If you are planning to visit Fukuoka Prefecture, Dazaifu Tenman-gū (太宰府天満宮) is the biggest shrine in the Kyūshū region and shouldn’t be overlooked. Together with the Kitano Temman-gū (北野天満宮) in Kyoto, they are the headquarters of the 12,000 Tenman-gū shrines in Japan! The god enshrined in Dazaifu Tenman-gū is the namesake of a lively riverside area in Fukuoka’s city center, Tenjin (天神)!
Furthermore, the current Japanese era name, Reiwa (令和), was from a waka poem that described the banquet, Baika no Utage (梅花の宴), held in Dazaifu Tenman-gū each year.
Many visit this shrine to pray for academic success. However, it is also a great place to appreciate flowers, especially plum blossoms!
Other exciting attractions for the pilgrims are the cafes, dessert makers, and souvenir shops lining the sides of the shrine’s approach. If you are traveling with young kids, the Dazaifu Amusement Park (だざいふ遊園地) next to the shrine will keep them entertained.
The List of Attractions in Dazaifu Tenman-gū
- The Gosingyū Cow (御神牛)
- The Three Bridges and the Shinji-ike Pond (心字池)
- The Chōzuya Purification Fountain (手水舎)
- The Tower Gate with Two Faces
- Dazaifu Tenman-gū’s Main Worship Hall
- The Gigantic Camphor Tree
- Josui’s Well (如水の井戸)
- Dazaifu Tenman-gū Museum (宝物殿)
- Dazaifu Tenman-gū and Plum Blossoms
- Tenkai-inari Shrine (天開稲荷社)
- Dazaifu’s Specialty, Umegae Mochi (梅ヶ枝餅)
Click HERE to skip to Dazaifu Tenman-gū’s access information.
Explore Dazaifu Tenman-gū With a Guided Tour
If you prefer a guide to introduce you to the charms of Dazaifu Tenman-gū, how about joining one of the below tours?
- Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine and Kyushu National Museum a Half-Day Tour by Train
- Private Fukuoka Tour with a Local, Highlights & Hidden Gems 100% Personalised
- Guided Train and Boat Tour of Dazaifu & Yanagawa from Fukuoka
- Dazaifu Shrine, Yufuin, and Beppu Day Trip in Kyushu
Tip: Refer to HERE if you want to rent a Kimono when you are in Dazaifu!
Dazaifu Tenman-gū’s History
The god enshrined in Dazaifu Tenman-gū is a famous scholar in the Heian period (794 – 1185), Sugawara no Michizane (菅原道真). Michizane, who served in the imperial court, was demoted due to unjust allegations against him. His innocence was only proved after he passed away.
Despite a small temple being built to pray for Michizane in 905, unfortunate events took place one after another in the capital Heian-kyō (平安京). It was believed that these events were a result of Michizane’s grudge. As a result, the Japanese deified him as Tenma Daijizai Tenjin (天満大自在天神) in 919 and renovated the small temple into the magnificent Dazaifu Tenman-gū.
Who Is Sugawara no Michizane
Sugawara no Michizane was Japan’s most renowned scholar and politician in the 9th century.
In 845, Michizane became the highest-ranked scholar at a young age. After that, he was promoted to the Minister of the Right (Udaijin, 右大臣), one of the top three officials in the Heian period.
Dedicating himself to Japanese culture and politics, he was envied by Fujiwara, who used political tactics to demote him to Dazaifu in 901. Michizane died in 903 in Daizaifu at the age of 59.
The Gosingyū Bull (御神牛)
After having strolled through the shops and restaurants on the side of the approach, Dazaifu Monzen Machi, this bull statue will welcome you at the entrance of Dazaifu Tenman-gū.
This bull statue has a shiny head, nose, and horns and is an object of worship. The superstition goes that you will become smarter simply by stroking his head. So in January, a long queue can often be seen in front of the statue.
In addition to the fact that Michizane was born in the year of Ox, another reason that you will find a couple more bull statues on the precinct is that Michizane’s body was carried by a bullock cart. It is said that Dazaifu Tenman-gū’s location was where the bull refused to move any further. The locals took this as Michizane’s message that this place was where he wanted to rest in peace.
January is the month of the year when most the Japanese head to shrines to pray for a good year ahead.
