Dazaifu is one of Fukuoka’s most historic towns, established as Kyushu’s government headquarters in the 7th century A.D. and the political hub of Kyushu for over 500 years. Dazaifu is full of relics of this era: magnificent shrines and temples (many of which still function today), as well as the remnants of many of the most important governmental buildings and military installments. Joining these sites is the Dazaifu Historical Trail, a 4.4km route that runs from the city’s ancient center to its outskirts. History buff or not, the beauty of the route and its multiple attractions makes this trail a must when visiting or living in Fukuoka.
Time: 4-5 hours (walking) all times quoted are walking times.
This time can be cut significantly by renting a bike from the bike rental shop near Dazaifu Station. Rental costs ¥500 a day (open 10.00-18.00).
Train: The Dazaifu Historical Trail starts outside Dazaifu station which can be reached from Nishitetsu-Futsukaichi train station.
Car: Several large car parks are located just outside of Dazaifu city center offering easy access to the trail.
This guide starts from the Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine, 5 minutes from Dazaifu station. To reach the Tenmangu Shrine take the first right from the station and walk between the three great Torē gates of Tenjin-sama Street. Lining the short parade to the shrine are many shops selling local trinkets and food including calligraphy pens, tea ceremony kits and freshly made mochi (餅) cakes.
Just before the street turns into the temple grounds (an obvious transition) there is the Tenmangu Information center. Here you can pick up a map of the trail which, in conjunction with this guide, will lead you easily from one site to the next.
Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine (Official Map No. 1)
The Tengmangu Shrine is one of the most impressive Shinto shrines of Fukuoka. Its thatched roof is distinct from many other shrines and alludes to the shrine’s age; it was founded in 901 A.D. and rebuilt in its current form in 1591 A.D. The shrine is still actively used and is extremely popular. It is dedicated to Michizane Sugawara, the ‘god of learning’ and many students visit the shrine each year to pray for good results.
The shrine’s grounds stretch over 3,000 acres and include Koi ponds and two elegant bridges which span the shrine’s lakes. Here, you can while away your time and watch the Koi circle in the water, taking a moment to absorb the magnificence of the shrine from afar. Several bronze bulls, their horns and heads made golden by frequent touch, can also be found in the grounds. Touching them is supposed to bring good luck.
Due to its continued use and national importance, Tenmangu Shrine is by the far the busiest site on the Historical Trail and is best viewed early in the morning. The shrine’s grounds also look beautiful by night, but the shrine itself closes at dusk.
Kōmyōzen-ji Temple (OM No. 2)
From Tenmangu, walk back across the lakes to the closest Torē gate on Tenjin-sama street. A side street next to the information center, running perpendicular to Tenjin-sama street and lined with huge Camphor trees, takes you to the Kōmyōzen-ji Temple. Unassuming from the outside, the true beauty of this Buddhist temple is in its two gardens. The front garden has a series of stones which depict the Chinese character 光 (light) as well as numerous buddhist statues. For a donation of ¥200 you can walk inside the temple house and through to the back garden which is even more spectacular. In this lush garden, moss and white pebbles intertwine to represent land and sea. Whilst walking through the gardens themselves is forbidden – you would not want to disturb the beautifully raked pebbles once you have seen them – the garden’s tranquility will affect even the most skeptical onlooker.
Kanzeon-ji Temple (OM No. 4)
To the west of the city lies Kanzeon-ji Temple. Follow the map from the information office and the Historical Trail signposts to navigate from Tenmangu to Kanzeon-ji, a journey of approximately 30 minutes. Kanzeon-ji was built by Emperor Tenji in 746 A.D. after the death of his mother, Empress Saimei, and one of the temple’s original relics, a great Bonsho bell, still survives and resides in the temples grounds, encircled by netting.
Just beyond the bell lies the Kanzeon-ji museum. Its Stalinist exterior betrays little of the treasures that are held inside, but for a small price you can see a fantastic collection of Buddhist statues, some of which stand over 5m tall. There are also many relics and some artwork from the 12th century onwards. This museum isn’t listed on the official map but it was a fantastic discovery and well worth a visit.
Museum Entry: Adult ¥500, Student ¥300, Child ¥200.
Kaidan-in Ordination Hall (OM No. 8)
While Kanzeon-ji is famous for its a literary legacy, its sister building, the Kaidan-in Ordination Hall, is perhaps even more beautiful. Its grounds are styled similarly to those of the Kōmyōzen-ji Temple, with raked white pebbles. Smaller Buddhist shrines also exist in the grounds giving the Kaidan-in a more simple majesty.
