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Arare Tenjin Yama 霰天神山 – The Hail Thunder-God Float

arare tenjin yama torii shinto shrine gobelin gion festival kyoto japan

Spiritually eclectic: Arare Tenjin Yama features a Shinto shrine and a Gobelin tapestry fragment featuring pagan Greek nature spirits.

Arare Tenjin Yama is dedicated to “Tenjin-sama,” or the “Thunder Deity,” as is Abura Tenjin Yama. As the deified form of virtuous 9th-century scholar and statesman Sugawara Michizane, modern Japanese pray to him as a god of education. History tells us that though Michizane was unjustly wronged, he suffered with dignity, and after his death his enemies met with calamaties; for these reasons he presents an archetypal human experience that many can relate to. It’s estimated there are more than 35,000 Tenjin shrines throughout the country. “Arare” means “hail;” chōnai tradition holds that during a terrible fire in 1510, hail suddenly started to fall in this neighborhood, putting out the fire. Moreover, legend holds that a tiny statue of Michizane fell on the rooftops together with the hail, inspiring the neighborhood to dedicate this float to Tenjin-sama and the miraculous fire-quenching arare. The float miraculously survived the great fires of 1788 and 1864 that destroyed so many other floats (such as nearby Kikusui Boko); amulets sold here protect the bearer from fires and lightning.

arare tenjin yama sugawara michizane shrine gion festival kyoto japan

Visitors pay tribute to this small statue of the god of education at Arare Tenjin Yama.

A narrow passageway from the street opens up onto this float’s meeting place and treasure display area, a lovely small courtyard adjacent to its traditional storehouse, a traditional urban planning package that central Kyoto is known for. Note the exquisite craftsmanship of the 1714 shrine to Michizane. Michizane loved plum tree blossoms: they’re the first flower to bloom and share their sweet fragrance after the bitter Japanese winters. You’ll see plum blossoms prominently featured as part of the Tenjin tradition.