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  • Writer's pictureLee Walton

Plum Bonsai

Updated: Mar 1, 2020

15 minute walk south of Yamato Saidaiji Station, located just around the corner from Kikou-ji Temple, lies Sugawara Tenmangu Shrine.


Every year from February 9th to March 8th, they hold a plum bonsai exhibition showcasing over 150 trees. I unusually had the afternoon off and decided to go check it out. Half of the exhibition is outdoor, the other half, which is more impressive, is indoors.



The fragrance floating around the indoor exhibition was amazing and fortunately, as there weren't many visitors that day, I had the room to myself. This meant I could take my time framing my shots and make a couple of panoramas unencumbered.


The Shrine is rather small, but it exudes a simplistic charm.


The outdoor exhibition snakes back and forth to the side of the main hall and culminates at the entrance of the indoor exhibition.


The exhibition is open from 9am - 4 pm daily and costs ¥500 to enter.


In front of the indoor exhibition hall, there is a gorgeous weeping plum tree.


White plum blossoms


Plum trees in bloom lack the volume of their sakura counterparts, but as these pictures hopefully attest, plum blossoms are just as beautiful.



Why Plums?


All across Japan, there are literally hundreds of shrines with "Tenmangu" in their names and any such shrine is dedicated to the sprit of Sugawara no Michizane. Michizane was a scholar born in 845 in Kyoto and famed for his love of plums trees, poetry skills and his ultimate exile.


Once a high ranking government officer, Michizane was demoted and finally exiled due to the slander and deceit of his rivals in the Fujiwara clan. Despite the subsequent hardships, Michizane continued his scholarly pursuits with the aim of preserving his character.



After Michizane's death, a succession of plague, drought, rainstorms, floods and sudden royal deaths rocked the nation. These were attributed to the angry spirit of Michizane. To appease his vengeful soul, the imperial court built a Shinto shrine in Kyoto, called it Kitano Tenman-gū and dedicated it to him. His title and office were posthumously restored and he was eventually deified as Tenjin-sama, or kami of scholarship.



The many shrines around Japan dedicated to him are beacons for young students praying for success in their exams and decorate their grounds with plum trees to honour him.


Here is one of Michizane's famous poems written in 901, just before his exile. In it, he expresses his deep sorrow at no longer being able to admire the plum trees in his Kyoto residence.

901年の左遷の際にに書かれた道真の有名な詩の1つです。 その中で、彼は京都の邸宅の梅をもう見ることができないという深い悲しみを表現しています。

When the east wind blows, flourish in full bloom, you plum blossoms! Even though without your master don't be oblivious to spring.

東風(こち)吹かば にほひ(匂い)おこせよ 梅の花 主(あるじ)なしとて 春を忘るな

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