Dazaifu City: The Ancient Kyushu Government Stronghold
Dazaifu City is a suburban area, a 30-minute drive from the center of Fukuoka City, with abundant nature surrounded by a range of mountains. The name of “Dazaifu” was named after the former governmental center of the Kyushu region from the end of 7th to the 12th century. Facing the Sea of Japan, Dazaifu also served as a gate to foreign countries, mainly China and Korea. Today, with its rapidly growing population, it became a popular area to live for families because of the reasonable commuting distance to Fukuoka City.
The moat, built over 1400 years ago, still remains around Kasuga and Onojo cities. The cherry trees lined up along the moat blossom in spring and cosmos flowers are in full bloom in autumn.
The history of Dazaifu goes back to the end of the 7th century. Dazaifu used to be Kyushu’s governmental office which served as a defense force and diplomatic spot for relations with China and Korea. After the defeat against To and Shinra (then-China), the Yamato Chotei (then-Japanese government) built Mizuki, which literally means a water castle, akin to a fortress with a moat surrounding the Dazaifu government. To protect from attacks from foreigners, the government strengthened the military system with the moat stretching a total of 1.2km (0.7 miles) with 13 meters (43 ft) in height, 80 meters (262 ft) in width, and Dazaifu ruled the whole Kyushu region. The small capital established was modeled after the Heian-Kyo, the central government in Kyoto, a square city with grids.
The temple is located within Dazaifu government property and was dedicated to the late Empress Saimei by her son, Emperor Tenchi. After its completion in 746, it became the most important Buddhist temple in western Japan. The temple features the oldest great bell said to be made with the one in Myoshin-ji temple in Kyoto. The treasure hall boasts an impressive collection of statuaries dating from the 10th to 12th centuries. Most of them are made from conifer trees, which are often seen in the wooden statuaries made in Kyushu.
Kaidan is one of the most important Buddhist ordination monasteries along with Yakushi-ji in Tochigi prefecture and Todaiji in Nara prefecture. This is the place where monks are qualified for the first time when becoming monks.
There is a stone monument with the proverb carved, “Eating meat and drinking alcohol are nuisances,” from Buddhism’s principal tenets (The Five Percepts). Traditionally, Buddhism sees eating meat as killing animals, which is against their non-violent lifestyle. Likewise, alcohol is regarded as a poison to cloud your mind. However, these practices vary among the sects. Monks also have daily lives involving family events, social activities and so on. They are normally allowed to eat meat and drink alcohol like ordinary people.
The place is quiet and tranquil. Different from the touristy Dazaifu shrine area.
Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine
The shrine enshrines Sugawara Michizane, a renowned scholar and poet of the 9th century. He was born in a family of scholars and acquired a position as excellent poet and scholar during that time. Unfortunately, he was involved with political conflict and exiled to Dazaifu before he died two years later. Michizane is revered as a god of culture and learning “Tenjin-sama” around the nation. Dazaifu shrine was built to comfort his soul and became the place where he ended his life.
The Taiko Bridge crossing the Shinji Pond has different arches representing the past, present and future, respectively. When crossing this bridge, it means you move from the past towards the future through the present. Remember, when crossing the bridge you should not look back (the past), watch straight (the present) and be careful not to stumble (the future).
After finishing your prayer in the main hall, you must choose another way out because the path with these bridges is one way.
Moving forwards, you'll find the statues of Kirin, an imaginary Chinese creature, and Uso, a kind of bird. This Kirin statue marks the sacred boundary of the main hall.
Tobiume: The Flying Plum Tree
This plum tree called “Tobiume”, meaning flying plum tree, is situated to the right side of the main hall. There is a legend that this particular plum tree planted in Michizane’s house of Kyoto followed him when he was exiled to Dazaifu. The tree is said to be the first to blossom and the rest of the thousands of trees follow with beautiful pink and white petals in early spring.
From Tenjin Area by Nishitetsu Train
Nishitetu Fukuoka Station to Dazaifu Station: 400 yen, 20 minutes
(Change train at Hutsukaichi Station)
From Hakata Station by Bus
Hakata bus terminal to Dazaifu: 600 yen, 45 minutes
Getting to Kanzeonji and Kaidan-in, bicycles can be rented at Nishitetsu Dazaifu Station.