Take the Fukuoka Temple Trek! Japan’s temples and shrines are must see attractions. Kyoto, Nara, and Kamakura are such well known spots, we often forget the treasures right here in Fukuoka. This month, we introduce three temples and two shrines each boasting fantastic histories, architecture and gardens. With the map on this page and our center map you should be able to see them all in as little as three hours – and get plenty of exercise, too! Take the temple trek!
TEMPLES & SHRINES
So what’s the difference between a shrine (-jinja) and a temple (-ji)?
Temples are almost always associated with Buddhism, the religion originating in India, as opposed to Shrines which are connected to Japan’s very own Shintoism. Temples are places where Buddhist ceremonies take place, such as the ever-popular new year rites, and advice or contemplation is sought on spiritual matters. Buddhist altars tend to be more ornate than their Shinto counterparts, and always contain images or sculptures of the Buddha.
A shrine will house a kami (god) of the indigenous, ancient Japanese religion, Shinto. Shinto is concerned with earthly affairs such as success in study, health and wealth, farming, etc, and Japanese people come to the shrine to make an offering to the enshrined god and ask for help or assistance. Many important cultural and familial events take place in Shinto shrines, including blessing newborn children, and Japanese youth’s coming of age day. Shrines are recognizable by the large torii, or gates, that must be passed through when entering.
Legend has it that Kushida Jinja was built in 757, but the shrine could not escape the destruction of the Warring States period and was burned down in 1587. It has since been rebuilt and dedicated as part of Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s city planning project for Hakata. Locals commonly refer to it by the name of O-Kushida-san, and it has long been considered the guardian spirit for all of Hakata. Visitors appeal to the tutelary deity for prosperity in business and a long life. The shrine is located near the Kawabata commercial district, Hakata’s first. After you pass through the torii, you’ll see a two-story gate with large red lanterns directly ahead of you. Make sure to stop inside the gate and look at the ceiling, where you’ll see a Chinese astrological chart. Every year on New Year’s Eve, the arrow pointer is turned to the sign for the upcoming year to show a favorable direction. This year is the year of the dog. After you pass through the gate, the main path leads to the house of worship. This structure is used as the permanent display space for one of the floats used in the Hakata Gion Yamakasa. You’ll be dazzled by its brilliant colors and the workmanship of the traditional Hakata doll makers who built it. For more details on the Yamakasa, refer to page 40. Next to the float there are several large rocks on a platform. These were muscled onto the platform centuries ago by famous sumo rikishi both as an offering and a demonstration of their strength. Just in front of the platform on the ground is the so-called “trial rock,” which the wrestlers would lift to find out just how strong they were. Also on the shrine grounds are a stand of gingko trees estimated to be more than 1,000 years old. They have been designated a natural monument of Fukuoka Prefecture. For more than a century, it has been the site where taiko drummers beat out a rhythm to announce the start of the float race, the closing event of Yamakasa.
• 1-41 Kamikawabata-machi, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka
• Open: Open every day, 4:00~22:00
Shofuku-ji was Japan’s first Zen temple. Zen, of course, is the branch of Buddhism that employs sitting meditation to achieve enlightenment. It was brought to Japan by Yosai Zenji, who spent five years studying religion in China. After his return, Yosai built this temple on land given to him by Minamoto no Yoritomo, the founder of the Kamakura Shogunate and the first military ruler of the country. The framed motto on the temple gate was a gift from the Emperor Gotoba. In contemporary language, it means “the first Zen temple.” Now more than 800 years old, Shofuku-ji is known for upholding the teachings of Buddhism, its Zen dojo, and the rigor of its ascetic practices. The temple complex contained seven primary buildings when it was built, and in these were placed three statues of the Buddha. It is also recorded that the grounds held 38 smaller temples. In 1587, Toyotomi Hideyoshi formulated a city plan for Hakata that required temples to slash their land area by 75%. Despite this reduction, the layout of Shofuku-ji’s gate, Buddhist sanctum, and priests’ chambers was maintained in the original Zen style. Therefore, the entire temple grounds were designated a national historical site in 1969. The grounds are also noted for Tsushin Bridge which arches over Musen Pond, and a stand of camphor trees. The site is so quiet and peaceful, it is hard to believe a bustling business district is nearby. A path behind the sanctum leads to Genjyu-an and Sesshin-in before returning to the starting point, providing visitors a chance to take a stroll in a unique atmosphere. Nowadays, tea is commonplace in Japan, but did you know that Yosai Zenji also introduced tea to this country? He brought seeds back with him from China and planted them on the Shofuku-ji grounds. The temple is therefore the origin of all the tea in Japan. Sengai Osho, a former chief priest at Shofuku-ji, produced some remarkable Zen paintings. He is known throughout Japan as Sengai-san of Hakata.
• 6-1 Gokusho-machi, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka
• Open every day, 8:00~17:00
Surrounded by office buildings and located behind a high wall on Taihaku-dori, Tocho-ji seems imposing, but in fact anyone can enter, and it is a popular site for springtime cherry blossom viewing. This temple of the Mikkyo sect was built in 806 by Kobo Daiji. The sect venerates Dainichi Nyorai, one of the forms of the Buddha, and its teachings are said to reveal profound, absolute principles. The Rokkaku-do, a hexagonal-shaped hall, was built in 1842. The roof is hexagonal, but the front of the structure has been widened to facilitate worship, and the foundation is asymmetrical. It’s only open to the public on the 28th of the month, when you’ll get the chance to see the Fukuoka Daibutsu, Japan’s largest wooden statue of the seated Buddha. Built in 1992, it is 10.8 meters high and weighs 30 tons. It was built to that height to use the figure 108, the number of worldly desires according to Buddhism. There is also a tunnel built into the base of the statue, and it is said that passing through it and reaching the other side is like going through Hell to reach Paradise.
