This is one of Kyoto’s most famous (and most beautiful) Shinto shrines. It honors the deified spirit of Sugawara no Michizane (菅原道真) a court noble and scholar of Chinese classics who lived from 845 to 903 during the Heian period (平安時代). While serving at court he fell victim to a series of rumors spread by an arch-rival, Fujiwara no Tokihira (藤原 時平), who convinced the Emperor to demote Michizane and send him into a humiliating exile in far-away Kyushu (well, back then there was no high-speed train!). A few years later Sugawara died and in quick succession came numerous disasters and portents ranging from earthquakes, typhoons, a solar eclipse and, most importantly, a series of catastrophes at court: the death of the Emperor’s son, Crown Prince Yasuakira (保明親王) in 923, the death another Crown Prince two years later, and a lightning bolt striking the imperial palace in 930. Convinced that these were all the result of Michizane’s aggrieved spirit, the imperial court posthumously restored Michizane’s titles and rank, and in 947 established a shrine to appease his spirit. The current Kitano Tenmangu shrine is in this same location, and the stately roof you see here is from the main shrine building (本殿), originally constructed in 1607.
Because of Michizane’s fame as a man of great learning, he has become the god of education, and because of his skill with the brush he is also the god of calligraphy (書道).