Ume Matsuri the Plum blossoms festival of Yushima Tenjin in old Edo Tokyo
Tokyo has changed over the years. Quite a lot, by any measure, be it economy food habits lifestyle. Except for some pockets, that still are holding onto traditions. Yushima is one of them. The old Jinja, one of the three major Shinto shrines known as Tenjin in and around the city of Tokyo occupies a pride of place in Yushima. Its a sleepy quiet place. Quiet for most of the year, except for the two weeks end of February. Its the time for plum blossoms, Ume in Japanese.
Yushima Jinja is home to a garden full of plum and other trees, that come into their own during this time. And so the area changes into a festival ground, with people in their festive best thronging its portals. Art festivals and food stalls enliven the neighborhood. Ume Matsuri, plum festival, at Yushima Tenjin is said to be running in this old part of Tokyo (formerly called Edo) for hundreds of years.
Story of Tenjin
The God Tenjin is closely associated with learning. It is said that the presiding deity was once a living human being, in the royal court in Kyoto. His knowledge and wisdom was beyond par, deifying him into a god after his death. Over the years this history has largely been forgotten, replaced with a more practical aspect of it all. Now students come to Tenjin to pray for success in exams!
The prayer walls are overflowing with students’ dedications – small bundles of paper or wooden plates inscribed with prayer. Evidently the prayers do help, otherwise why should there be such a rush! And in case one wants to be extra sure,there is a metal statue of bull. Rubbing ones hand on the bull brings extra luck.
In keeping with its connection to tradition, this festival also plays host to everything else traditional. Origami cranes fans and Hina dolls share space with Amezaiku, the Japanese craft of figurines made from molten sugar. Exhibitions of Bonsai and Ikebana present the exquisite and traditional Japan. The precincts turn all colorful with food stalls and craft shops.
Yushima is and has been very much a part of Tokyo, unlike many of the recent developments. What makes one wonder why this place is not there anywhere to be found in tourist guides. In terms of location it is right next to Ueno park*, and Ameyokocho, the two tourist magnets. Somewhere it lost out to its more famous neighbors, being overtaken at some point by concrete high-rises all around. Just like Ume the plum blossoms gave way to Sakura the cherry blossoms in the fight for touristy glamour. But all that’s none of a bother to the hordes of anxious students and kimono clad senior citizens who assemble every year to celebrate Ume Matsuri at Yushima Tenjin. If you are looking for a day out not too far then head to Yushima. You will not be disappointed. And if in time for the festival, you can experience the traditional Japan right here.
*To read more about Ueno park
Yushima Tenjin is a 2 minutes walk from Yushima station, metro Chiyoda line. Also easily walk-able from nearby stations on Ginza and Toei Oedo lines. Entry is free. For more information on annual festival dates and event schedule look up