• 2-4 Gokusho-machi, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka
• Open every day, 9:00~17:00
Joten-ji was built in 1242 by the priest Shoichi Kokushi after his return from China, with the help of the merchant Xie Guoming, a naturalized Chinese. The temple complex housed 43 smaller temples during its peak. Now, a road runs between the two precincts. There is a stone monument on the grounds on which is carved the inscription, “birthplace of udon and soba.” Among the souvenirs Shoichi Kokushi brought back from China was a diagram showing how to make flour using a waterwheel. The methods for making udon, soba, and manju using flour ground on a mill spread from here throughout Japan. The temple is also known as the site where the Hakata Gion Yamakasa, Fukuoka’s epic summer festival, originated. Legend has it that during a plague in Hakata in 1241, Shoichi Kokushi was carried around the city on a palanquin offering prayers for an end to the suffering and drove out the evil spirits. The festival floats are now carried around and pass the temple in continuation of this tradition.
• 1-29-9 Hakataeki-mae, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka
• Open every day, 8:00~16:00
Since ancient times, Sumiyoshi-no-Okami has been the divinity protecting the safety of the seas, and has been worshipped by fishermen and others in the maritime industry. Even today, many boats are still christened with the name “Sumiyoshi-maru.” Considering Fukuoka’s importance as a port city, it’s no surprise that of the 2,129 Shinto shrines in Japan with Sumiyoshi-no-Okami as the enshrined deity, Hakata’s own Sumiyoshi Jinja is the oldest. Today, the shrine grounds are located in the heart of Fukuoka City, but maps of Hakata from centuries ago show that the land on which the shrine stands was once actually on a cape near the mouth of the river. Tenryu pond, in front of the shrine’s western gate, was once part of the river mouth. The shrine has several entrances, but we recommend entering by the western gate at the front of the main path. The trees lining the path to the main sanctuary are several hundred years old, creating a peaceful setting that will remove you mentally and spiritually from the bustling city just outside. Pass through the stone torii and continue along the path to the hall of worship with its vivid crimson colors. This hall is where visitors come to pray in front of the main sanctuary where the enshrined deities are placed. The main sanctuary is at the back of the hall of worship. The shrine, designated an important national cultural treasure, is built in a distinctive architectural style that has come to be known as Sumiyoshi-zukuri. The roof is unusual in that the eaves are not curved, and it is made from the bark of cypress trees more than 1,000 years old. A hall for Noh performances was built on the shrine grounds in 1938. The hall has a stage for performances and is unique for being open on three sides. The stage also extends far out into the audience seating area. Noh and concerts are still performed on this stage, but the performers must wear white tabi (traditional Japanese stockings) regardless of the event, owing to the religious nature of the site. The hall has no air conditioning, so columns of ice containing flowers are placed in the audience seating area during summer events to help beat the heat.
• 3-1-51 Sumiyoshi, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka
• Open every day, 6:00~21:00
• Call 092-291-2670 in advance to visit the Noh performance hall
Funeral – The (Japanese) Movie
Funerals in Japan are usually held in Buddhist temples. The film ‘The Funeral’ 1987 (Ososhiki), the first work of Japanese director Juzo Itami, is a black comedy depicting a family who holds its first funeral and the people who attend. We recommend it for an insightful and hilarious glimpse into Japanese-style funerals. A must see for all japanophiles!
When people mention tea in Japan, they mean green tea, which has a long history as part of the daily life of the people. The Yame area in southern Fukuoka Prefecture is nationally famous as a production area for high quality tea. It’s convenient to drink green tea from bottles or brewed from tea bags, but best to use the tea leaves and traditional utensils to brew it from scratch and experience the true taste of Japan.
Just like in the movies it’s still possible to travel by rickshaw here, but you’ll need a reservation. On Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays they’re easy to hire in front of the Hakatamachiya Furusatokan without a booking, where they’ll whisk you away to the Kushida Shrine or other tourist spots.
• Address: 1-32-202 Kawabata-machi, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka City
• Telephone: 092-263-5720 / 090-8836-9724
• Fax: 263-5750 (24 hours)
• Fees: ¥1,000 per person for 10 minutes
• Reservations required a day in advance
Rakusui-en is a traditional Japanese garden that dates from the Edo period. Its seasonal foliage and waterfall make it an enjoyable place for a stroll in any season. There is a restored Meiji-era tea house on the premises, where you can enjoy a cup of maccha (green tea) for ＼300.
• Address: 2-10-7 Sumiyoshi, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka
• Telephone: 262-6665
• Hours: 9:00~17:00
• Closed on Tuesdays
• If Tuesday is a holiday, the garden will be closed the following day.
• Admission: ¥100
You’re in for a treat if you try zarusoba (chilled buckwheat noodles), whose aroma and consistency are perfect to savor in summer. The cold soba noodles are dipped into sauce and eaten. When they finish, aficionados pour the hot water used to boil the noodles into the remaining sauce and drink it. It’s an excellent pick-me-up if you’ve wilted in the summer heat.