A Bonsai Exhibition with 130 kinds of Japanese plums at Sugawara Tenmanguu, the sacred shrine for wisdom in Nara!

The god of wisdom, Michizane Sugawara, is enshrined in Sugawara Tenmanguu, and every spring (February to March) they hold a Bonsai exhibition with 130 different kinds of plums. The plum has a special meaning to Michizane Sugawara, and the exhibition is about how his life relates to it.

2017-04-21 Wasabi   Travel Destinations, Nara,


How did Michizane Sugawara become the God of wisdom?
Michizane developed the appreciation and culture for cherry blossoms in Japan.
Let’s appreciate Michizane’s beloved plum trees.

How did Michizane Sugawara become the God of wisdom?

Michizane Sugawara was a politician in 800. He excelled academically when he was young, and plunged into politics. He then took the #2 position as the ‘Minister of the Right’. It was the first time in 133 years that a scholar succeeded in becoming a politician. However, the #1 at the time felt threaten by him and demoted Michizane to Kyusyu, where he lived out his life. After his death, there were many accidents in the capital. Those who were involved in his political demotion mysteriously died and lightning struck the town, killing many noble men. People believed that these mysterious accidents were caused by the curse of Michizane, and built a shrine to reconcile with his dead soul. After that, other shrines were also built throughout Japan, and it is now said that Japan has about 12,000 shrines that enshrine the spirit of Michizane.

He came to be worshipped as a god of wisdom, because he excelled academically when he was a child, and he is also associated with the god of lightning.
Today, students and their families go to the shrines to wish for academic success.

In Tokyo, the most famous shrine associated to Michizane is Yushima Tenjin.

Plum trees
Plum trees
Cherry blossoms
Cherry blossoms

Michizane developed the appreciation and culture for cherry blossoms in Japan.

Michizane was not only a top scholar, but also a great poet. The plum often appears in his poetry. The Spring flower of Japan now days is the cherry blossom, but used to be the plum. The plum was brought from China and was popular as a token of Chinese culture. The luxury for noble men at the time was reading poetry while showing appreciation for plum trees.
Michizane sent Japanese missions to Tang, China in 894, and older Japanese culture has been much more praised since then. Following this, the Spring flower of Japan gradually became the cherry blossom. It was a pivotal time in Japanese history when Michizane disappeared from the political scene and the cherry blossom became the Spring flower of Japan.

 Inside the grounds of Sugawara Shrine

Let’s appreciate Michizane’s beloved plum trees.

Sugawara Tenmanguu in Nara is said to be the origin of the Sugawara Family. However, there are several other theories, and the truth remains a mystery.



From the middle of February to the middle of March, beautiful plum trees will welcome you once you enter the shrine. Every year, they have an exhibition of plum trees (130 different kinds of plums in 200 pots). As you walk through the shrine, the wind delivers the sweet smell of plums. It’s been 1100 years since his disappearance from this world in 903, but the plum trees are still alive. Michizane, who once frightened people as a living ghost and who cursed the world, is now appreciated by students who wish for academic success.


518 Tōkujōchō, Nara city, Nara Prefecture 〒631-0842

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Writer/ Translator

I love Japanese folkcraft article, traditional handicrafts and antiques. I’m seeking the Japanese people’s religious outlooks and its origins that are behind Japanese people’s unique sense and techniques rooted in the ordinary life.


Address 518 Tōkujōchō, Nara city, Nara Prefecture 〒631-0842
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Access 10 min. by foot from Kintetsu “Amagatsuji” station.
15 min. by foot from Kintetsu “Yamato saidaiji”station through Rekishi(History) Road.
Phone 0742-45-3576
Website http://www.sugawaratenmangu.com