The Tummy Train TV,  Traveling

Fukuoka Spring 2018: A charming afternoon at Dazaifu Tenman-gu

In this post, we continue our journey with the Nishitetsu Yanagawa & Dazaifu One-Day Sightseeing Ticket. Our last stop for the day was the beautiful and bustling Dazaifu Tenman-gu. Before I even begin to take you through this shrine, I will already tell you it is hands down one of the most beautiful shrine compounds I have ever been to. Our server at La Maison de la Nature Goh was even heaping praises on this place when she found out we were headed this way. After just one visit, I can absolutely see why.

Right after lunch at Yanagawa, we got back on the train and headed to our afternoon destination. We simply took the Nishitetsu Tenjin-Omuta Line back to Nishitetsu Futsukaichi Station, then transferred to the local Dazaifu Line. The moment we alighted at Dazaifu Station, there was already plenty to see! (And to eat of course!)

I really like the way this entire area around the Dazaifu Tenman-gu melds together a trendy vibe at the shopping street with a more serene one the moment you enter the shrine grounds. The journey to the shrine is kind of like a progression of feelings. You start out feeling hungry and excited, first making your way through the shops selling various food stuff and souvenirs.

Once you’ve had your fill of yummies and shopping, your excitement starts to wear off, making way for the serenity to creep in. And it comes automatically once you’re inside the picture-perfect grounds of Dazaifu Tenman-gu. Everywhere you turn, there is this sense of quiet contentment. It’s in the way the leaves of the trees sway against the breeze; the way the sunlight gently casts patterns on all it touches. I can only hope I managed to capture some if this in the video below.

Welcome to Dazaifu!

It’s really nice to know that you don’t have to travel far to get into the thick of things the moment you step out of Dazaifu Station. Right away we spotted Ichiran Ramen and vowed to go there for an early dinner later on. But that wasn’t the first thing we saw when we got out of the station doors.

The plaza at the foot of the stairs of Dazaifu Station houses a good amount of vendors, selling mostly food and delicacies. Being the curious cats that we are, we immediately checked this out.

This photo below is hilarious. Look at how serious I am here trying to decide which strawberry filled mochi flavors to get from this gentleman’s shop. His colorful display of food caught my attention, but it was the mochi that made my mouth water.

To be honest, my reaction surprised me since I am not particularly fond of sweet mochi. But the moment I saw the strawberry nestled inside these things, I immediately decided I needed to try them.

These mochi are heavily packed and taste as good they look! The mochi itself isn’t too tough or too thin but just chewy enough. The pink one is filled with sweet sakura-flavored paste, and the strawberries added a juiciness that helps balance out the sweetness. Meanwhile, the matcha mochi is filled with chunky red bean. These aren’t even the specialty mochi of Dazaifu so I don’t know why I am talking about them at length. I just found them to be too adorable to pass up!

If you have some time to spare when you come to Dazaifu, you might want to check this area out just for the heck of it. You might be surprised by what you find!

Dazaifu Tenman-gu’s Shopping Street

Now the best part about all the really big and important shrines in Japan is that they pretty much always have a shopping street leading the way there. You get your fair share not just of sights but of things to eat as well. This one is not a particularly long street, so if you’re not fond of walking, no worries. (Though there will be more walking inside the shrine lol.)

I shot this photo above near the head of the street, and that pink torii gate you spot in the distance is the one that leads to the shrine grounds. As you make your way there, it would be a big mistake not to check out any of the shops!

They have a super interesting, super cool Starbucks over here.

Since Dazaifu’s specialty is the plum flower-imprinted Umegai Mochi, you will see quite a few shops selling them on this street. On the way here, I kept thinking about trying this but somehow got sidetracked by the strawberry-filled mochi from the train station. I kind of feel bad I can’t describe the taste of this to you guys, but I’m guessing if you love mochi, it shouldn’t be a problem at all.

Japan wouldn’t be Japan without soft serve ice cream, so be prepared to have more than your fair share here at Dazaifu Tenman-gu shopping street. It almost felt like every third store on the shopping street was selling soft serve, and each of them had one specific flavor that the others didn’t. As far as I observed anyway. My brother ended up buying soft serve three times during this afternoon haha!

One of the flavors we tried was Amaou strawberry, which Fukuoka is famous for. None of the strawberry desserts I’ve tried here have disappointed me, and I just want to say the strawberries themselves are legit though pricey. The Amaou strawberries are produced only in Fukuoka prefecture. I would suggest taking advantage of them in their soft serve form as well while you’re here!

One of our favorite shops here was this one offering free sampling of their mentaiko. Mentaiko is pollock roe, and though it historically originated from Korea, it is one of Fukuoka’s most-loved foods. It usually comes tightly packed and shaped like an uneven cylinder. The taste is just slightly fishy, with a salty punch and lots of umami flavor. I imagine it might be an acquired taste.

In this shop they sell fresh as well as differently flavored frozen mentaiko. You can even sample each and every flavored one before deciding. They also sell mentaiko mayonnaise in various flavors and I personally enjoyed the spicy variant so much I bought some to take home. It’s delicious slathered on warm toasty bread for breakfast!

A fine afternoon at Dazaifu Tenman-gu

Among the many Tenman-gu Shrines in Japan, Dazaifu Tenman-gu is one of the biggest and most important. The other is the Kitano Tenman-gu located in Kyoto, and both are dedicated to the great scholar Sugawara Michizane.

Since Michizane was deified as Tenjin, a Shinto deity of literature and education, many students come to Tenman-gu Shrines to pray for things related to their schooling.

At the time we came to Dazaifu Tenman-gu, they were having a flower exhibition called Hanami 2050 by Nicolai Bergmann. There were big flower pieces scattered all over the shrine grounds, making it come alive with color. The flower installations made by Bergmann added to my overall enjoyment of this shrine, making it possibly my favorite shrine I’ve ever visited.