Kaidan-in was one of three Ordination Halls of the Nara period, the other two located in the Nara and Tochigi. Those from Kyushu who wanted to enter the Buddhist priesthood would be ordained in the Kaidan-in in front of the sitting Buddha statue which dates to the Hejan period.
Dazaifu Exhibition Hall (OM No.9)
Located next to the ruins of the Government Offices, the exhibition hall contains a recently excavated drainage ditch alongside many relics and artworks associated with the Government Offices. The exhibition hall is closed on Mondays.
Site of the Dazaifu Government Offices (OM No. 3)
Ten minutes or so from the Kaidan-in Ordination Hall lies the site of the old Dazaifu Government Offices, known as Tofuro. While little remains of the offices but their foundation stones, these give some indication of Dazaifu’s importance in both the history of Kyushu and Japan.
The foundations stones are laid out around a central plaza (now used as a public park), with the main building set on a slight embankment overlooking this. The park is a lovely place to have lunch and is located near several convenience stores which are useful for restocking on supplies.
Site of Chikyuzen Kokubun-ji Temple (OM No.5)
A 25 minute walk from the Dazaifu Government Offices will take you to the Site of Chikyuzen Kokubun-ji. The official map becomes slightly unhelpful here so pay close attention to the Historical Trail signs which appear periodically or, alternatively, follow the map on this guide.
In 741 A.D., Emperor Shomu’s imperial decree demanded the creation of a national temple in each province of Japan. Dazaifu’s contribution was the Chikyuzen Kokubun-ji Temple. It was a large temple in its day with lecture halls, shrine areas and a pagoda but, like the Dazaifu Government Offices, it has since been reduced to its foundation stones.
Visible from the site of the Kokubun-ji ruins is a working temple of the same name. This Buddhist temple’s inner perimeter is lined with a series of statuettes and has some lovely water features.
The Mizuki Embankment (OM No.6)
From Kokubun-ji keep follow the signposts to the Mizuki Embankment.
The Mizuki Embankment, without context, is probably the least impressive feature of the route. However, with context, its might becomes clear. This important relic of Daizaifu’s history was built in 664A.D. to protect Dazaifu from potential invasion by Korea. Simply put, the Mizuki Embankment is a 1.2 km manmade defensive wall that stretches all the way across the valley from Mt. Ogusaku to Mt. Ushikubiyama. While it is now dissected by Fukuoka’s transport network, the embankment can still be seen clearly from a signposted viewing point. In its heyday the northern side of the embankment would have had a 6om wide moat protecting it though this has since been lost.
At the Mizuki Embankment, the trail ends. Hourly buses from the nearby bus stop (leaving at 2 minutes past the hour) will take you back to Dazaifu, otherwise a half an hour walk takes you to the Tofuro-mae Nishitetsu Station which links to Tenjin, Futsukaichi or Dazaifu. However, there are several extra attractions if you feel like spending more time exploring Dazaifu’s rich history.
Ruins of Ono Fortress (OM No.7)
Located to the north of the main trail are the Ruins of Ono Fortress which straddle the summit of Mt Soji (Ogusukuyama). This fortress was built to protect Daizaifu in 665 A.D. and while little remains aside from the foundation stones and some of its stone embankment, the fortress offers fantastic views over the Dazaifu valley and can be made into a lovely day hike.
Kyushu National Museum (OM No. 10)
This museum is one of four National Museums of Japan and is well signposted from Kōmyōzen-ji Temple. This iconic piece of architecture houses a fantastic collection of treasures including art (paintings, statues, calligraphy), books and swords. After a tiring day of walking, this is the perfect way to end your trip to Dazaifu.
The museum is open from 09.30-17.00 Tuesday-Sunday and closed on Mondays. It costs ¥430 for an adult and ¥130 for a student. For more information on exhibitions please visit: http://www.kyuhaku.com
Author: Oscar Boyd
Oscar is a student from London, UK. He is a keen hiker and aims to summit every mountain in Fukuoka visible from his bedroom window. If you have any suggestions contact him on Twitter @omhboyd
Originally written for Fukuoka Now in November 2014
NOTE: The information presented here was gathered and summarized by Fukuoka Now staff. While we have done our best to check for accuracy there is a possible of error and facility details may change. If you notice any errors or changes please contact us.