateful for the opportunity to see the shrines like this. I think it’s even more beautiful for it’s rarity.

I’m also grateful to be back at home, all bundled up and warm. I’m spending my evening thawing and watching Kamisama Kiss. Hopefully I’ll have a post about that soon.

PS. I love two things: shrines and cupcakes. I’ve got the shrines covered, but check out Love Hate Bake for all of your cupcake needs!