The history of why Tenman-gu Shrines exist is an interesting one. During the Heian period (710-1185), there was a young boy named Sugawara Michizane who was said to be “favored by the gods”. He was smart and talented beyond his years. He also liked to compose poems dedicated to his favorite plum trees. It didn’t take long for him to gain attention and influence within the imperial court in Kyoto, and with this his political career steadily rose.

A newcomer stealing the spotlight didn’t sit well with the royal Fujiwara clan. They tried their best to kick Michizane out of the scene completely, and after a period of manipulation and underhanded tactics, they succeeded in getting him exiled to Dazaifu.

Michizane spent his years in exile studying, and soon passed away at the age of 57. It was then that several disasters struck. First, a bolt of lightning struck the Fujiwara clan’s castle, killing five of its members in one go. (Talk about poetic justice!) Aside from that, Kyoto was also ravaged by several other disasters.

People began to whisper about how the calamities must have been caused by the angry spirit of Michizane. He had suffered through injustices during his life and was now coming back for revenge. The Fujiwara clan was quick to rectify the situation. Aiming to appease, they started to give offerings to the spirit of Michizane, eventually building this Tenman-gu Shrine in Dazaifu on the site of his grave. They also reinstated his rank, and with it restored his image as a dedicated scholar and poet.

There is a statue of an ox at the entrance, which you might have noticed from my video. Legend has it that when Michizane died, an ox carried his body to a nearby Buddhist monastery. It didn’t want to go any further despite the prodding of Michizane’s followers, and so they buried him there. The statue is there both as a sacred guard and as a remembrance of the incident.

Once you walk past the sacred guard cows, you will spot a bridge that leads to the main shrine. The arching shape of the Taiko Bridge actually has meaning. Apparently, it represents the past, present, and the future. This bridge sits over a pond built in the shape of 心, which means heart (in both Japanese and Chinese). It’s a gorgeous area for photos!

As we made our way around the 250-meter shrine compound, we spotted this very pink area in the distance. I walked closer and realized this was one of the flower-art installations that Bergmann had set up here.

And these as well:

Don’t they look like they’ve belonged here from the beginning?

There are actually two museums within the grounds, but we decided to head straight to the honden or main hall.

This version of the honden currently standing actually isn’t the original structure built in 905 after Michizane’s death. There was even another version built by the Fujiwara clan over the original in 919, but that was destroyed by a fire during a civil war. This gorgeous honden you see in the photo was a reconstruction during 1591.

Could anyone ever have guessed that it was from the late 1500’s? I am always so amazed by how the Japanese manage to keep their shrines in perfect condition after hundreds of years!

Look how gorgeous the detailing is:

There’s a famous plum tree to the right of the main shrine called the Tobiume, which I believe is this one I have cut off in the photo above. According to legend, this was the plum tree from Kyoto that Michizane yearned for so much that it uprooted itself and FLEW all the way to Dazaifu to be with him in exile. Crazy right? It didn’t have any blooms at the time we visited so I didn’t snap photos.

The rest of the shrine though I certainly remembered to appreciate.

Lots of people were buying charms and drawing their fortunes here. I feel like I would’ve bought something for good luck here were I still a student, just for the heck of it. How often do you get to visit a major Tenman-gu Shrine like this one after all?

Spotted: Students reading other people’s wishes haha! Of course, the most frequent wishes in any Tenman-gu Shrine are related to studying; specifically about passing exams!

We were wandering about when we accidentally discovered this quiet corner. There were lots of amazing cherry blossom trees here and they fell like snowdrops whenever a strong gust blew. I swear I could have sat here all day and watched the sakura petals float down.

It’s good for the soul, being here.

We lingered inside the shrine grounds for a while longer until our stomachs signaled to us it was time to go. I was surprised by how fast the time just flew by! As we made our way back to the shopping street, the sun was beginning its descent already. Almost all the shops had closed for the day, even though it wasn’t even six in the evening yet.

What’s there to complain about though, when your heart is full?

Finishing the day at Ichiran Ramen

Ichiran Ramen is pretty much an icon in Japan, but to be entirely honest, it’s not my personal favorite. It’s a bit expensive for what you get, and also a bit saltier than I like, but that’s just me. People line up just to eat here after all.

Luckily, when we arrived for an early dinner, there were NO LINES in sight. Yaaaay!

Ichiran uses a vending machine system where you pretty much customize your ramen order. The base ramen has one slice of chashu and no egg and already it’s 890 yen. It’s up to you whether you want more chashu (+ 250 yen) or add an egg (+ 130 yen), maybe another serving noodles? It does add up!

For the price of a bare bones bowl of Ichiran Ramen, I can get a delicious and fully-topped bowl of ramen at Ippudo here in Manila. (It’s my favorite Fukuoka ramen chain, fyi. I don’t know why I didn’t have some while here in Fukuoka.) That’s how I say this ramen chain is expensive.

Anyway, I think the concept of Ichiran is cute. You eat at a personal booth so you can focus solely on the ramen before you. You concentrate on enjoying all its flavors; take note of how the broth nicely clings to the noodles.

I mean, it’s good ramen. Just for me not the best I’ve ever eaten.

By the way, I totally love these limited edition bowls. I wished I could take one home lol.

Night had fallen by the time we finished our dinner. As I write this last paragraph for this post, I just realized I managed to break one whole day’s worth of sightseeing and eating into three separate posts! It had been a long day, and yet it didn’t feel like it. How did we manage to see and eat so much in a day, I will never figure out. But I feel completely blessed to have been able to visit both Yanagawa and Dazaifu. I hope to come back soon!

Visit Dazaifu Tenmangu!

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