The shrine beloved of scholars

Yushima Tenmangu shrine is associated with scholars and learning

On my second-last day in Tokyo, I took the Chiyoda Line to Yushima, not far from Ueno Park, to pay my respects to the kami of learning.

Yushima Tenmangu shrine was founded in 458 AD. It was originally dedicated to Ame-no-Tajikarao-mikoto (天手力雄命), a kami associated with physical power. But sometime in 1355, Tenjin was added to the divine mix.

Tenjin (天神) is the deified name of Michizane Sugawara (845-903), a Heian-era scholar, poet and politician whose kami is associated with scholarship and learning.

The shrine is an oasis of calm in the centre of the city. It’s overlooked by tall buildings, but the noise of traffic seems far away.

It’s also close to Tokyo University. Students come here in April to pray for passing grades before writing their entrance exams. The racks are filled with wooden ema plaques whose backs are crabbed with messages, and wishes for acceptance into some choice university.

Picking up an omamori for good fortune with my upcoming book

I stopped by to pick up an omamori for some sorely needed good fortune with my upcoming book. (I’ll keep you posted on that when we’re closer to the publication date.)

When the clapping and bowing was done, we sat under the plum trees to eat a box of traditional sweets we’d picked up at nearby Tsuruse, where they’ve been making mamemochi and mamedaifuku since 1930.

The lines are all crossed at Ochanomizu

Those mochi-based treats fuelled a long walk to Ochanomizu and beyond, to the used book district of Jimbocho, where I stumbled across a few English books to add ballast to my checked baggage.

 Unfortunately, I don’t have photos of that neighbourhood. I was too busy browsing.

About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

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