LAZING LEARNEDLY IN DAZAIFU near FUKUOKA, JAPAN
Japan is not just about the frenetic lifestyle or lack of parking spaces.
Come with me, dear Reader, on a PuristS' tour of an Important Cultural Property near Fukuoka.
Although presently a small town outside of Fukuoka, Dazaifu (Government General Headquarters) used to be the administrative centre of Kyushu between the 8th and 12th century. The most famous of Dazaifu's historic sights is the Dazaifu Tenmangu, the first of several thousand shrines dedicated to Tenjin across Japan.
Dazaifu Tenmangu is the first and most important of shrines built and dedicated to the spirits of Sugawara Michizane, an influential scholar and politician of the Heian Period, and revered as Tenjin, the kami (spirit) of education.
Michizane was born in Kyoto in 845 AD into a family of scholars and was heir to a long tradition of loyal service to the Emperor. He was a devoted scholar and at the age of five, gazed at a plum tree in the family garden and composed this celebrated Waka:
"How beautiful the red plum blossom, I wish to color my cheek with it."
After a spectacular political career rising to Minister of the Right, Michizane was demoted and exiled unfairly in 901 AD, because of the slander and political chicanery of his rivals, the Fujiwara clan. He endured a life of extreme hardship and misery in exile at Dazaifu, yet preserved his character continuing his scholarly studies and never developing hatred for those who had exiled him; dying two years later.
Following Michizane's death, a series of natural disasters were interpreted as divine displeasure at his treatment. The shrine was built on top of his grave in order to appease his spirit. As tribute and recognition to his favourite tree, about 6000 plum trees (ume) of 197 varieties, were planted in the grounds of Dazaifu Tenmangu. They include the tobiume ("flying plum tree"), a tree which reputedly followed Michizane into exile by flying from Kyoto to Dazaifu. It now stands on the right side of the shrine's main hall and is the first to bloom in January. The current version of the main hall was built in 1591.
Train and Track details at Nishitetsu Fukuoka Station
There are two rival companies running different lines between Fukuoka and Dazaifu; they are Nishitetsu (Western Rail) and JR (Japan Railway). We used the Nishitetsu line.
Be careful: if you take the Limited Express, you will need to change onto the local Dazaifu train at Nishitetsu Futsukaichi Station.
Local Dazaifu train
The walk up the main path to Tenmangu Shrine has interesting shops, food stalls and sights on either side.
We got there early just as the traders were setting up for the day. It WAS going to be busy but we were blissfully unaware at the time.
On the way up to Tenmangu Shrine, be sure to go off to the right a bit, to see Koumyouzenji Temple (Not pictured). This temple is famous as "Kokedera" (moss temple). It has a beautiful moss garden, and its autumn colors and alpine roses are beautiful. Its front garden is a 'Bukko' stone garden. The stones are arranged in the Chinese character 'light', which refers to Buddha's halo.
The horns and nose are considered 'lucky' hence they are polished to bright brass by inumerable visitors' hands...er...including ours
Michizane's funeral procession was a melancholy occasion, attended only by his faithful follower, Yasuyuki Umasake, and a few neighbours. The coffin was carried on an ox-carriage. According to legend, the ox suddenly came to a halt and refused to budge despite threats and entreaties. The burial therefore took place on the spot, and this became the site of the Tenmangu's main shrine.
The bridge is formed from three elements, the first arched bridge represents the past, the flat bridge the present, and the second arched bridge the future. It is a typical Buddhist idea, that one thought only should be held at a given time.
Beautiful Shinji-ike (Shinji Pond) is shaped to resemble the kanji character for "heart."
Early Spring flowers
The Yen for Zen
This is Shoubu-ike (Iris Pond) but it was too early in the year, so you can seen the concrete islands in the background from whence they bloom in Summer!
Priestess preparing for the Event
What's it all about?
Hint on the altars?
What's the festival?
Concomittent Spring flower arranging 'ikebana' competition was held in the grounds of the shrine. This is just one of the displays.
There was a sake and food fair
Prawn and Seaweed Rice Cracker
Based on Japanese interpretation of a Chinese Court Procession
This was the Spring Water Poetry Festival (kyokusui-no-en). In the old days, cultured men and women competed to compose a poem during the time it took water (or sake), poured from a cup, to travel down an artificial stream in courtly gardens.
It started to rain so we hurried off to the railway station.
Back in Fukuoka; we are in no doubt about the local special cuisine
Obligatory watch photo
Royal Oak Jumbo and an ancient description of precious Gold, reflecting the first time stainless steel was portrayed as 'precious metal' by Audemars Piguet
Dazaifu - City of Ancient Culture.
Photos and Text Copyright Melvyn Teillol-Foo, 2005.