[Japan Travel] Dazaifu Shrine and Kyushu National Museum

Dazaifu Tenmanguu is a Shinto Shrine in Dazaifu, Fukuoka, Japan and is dedicated to Tenjin(天神) , the god of learning and scholarship.

The Legend
Dazaifu Tenmanguu Shirine is built upon the grave of Sugawara no Michizane, a learned scholar and poet who composed many poems dedicated to his favourite plum trees. His rise in power in political circles was viewed as a threat by the Fujiwaras who were dominant and they exiled him to Kyushu. Michizane spent his life in exile, studying and learning. When, Michizane died a few years later, several natural disasters ravaged the country and it was attributed to his angry spirit. To appease him, the spirit was deified as Tenjin and shrines were built.

The Shrine
The shrine grounds spread over 3000 acres and has many other building in addition to the shrine.

4851_03At the entrance to the shrine is a statue of an ox. Legend says that when Michizane died, his body was carried by an ox which stopped at a spot and wouldn’t move any further. This is the spot where he was eventually buried and the Dazaifu Tenmanguu Shrine was built.

After the torii (gates) of the temple, is the pond, shinji ike. This traditional pond is in the shape of the Japanese Kanji for heart. A traditional red bridge forms a path between 2 islands which are said to represent the past, present and the future. This was my first time seeing the famous red bridges of Japan after gazing at pictures of them for years and it is really beautiful. Especially the deep red colour. My photos do not do them justice.

Crossing the bridges leads to the main shrine. To the side, is the famous plum tree, tobiume. According to legend, when Michizane was exiled from Kyoto he longed for his beloved plum tree so badly that the tree uprooted itself and flew over to be with Michizane.

Surrounding the main shrine are shops for buying charms or omamori for different need like health, studies etc. and places to leave prayers and offerings. There are also many shops that sell the famous umegae mochi. It is said that an elderly caretaker made these and left them as offerings when Michizane died.

Also on the grounds are the Dazaifu Tenmangu Museum, the treasure house and the Kanko Historical Museum. As I went as a part of a planned trip, I couldn’t visit these. But I do want to visit the Hōmotsuden or the Treasure House as it has several National Treasures and Cultural Properties especially two Tachi swords from the Heian and the Kamakura periods.

As with most Japanese Shrines, Tenmanguu also has a quaint street full of souvenir shops and food stalls in front of it. One very special shop for me was the shop dedicated to Studio Ghibli called Totoro no Mori (Totoro’s Forest). It is stuffed full of Totoros obviously but has lovely little goodies from all the films. This is my loot below.

Totoro no Mori - Howl and Laputa Crystal

Kyushu National Museum

The Kyushu National Museum is located a few minutes away from the Dazaifu Shrine. It is housed in a huge blue, futuristic building and has exhibits themed to understanding Japan from an Asian point of view. I had only an hour to look around and really want to go back to look at the exhibits carefully.

The sword Meiraikunimitsu Kunimitsu, a National Treasure, which belonged to Matsudaira who became the adopted son of Tokugawa Ieyasu is housed here. It is of great interest to me as the sword passed down and was also in the possession of Yamagata Aritomo, the father of Japanese militarism and was eventually presented to Emperor Meiji. Unfortunately, it was not on display when I went.

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