Baikasai Kyoto Plum Blossom Festival

The Baikasai Plum Blossom Festival takes place every year on February 25th at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in Kyoto. The celebration features plum blossoms, an outdoor tea ceremony, and real geisha.

A Brief History of Baikasai

The Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is the main shrine dedicated to the deity Tenjin, the patron of academics, scholarship, and learning. Thousands of Japanese students flock to one of the 10,000 dedicated shrines across Japan every year to pray for good exam scores.

Photo by jpellgen (@1179_jp)

However, before becoming a deity, Tenjin was a man named Sugawara Michizane.

Sugawara was a high ranking politician and a celebrated poet during the Heian period. But, in 901 AD he was stripped of his high rank and banished from Kyoto. Before leaving for Kyushu, he wrote a famous poem about his beautiful plum blossom tree.

Photo by jpellgen (@1179_jp)

After his death in 903 AD, the Emperor lost two sons to a plague and the main hall of the palace was struck by lightning several times. Believing this to be caused by Sugawara’s angry spirit, the Imperial Court had Kitano Tenmangu Shrine built in his honor.

Kitano Tenmangu Shrine was the first in Japan to enshrine a person as a deity.

What is Baikasai?

Baikasai is an annual event combining plum blossom viewing, green tea, and geisha with a Shinto ceremony to celebrate Sugawara Michizane.

On the 25th of every month, there is a small ceremony at the main hall of Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. But in February, the celebration is kicked up a notch.

Photo by jpellgen (@1179_jp)

It is believed that Sugawara passed away on February 25, and each year on this date, the shrine performs important rites in order to pacify his deified spirit.

In addition to the ceremony, the garden of around 2,000 plum trees is open to the public to stroll through and admire the trees in full bloom.

Another popular attraction during Baikasai is the outdoor tea ceremony known as nodate. For ¥2,000 you get the opportunity to be served a matcha green tea and a traditional Japanese sweet by an authentic Kyoto geisha.

Maiko at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine

Photo by Chris Gladis

From 10:00 am to 3:00 pm, you’ll find maiko and geiko from the nearby Kamishichiken geiko district serving around 3,000 lucky guests.

When is Baikasai?

Every year on February 25th – rain or shine.

Plum tree garden is open from 9:00 am to 8:00 pm. From sunset until 8:00 pm the garden is illuminated with lanterns.

Outdoor tea ceremony, nodate, is from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm.

How Much?

Admission into the garden is ¥1,000 per person.

The outdoor tea ceremony, nodate, is ¥2,000 per person.

How to Get There?

The festival is held at the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in the northwest of Kyoto.

From the JR Kyoto Station, take city bus number 50 or 101 to the Kitano Tenmangu-mae bus stop.

 

Top Photo credit: ©JNTO