Daizaifu Tenmangu Shrine and Kyushu National Museum are both located in Dazaifu, just a short distance from central Fukuoka City (about 30 min. from Tenjin Station on the Nishitetsu Omuta Line). These are the two most popular tourist spots in Dazaifu City.
About 1,500 years ago, Dazaifu was the site of the imperial office at the head of the government overseeing Kyushu, making it a major regional government center–at that time, equivalent to a national government,because Japan was not yet a unified “nation” by any means. Foreign ambassadors from Korea and China stayed in Dazaifu on many occasions. During the Nara and Heian Periods, Dazaifu became a place of exile for court nobles, including the highly regarded poet and scholar Sugawara no Michizane. Dazaifu was mentioned in the Nihon Shoki, one of Japan’s oldest (credible) historical records that acts as an important source of knowledge of ancient history.
All Tenmangu Shrines are dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane, including Dazaifu Tenmangu. It is one of the “Three Great Tenjin Shrines” of Japan (the others being Kitano Tenmangu in Kyoto and Hofu Tenmangu in Hofu, Yamaguchi Prefecture). When Michizane died in the early tenth century, many natural disasters occurred, and people assumed this was his spirit taking revenge for being wronged. The Tenmangu Shrine was built on the site of Michizane’s grave, and offerings were made to him to in an attempt to prevent further calamities.
Today, because the Tenmangu Shrines are related to scholarship, many students visit and rub the heads of bull statues (said to make you more intelligent) before praying at the shrines for success in studies or examinations. The shrine is also famous for its approximately 6,000 beautiful plum blossoms, which bloom in February, and especially for its “tobiume” (飛梅), a “flying plum tree” that allegedly flew from the capital (Kyoto) to Dazaifu to accompany Michizane in exile (ummmm…sure). The grounds are full of greenery and adorned with lovely bridges and a pleasant koi pond. Dazaifu Tenmangu is a five-minute walk, or a one-minute bus ride (Miya-mae bus stop), from Dazaifu Station. The famous Zen rock garden at Komyozenji Temple is located near Dazaifu Tenmangu, as well.
Kyushu National Museum is a short walk from the shrine grounds. (You can also take a bus from Dazaifu Station directly to the museum if you are planning on skipping Dazaifu Tenmangu.) This museum opened in 2005 to become the fourth national museum in Japan, and the elegant building architecture alone makes it a sight worth seeing. Because Dazaifu was historically a center of international exchange and communication with China , Korea, and other parts of Asia, the museum has made efforts to introduce the history and culture of Kyushu in a wider, Asian context.
Kyushu has always had its own culture and traditions, and has for most of its history been governed largely as a separate entity from the rest of mainland Japan. Even in contemporary times, with modern infrastructure and unity, citizens of Kyushu have maintained a sense of pride in the region’s unique qualities. The Kyushu National Museum gives visitors a unique look into these aspects, delivering information through interactive and intriguing exhibits set in modern facilities with the visitor’s convenience in mind. While a larger number of interest-grabbing historical artifacts would have improved the quality of the exhibits, a visit to this museum is both rewarding and entertaining, particularly to those interested in history.
For more information, check out the Kyushu National Museum’s website in English, and also the Dazaifu Tenmangu website (Japanese only). Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine is open from 6:00 am to 7:00 pm (8:00 pm in summer), and admission is free. The Kysuhu National Museum is open from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm (last admission at 4:30 pm), and entrance is 420 for adults (special exhibits cost extra).
Whether you are living in Fukuoka or just visiting, both of the shrine and the museum can be visited easily as a day-trip from Fukuoka City.