The Three Bridges and the Shinji-ike Pond (心字池)
To get to Dafaifu Tenman-gū’s tower gate, you must cross the three bridges constructed over the Shinji-ike Pond. If you ever get a chance to see the aerial view of the pond, it resembles the Chinese character of the heart, “心”.
The two Taiko Bridge (太鼓橋) and the Hira Bridge (平橋) represent the past, the past, present, and future (with the Hira Bridge representing the present). Crossing the bridges is a simple purification ritual necessary before you meet the god in the worship hall.
If you are lucky, a couple of Koi fish (carp) and turtles might swim toward you to say hi!
The Chōzuya Purification Fountain (手水舎)
Chōzuya is a location in a shrine for washing your hands and rinsing your mouth. This standard feature is, however, an attraction at Dazaifu Tenman-gū.
The Chōzuya in Dazaifu Tenman-gū boasts a size of approximately 4 x 6 meters, making it the largest purification fountain in Japan. Another amazing construction is that the fountain has a turtle carved in the middle (which might be covered by flowers floating above)!
The purification fountain was offered to the shrine in 1934. Attracting the prayers of more than 2 million pilgrims in January, it is easy to understand why such a big fountain might be required.
The Tower Gate with Two Faces
While a tower gate is quite a common feature in Japanese shrines and temples, the one in Dafaifu Tenman-gū is definitely worth checking out.
From the front, the two-story tower gate has a roof for both floors. However, if you examine the gate from the other side, the roof for the first floor is gone!
Tip: In October, when the Hiryū Tenjin Nebuta (飛龍天神ねぶた) is held, the tower gate will be decorated with dragon-shaped lanterns which are illuminated at night.
Dazaifu Tenman-gū’s Main Worship Hall
The main worship hall, Hondō was rebuilt in 1591. The splendid hall, built in the Momoyama style, is now an Important National Cultural Property.
Tip: The worship hall is lacquered in June each year. So, the worship hall will be extra impressive if you visit Dafaifu Tenman-gū in July and August.
The Gigantic Camphor Tree
Although there are a couple of camphor trees on the precinct, the one north of the shrine office attracts the most attention from pilgrims.
This tree, standing at 39 meters, is taller than a 10-floor building! This is why the tree was designated as a natural monument.
Josui’s Well (如水の井戸)
If you are a history buff and an admirer of Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s chief strategist and adviser, Kuroda Kanbei (黒田官兵衛), you will want a photo with the Josui’s Well.
It is said that when Kanbei temporarily stayed in Dazaifu, he used the water from the well to hold tea ceremonies.
Behind the well, there is a small shrine called Josui-sha (如水社) which acts as a shrine for Kanbei.
Dazaifu Tenman-gū Museum (宝物殿)
If you are interested in historical artifacts, Dazaifu Tenman-gū’s treasure hall (museum) will amaze you with a range of cultural properties related to Michizane.
Here, you will find Michizane’s sword and some old documents. Additionally, the highlight is probably the national treasure, an encyclopedia called Kanen (翰苑) from the 10th century.
The short film played in the treasure hall will also give you a good idea of the life of Michizane.
Dazaifu Tenman-gū and Plum Blossoms
In Dazaifu Tenman-gū’s precinct, approximately 6,000 plum blossoms belong to 200 species that bloom from mid-February to early March. If you are wondering why plum trees are planted instead of cherry blossoms, it is because Sugawara no Michizane’s favorite flower is the plum blossom. His love for plum blossom has even created a legend!
Dazaifu Tenman-gū’s shrine crest is, therefore, a plum flower.
The Tobi-Ume Plum (飛梅)
There is a white plum tree called Tobi-Ume in front of Dazaifu Tenman-gū’s worship hall. The plum usually blooms a bit earlier than its peers, from early to mid-February.
“When the spring breeze blows, send your fragrance to me in Dazaifu, my plum blossoms.
Don’t forget spring just because I’m not around.”
Afterwards, it is said that the plum followed Michizane and flew to Dazaifu overnight!
This is why people named it “flying plum (Tobi-Ume)”.
Plum Blossom Festival (梅花祭) and Monzen Festival (門前まつり)
On the 25th of February each year, the day Michizane passed away, a plum blossom festival is held to offer him the freshly blossomed plum flowers.
When the plum blossoms season peaks in late February, Monzen Festival is held for the public to admire the flower that Michizane so cherished. During the festival, temporary stalls are set up beside Dazaifu Tenman-gū’s approach and the Monzen Town (門前町), where the shrine is located.
