Kami Tenjin is patron of literature, learning, scholarship, and education. His shrines are visited regularly by students and their parents who wish to invoke his aid or thank him for favours granted. His shrines are packed prior to important national exams. Tenjin wasn’t always a kami, and he wasn’t always benevolent. Once upon a time, Tenjin was Sugawara no Michizane (845–903 CE), a brilliant, successful administrator, poet, and scholar. (His specialty was Chinese literature.) Jealous colleagues conspired against him at the Heian court (now modern Kyoto). Falsely accused, Sugawara was exiled to the isle of Kyushu, where he died a sad death. Immediately after his death, Heian was struck by a series of disasters, including storms, fires, and epidemics. In 923, the crown prince died suddenly. In 930, the Imperial Palace was struck by lightning, killing several of the conspirators who had exiled Sugawara. The emperor soon died, too. Tenjin, Sugawara’s spirit name, may be interpreted as “Heavenly Spirit,” indicating lofty, celestial nature. It can also be interpreted as “Sky Spirit,” indicating his association with storms and thunder. In 942, Sugawara possessed a spirit medium and announced that he was responsible for the disasters. In 955, a Shinto priest’s child announced that Sugawara was now Deity of Disasters and Chief of the Thunder Demons. Major attempts were now made to placate Sugawaraand forestall further disaster: • His order of exile was burned. • Sugawara as Tenjin was enrolled in the official imperial roll of spirits as a deity of the highest rank under the name Tenjin. • A major shrine was dedicated to him, still among Kyoto’s most important Shinto shrines. It took a little while for him to calm down, but Tenjin responded positively, especially when scholars, poets, and academics adopted him as their personal patron. Tenjin assists researchers seeking divine assistance.


students, professors, academics, researchers, authors

Sacred site:

Kitano Temmangu shrine, also known as the Kitano-jinja, in Kyoto is his primary shrine but there may be as many as fourteen-thousand Tenjin shrines throughout Japan, which produce amulets for academic success and luck. (Tenjin shrines are called Tenman-gu.)


Ume (Prunus mume) the Japanese Apricot or Plum


The Tenjin Matsuri in Osaka held at the end of July


Goryo; Kami


Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.