Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine 太宰府天満宮
The Poet's Shrine
30 minutes from Fukuoka, the small town of Dazaifu is famous for its shrine, dedicated to the divine figure of literature and examinations: the poet Tenjin.
Among the many Japanese shrines dedicated to the scholar Sugawara no Michigan - also known by his divine name, Tenjin - the Tenmangu shrine in Dazaifu has a special significance: it is here that the famous poet lies.
Under the auspices of Michizane
As a purification ritual, before entering the heart of the shrine, we start across Shinji-ike pond by way of Taikobashi, a bridge divided into three parts, symbolizing the past, present and future.
We then arrive in the holiest space: the honden, the main pavilion of any Shinto shrine. Built in 905, the one in Dazaifu was converted in the late sixteenth century into the flamboyant Momoyama style building we see today, gilded and covered in vermilion paint.
Do not be surprised if you come across Japanese students seeking success, worried by their approaching exams; they come to pray for good grades, and write their wishes on ema - lucky wooden plaques - at this shrine.
Treasures and Plum Trees
Inside the shrine, the Dazaifu Tenmangu Museum (1928) contains a large art collection, some of which appear to be important national treasures or cultural objects from different periods, such as Tachi swords (curved blades for mounted warriors), painted in the Muromachi era style.
There are also the plum trees that made Dazaifu Tenmangu famous, plum trees with flowers that were once admired like the cherry blossoms are today. Some 6,000 of them are planted on the grounds of this shrine, and in front of the Honden proudly stands Tobiume, or the "flying plum tree". Legend has it that Michizane, exiled by the Fujiwara clan to Dazaifu, had not been able to resolve to go without taking his favorite plum tree.
The Tobiume was therefore "flown" through the air, from Kyoto to Dazaifu, to accompany the poet in his misfortune.