Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine, beloved by students and travelers, enshrines the revered deity Tenjin-sama, who is said to have first descended in Hakata, Kyushu. Let’s embark on a tour of Fukuoka City, visiting sites associated with Tenjin-sama, and delve into the rich history and legends surrounding this esteemed figure.
Who Was Tenjin-sama?
Tenjin-sama was Sugawara no Michizane (845–903), a real historical figure who was a nobleman, scholar, and politician during Japan’s Heian period. Recognized for his intellect from a young age, he rose swiftly through the ranks of the imperial court, excelling in academics, calligraphy, and poetry. Today, he is venerated as the deity of learning, culture, and arts.
Despite his achievements in the capital (Kyoto), Michizane was caught up in political intrigue and exiled to Dazaifu. Traveling by ox cart and boat, he eventually reached Kyushu, spending his final years in poverty in Dazaifu. Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine now stands over his gravesite, established where the ox carrying his remains stopped, marking the burial spot. Over time, Michizane’s character and contributions were re-evaluated, and he was deified as “Tenman Daijizai Tenjin” (Tenjin-sama), with Dazaifu Tenmangu being the head of about 10,000 Tenmangu Shrines across Japan.
Tenjin-Related Sites in Fukuoka City
The city center of Fukuoka features an area named “Tenjin,” directly linked to Tenjin-sama. Michizane is said to have first landed in Hakata upon his arrival in Kyushu. Several locations in Fukuoka bear witness to his journey to Dazaifu.
Deeply connected to Tenjin-sama and cherished as a messenger, at Tenmangu Shrine a divine cow is enshrined as a messenger of the gods.
Tsunashiki Tenmangu Shrine
This quaint shrine, nestled in the alleys of Hakata, is believed to mark Michizane’s first landing point. The area, once a harbor, became his initial resting place, with local fishermen using ropes from their boats to create a makeshift resting area. The shrine’s name, “Tsunashiki” (rope-laying), and the area’s name “Tsunaba” both originate from this act.
Tsunashiki Tenmangu Shrine
5-6 Tsunaba-machi, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka
Suikyo Tenmangu Shrine
Amidst the bustling office buildings of Tenjin, Suikyo Tenmangu Shrine stands as a serene oasis. Legend has it that Michizane, upon his arrival in Hakata and en route to Dazaifu, saw his weary reflection in a river and lamented his fate. Originally located in Imaizumi as “Suikyo Tenjin” or “Sugatami Tenjin,” it was moved to its current location by Kuroda Nagamasa, the first lord of the Fukuoka domain, in 1612. He established the shrine to protect the northeastern “demon gate” of Fukuoka Castle, making it a guardian deity of the region and leading to the naming of the area as “Tenjin.”
Sugatamibashi Bridge and Sugatami Tenjin Relics
The river where Michizane reflected his image, now known as Yakuin Shin River, still flows through Fukuoka. The “Sugatamibashi Bridge” is named after this episode.
Although the original shrine was relocated to Suikyo Tenmangu, a memorial stone at the former site, “Sugatami Tenjin Relics,” marks its historical significance. (Viewing of Sugatami Tenjin Relics is not possible as it is private property.)
Kagami Tenmangu Shrine and Toto-guchi Relics
In a corner of the modern Hakata Riverain building lies Kagami Tenmangu Shrine, with a story distinct from the river reflection tale. Here, Michizane is said to have looked at his tired face in a mirror while resting upon landing. The mirror enshrined here is believed to be the one he used. The shrine also marks the historical departure point for ships to Tang China, with a monument commemorating the “Toto-guchi Relics.”
The plum tree ‘Tobiume’, originating from the legend of the Flying Plum, which tells of a plum tree that adored Lord Tenjin and flew overnight from Kyoto to Dazaifu, where Michizane Sugawara resided.