Tucked away in the northwest of Kyoto near the famous Golden Pavilion, Kitano Tenmangu is often skipped by tourists, but don't let this stop you. It's one of the city's oldest and most important temples and should not be missed.
Kitano Tenmangu is best accessed by bus.
From Kyoto Station, take Kyoto City bus #5O or #101 and get off at Kitano Tenmangu-mae bus stop.
The god of knowledge and calligraphy (the acclaimed Japanese scholar Sugawara no Michizane) has guarded this temple since its founding in 947. It is thus popular with local students, who visit to ask the god for passing grades and good exam results.
The main entrance is flanked by two bronze cows. Legend has it that if you rub them, you will have academic success. Not surprisingly, their heads and backs have been rubbed until they're shiny and golden.
Besides its array of meticulously decorated buildings, Kitano Tenmangu is known for its ume (plum tree) grove. It is open to the public during plum blossom season, from late February and throughout March. Although Japan is most famous for its cherry blossoms, plum blossoms are equally exquisite and draw a more local crowd, so this is an experience to seek out if you're there in late winter.
Once a month on the 25th, the Tenjin-san flea market is held on the streets surrounding the shrine from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Get there early to score the best deals from an array of local and specialized items including vintage kimono and antiques.