Tenman-gu Shrine (天満宮)

Tenman-gu Shrines are Shinto shrines to deify and quell the anger of SUGAWARA no Michizane, who fell victim to political misfortune. His story is representative of the belief in vengeance spirits. He is also known as 'Tenjin' (heavenly gods) or 'Tenjin-san'. The shrines are known by various names including Tenman-jinja Shrine, Tenma-jinja Shrine, Sugawara-jinja Shrine after the enshrined deity's name in his lifetime, SUGAWARA no Michizane, Tenjin-sha Shrine after the name of the enshrined deity, and there are also those with names that use the name of the shrine's location as a prefix. However, the name 'Tenman-sha Shrine' can also indicate shrines unrelated to SUGAWARA no Michizane that enshrine Amatsu kami (god of heaven).

The belief in enshrining Michizane as 'Tenjin' is known as 'Tenjin Shinko' (a faith in Tenjin).


Following Michizane's death, the capital city of Heiankyo was successively hit by disasters such as thunderstorms and, when a bolt of lightening that struck the Emperor's palace Seiryo-den killed Dainagon (chief councilor of state) FUJIWARA no Kiyotaka, Michizane came to be regarded in the same light as the Tenjin god of lightening (Karai Tenjin).
It is said that the name 'Tenman' was derived from the name 'Soramitsu Dai Jizai Tenjin' given name as a deity following the death of Michizane, which was itself derived from the saying that 'The vengeful spirit of Michizane became the god of thunder and filled the sky.'

Michizane's status as a renowned scholar during his lifetime (some people claim him to have been the greatest of the Heian period) led Tenjin to be regarded as the patron of scholarship and now many students visit the shrines to pray for success in examinations. It is said that worshipping at the shrines and purchasing a writing brush will be of benefit to those taking examinations. Michizane was very fond of ume (Japanese plum) trees and composed a waka (a traditional Japanese poem of thirty-one syllables) for the tree in his garden: "Kochi fukaba nioi okoseyo ume-no-hana aruji nashi tote haruna wasureso" (Whenever the east wind blows, my dear plum blossoms remember spring, even if your master won't be here).

The symbolism of the ume tree derives from the Legend of Tobiume (the flying plum tree) that states that the tree flew to Dazaifu to be with Michizane. Tenman-gu Shrine takes bulls as shinshi (a messenger of the enshrined deity) as there are various legends that associate Michizane with bulls.

The Three Great Tenjins of Japan

There are many major Tenman-gu Shrines on the path Michizane took to his place of exile in Dazaifu, and three Tenman-gu Shrines such Kitano-tenmangu Shrine, Dazaifu-tenmangu Shrine, and Osaka-tenmangu Shrine (or Hofu-tenmangu Shrine), that are considered to have had the deepest connection with Michizane are referred to as the Three Great Tenjins of Japan.

The general headquarters, Kitano-tenmangu Shrine was built by the Imperial Court on Ukon no Baba (a riding ground) of which Michizane was particularly fond in order to appease his vengeful spirit, but in reality Dazaifu-tenmangu Shrine rather than Kitano-tenmangu Shrine is considered to be the headquarters. This is due to the fact that the main hall of Dazaifu-tenmangu Shrine has been built on Michizane's burial place (this is particularly unique case while Shinto shrines usually enshrine only the deity's soul). Dazaifu-tenmangu Shrine receives not only many visitors from all over the country during the New Year and the examination season but also numerous requests to pray by post and fax. According to the National Police Agency's expectation of crowd during year-end and New Year holidays released at the end of each year, Dazaifu-tenmangu Shrine expects approximately 2 million visitors every year, which is the highest number in the Kyushu-Okinawa regions as well as in the entire country.

Of course, other Tenman-gu Shrines have a long history of devoted worship in each region and receive many visitors consisting mainly of local people during the examination season. In addition to the Three Great Tenjins of Japan, Tokyo's Kameido-tenjinja Shrine and Yushima-tenmangu Shrine are large-scale shrines in the Tokyo metropolitan area and are both popular among students who are taking entrance examinations in the area.

[Original Japanese]