Along the historical road in Dazaifu, Fukuoka Prefecture, sit Dazaifu Tenmangu and an ancient little temple called Komyozenji.
Dazaifu Tenmangu, a Shinto shrine dedicated to Michizane Sugawara covers 3,000 mostly wooded acres. Being the most important of the Tenmangu shrines, it sees an average of seven million visitors a year according to Japan tourism statistics.
A five minute walk from Dazaifu station, the shrine entrance road is filled with wonderful teahouses, souvenir shops and delicious restaurants. A huge torii gate stands, spanning the width of the road.
Tucked into the shrine grounds are two ponds home to koi and turtles, arched bridges, a museum and several ornately detailed shrine buildings. Seasonal blooming trees and flowers set against a backdrop of cedar forested mountains makes visiting the shrine an awesome day trip if you are staying in Fukuoka City.
Dazaifu Tenmangu is an active shrine and on any given day rituals and ceremonies are held in the main hall behind the offertory box. The ceremony hall is an open stage, giving visitors a glimpse into ancient rituals performed by ceremonially robed Shinto priests. Chanting and taiko drumming is often heard throughout the grounds during ceremony times.
From early February to mid-March the shrine is breathtakingly beautiful. The grounds are home to 6,000 flowering plum trees! Red, pink and white sweetly-scented blossoms burst over the shrine grounds like fireworks celebrating the coming of spring!
During the rainy month of June the iris pond explodes into shades of purple, pink and white. Hundreds of brilliantly colored Japanese iris mixed with the freshness of spring greens are best viewed and photographed on an overcast day!
Overlooking the pond is a restaurant where a steaming cup of tea or a bowl of noodles can be enjoyed. Tatami-mats and comfy floor cushions make it the perfect place to shelter from the rain, take in the pond's beauty and perhaps write a few lines in your travel diary.
Earthy autumn aromas, brilliantly colored momiji mingled with incense and cedar give a whole different atmosphere to this beautiful shrine in the fall.
Just a two minute walk from the often crowded Tenmangu, is a quiet and, sometimes overlooked temple, Fukuoka's "secret garden".
Komyozenji, a Rinzai Zen temple, built during the Kamakura period sits quietly behind a white wall topped with Japanese roof tiles. Stepping into the front garden most visitors are taken by the unexpected serenity and beauty of this traditional Zen garden. Expertly pruned momiji trees standing among several large boulders representing islands are "floating" in a sea of perfectly raked pebbles. It's as if stepping through the temple gate, you've stepped into another world, the sights and sounds of the world outside having been muted.
Don't let the 200 yen entrance fee deter you from visiting the hall and back garden. You'll miss the best part! The ancient tatami-mat hall is beautiful in its simplicity, containing only a scroll or two and a prayer alcove.
The treasure lies beyond the hall door, a garden so lush and exquisitely crafted that it takes the breath away. There is no sound here except the soft rustle of the wind through the ancient momiji and bursts of birdsong. An incredible harmony of rock, moss, trees and small Buddhist statuary. Breathtakingly beautiful. Simple yet profound.
Visitors are kindly asked to enjoy the garden from the wooden walkway that runs the length of the hall.
The garden is especially beautiful in the autumn, however a visit anytime will not disappoint.
If you are in the Fukuoka area be sure to visit these two wonderful places along the historical road of Dazaifu!
From JR Hakata Station:
Take the Kuko Subway Line to Fukuoka Tenjin Station. In Tenjin take the Nishitetsu limited express to Futsukaichi Station, transfer there to the Dazaifu Line and get off at Dazaifu Station.
Dazaifu Tenmangu 4-7-1 Saifu, Dazaifu,
Fukuoka Prefecture 818-0195
Downloadable brochure with Dazaifu City map (English)