Poetry Composition Ceremony (Gokusui no En, 曲水の宴)
Another special festival held at Dzaifu Tenman-gū is the Poetry Composition Ceremony. The event, having been held in the imperial palace in the past, is reproduced on the first Sunday of March each year. Ladies in formal court dress, Jūnihitoe (十二単), and men in court attire wait by a winding stream and compose poems before they receive their cup of rice wine floating down the stream to them.
This event starts at 12 pm on the day. On top of seeing the participants making waka poems, various rituals, including traditional ritual dances, are also on the schedule.
Dazaifu Tenman-gū’s Flower Calendar
- Plum blossom: Mid-February to early March
- Cherry blossom: late March to mid-April
- Iris: Early to mid-June
- Chrysanthemum: November
- Fall foliage: mid-November to early December
Refer to the official website HERE for more details about the flowers blooming at Dazaifu Tenman-gū.
Tenkai-inari Shrine (天開稲荷社)
The Tenkai-inari Shrine is a small shrine northeast of Dazaifu Tenman-gū. It is a branch of the Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto.
From the right of Dazaifu Tenman-gū’s main worship hall, a path leads to a series of red torii gates. The shrine at the top of the staircase is Kyūshū’s oldest Inari Shrine.
As its name suggests, the god enshrined here is believed to have the power to create paths to a better life. Pilgrims thus worshipped the god for good harvests and happiness.
The small path that leads to a stone chamber from the main worship hall’s left will give you a brand-new pilgrimage experience!
During the plum blossoms and fall foliage season, the shrine is a hidden gem for some stunning scenery in Dazaifu Tenman-gū’s precinct.
Dazaifu’s Specialty, Umegae Mochi (梅ヶ枝餅)
When you come to Dazaifu, you can not miss out on the Umegae Mochi rice cake. Without eating the rice cake, convincing others that you have been to Dazaifu will be hard!
So what kind of rice cake is Umegae Mochi?
Well, it is actually quite a simple traditional dessert.
The rice cake base is made from glutinous and non-glutinous rice. After putting in red bean paste, the dough is put into a metal mold and grilled until both sides turn golden color. To finish up, the rice cake is stamped with the distinctive plum blossom crest of Dazaifu Tenman-gū.
Around the approach of Dazaifu Tenman-gū, there are around 30 different Umegae Mochi makers. Because the taste of the rice cake made in each shop slightly differs, many choose to get one from a couple of shops to try all of them out.
You can also check out our article on Dazaifu Monzen Machi, in which we have included three Umegae Mochi makers we recommend.
Umegae Mochi and Sugawara no Michizane
If you know a bit of Japanese, you might have thought the plum is one of Umegae Mochi’s ingredients because the word “ume” is in its name.
The Umegae rice cake’s etymology concerns the life that Sugawara no Michizane had in Dazaifu. Being treated as a political criminal, Michizane was treated poorly without food supplies from the government. Furthermore, the residence prepared for him was an abandoned house.
Knowing the situation, an old lady who later became a nan visited Michizane regularly and gave him rice cake to save him from starvation. Because Michizane was confined in his residence, she had to use a plum stick to deliver the rice cake through the openings on the wooden grid window frame. This is why the dessert is named Umegae (plum stick).
Another theory is that the plum stick was placed with the rice cake offered to Michizane’s grave by the old lady.
Dazaifu Tenman-gū’s Opening Hours and Access Information
- Dazaifu Tenman-gū is open from 6 am from mid-March to mid-September and from 6:30 am from late September to early March.
- Dazaifu Tenman-gū closes at
- 7 pm in April and May and from September to November
- 7:30 pm from June to August
- 6:30 pm from December to March
- From Nishi Tetsu’s (西鉄) Dazaifu Station (太宰府駅), it is a 5-minute walk.
- From Hakata Station, you can take a bus from Hakata Bus Terminal to Dazaifu Station. The bus trip is around 45 minutes. You can check Nishitetsu’s website HERE for the service’s timetable.
Discover Our Recommended Shops to Visit in Dazaifu Monzen Machi
If you haven’t already, check out our article on Dazaifu Monzen Machi for the shops and restaurants we found either fascinating or delicious!
There are simply too many shops lining the approach to Dazaifu Tenman-gū, so hopefully, this article will save you some time in deciding which shop to visit when you get there (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ.