Chapter 11
Table of Contents
Chapter 13
MORE FESTIVALS, CREATURES, CHARMS AND GODDESSES
 

Chapter 12:  Tenjin-Sama




     Fukuoka, the largest city on Kyushu island, Japan, has many attractions, but the landmark many Japanese people come here to visit is actually an hour ride South; this is Dazaifu, the site of Dazaifu Tenmangu, the center of “Tenjin worship” in Japan. 

     If you travel around Japan will  encounter Tenjin Shrines, there are hundreds of them throughout the country. Tenjin (“heavenly god” or Kanko)  is the Shinto diety of learning or wisdom, his help is particularly sought by students and intellectuals. Tenjin actually began life as a human being, a man named Michizane Sugawara, and Dazaifu is where he was exiled, died and became eventually honored as a kami or diety.

     To briefly recount the tale, Michizane was born in 845 AD into an aristocratic family which trained him in Chinese philosophy, poetry and arts. He was said to be a genius, became a great poet and philosopher at a young age, and rose quickly through the government bureaucracy. He became, among other things, ambassador to Tang China, court historian and and second minister to the Emperor. The jealous Fujiwara clan defamed him and the Emperor, believing him a traitor, exiled him to the then wretched and desolate Dazaifu in 901 AD. He died there after several years and, after a small Buddhist service, was buried near the temple. His attendant, a man named Umasake, built a small shrine at the grave and this grew over the years. The Emperor apparently later felt that Michizane’s fate was a grievous error because he issued several imperial decrees which created a grand shrine at the site. The legend of this man spread and so, with more imperial honors heaped upon him, he became a recognized god a hundred years after his death. By 947 AD a shrine to Michizane was built in Kyoto and from that time on his cult spread across Japan. 

     Dazaifu Tenmangu has been totally or partially burnt down several times and only reached its present glory in 1951 when it was totally refurbished for the 1000-year anniversary of Michizane’s death. The grounds are very beautiful and the shrine is, of course, colorful and impressive. Thousands of plum trees, always associated with Tenjin, dot the grounds The largest of these is called tobiume and has its own miraculous story. It is said to have flown from Kyoto as a sprig and landed here by divine whim to honor Tenjin, though others say a wandering Shinto priest named Hakudayu planted it as an offering. The grounds of Dazaifu covers over 3000 acres and include a beautiful garden, an iris pond, many camphor and cherry trees and several other small shrines. All-in-all it is very picturesque, as long as you avoid the amusement park on the far side of the grounds!

     The sando or sacred way leading up to the shrine is lined with businesses and buildings that have obviously been in families for centuries. Here you can buy any number of gifts, handicrafts and, even excellent pottery from all over Kyushu. The traditional mingei or folk art associated with Tenjin is the carved wooden uso or bullfinches. There is an odd tradition surrounding the uso  because this word also means “lie.” On January 7th there is a big festival at Dazaifu called the  Onisube Usokae or “bullfinch exchange.” People stand around dying bonfires and pass these carvings around, hopefully ending up with one at the end. The magical intent is to exchange “lies for truth” and these small wooden birds are either supposed to keep you honest or make your lies become true!

Chapter 11
Table of Contents
Chapter 13