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Special Feature on Plum Blossoms

The Legend of the Plum admired by Sugawara Michizane.


Hello, I am Nanase, a writer.
I like going out and traveling, and on my days off, I am more likely to go out than stay at home.
Although the days are still cold, February 4 marks the first day of spring, and according to the calendar, it is already spring.
The flower that heralds the arrival of spring is the plum blossom.
This time, I will introduce the best plum blossom viewing spots in Kyushu.

Flowers that herald the arrival of spring

Many people may feel the arrival of spring when they hear news of the blooming of ume (plum blossoms).
Plum trees bloom with red or white flowers and there are hundreds of varieties.
The ume tree is said to have originated in China but was introduced to Japan about 1,500 years ago.

Plum tree in the precincts of Dazaifu
Plum tree in the precincts of Dazaifu

Plum trees have been popular in Japan since ancient times, with many waka poems about them included in the Manyoshu anthology of poetry.
and other works.
Sugawara Michizane has a deep relationship with the ume plum tree.
In this article, I will introduce Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine, which enshrines Sugawara Michizane.

About Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine

Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine is located in Dazaifu City, Fukuoka Prefecture.
The shrine enshrines the spirit of Sugawara Michizane, and many people
visit the shrine every year as "the god of learning, sincerity, and protection from bad luck.
It is especially famous as a god of learning, and many students visit the shrine to pray for success in entrance examinations, especially during the exam season.
Many people in Fukuoka Prefecture have probably received an omamori (charm) from Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine during the examination season.
The shrine is also visited by many tourists not only from Japan but also from other countries, with about 10 million people visiting the shrine each year.

The nearest station is Dazaifu Station on the Nishitetsu Line, about a 5-minute walk from the station.
Souvenir stores line the approach to the shrine, so it is not long before you arrive at the shrine as you walk along, looking at the stores around.

The precincts of Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine are famous for its plum blossoms, with about 200 varieties of white and red plum trees.
Because there are so many varieties some bloom early and others late.
You can enjoy ume plum blossoms from late January to early March.

  • White plum blossoms in the precincts of Dazaifu in early February
    White plum blossoms in the precincts of Dazaifu in early February
  • Red plum blossoms in the precincts of Dazaifu in early February
    Red plum blossoms in the precincts of Dazaifu in early February

Tobiume legend

Sugawara Michizane monument
Sugawara Michizane monument

The sacred tree of Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine is "Tobiume", but did you know that there is a legend about this Tobiume?

Time goes back to the Heian period.
This is the story of Sugawara no Michizane when he was alive.
At that time, Sugawara no Michizane, who was the Minister of the Right, was demoted to Dazaifu as Dazai Gon no Sochi due to a conspiracy by Fujiwara Tokihira, the Minister of the Left.
When he left his hometown of Miyako, he composed the following poem to express his regret for the plum blossoms in his garden.

“When the east wind blows, I want you to be refreshed plum blossoms, do not forget the spring.”

The legend goes that the plum blossoms, which adored Michizane, flew to him in Dazaifu from his residence in Kyoto in a single night.

It is a romantic legend, isn't it?
After spending a long time together, a deep connection must have developed between Michizane and the flying plum tree.

The flying plum trees can be seen on the right side of the main hall.
It is said that it is the first plum tree in the precincts to bloom every year, and this year it bloomed on January 23.
Just as Michizane sang in his poem, even today they are firmly announcing the arrival of spring next to the Lord.
The best time to see the flying plum blossoms is in mid-February.

This time, I went to see the flying plum trees in bloom ahead of the others.
Although they were still in the beginning of blooming, many people were taking pictures and looking at them.

  • Tobiume next to the main shrine
    Tobiume next to the main shrine
  • Tobiume blossoming in early February
    Tobiume blossoming in early February

Points for visiting Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine

Dazaifu Tenmangu, which is visited by many people every year, has many attractions other than Tobiume.
Therefore, I will introduce the points along the order of worship.

God cow statue

God cow statue
God cow statue

After climbing the approach to the shrine and passing through the torii gate, you will see a statue of a sacred cow right in front of you.

It is said that when Michizane passed away, his body was transported by oxcart, but since the ox stopped moving at the current location of the main hall of Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine, he was buried there.
Michizane was born in the year of the ox, on the day of the ox, and it is said that he died on the day of the ox.
During his life, he loved cows, and now there are statues of cows at Tenmangu shrines all over Japan.
It is said that if you rub the head of this god cow statue, you will become smarter, and if you rub it where you are not feeling well, you will recover from injuries and illnesses. Therefore, on days when there are many people, people line up.
When you visit the shrine, how about rubbing the god cow statue with your wish?

 One of the 10 sacred cow statues in the precincts
One of the 10 sacred cow statues in the precincts

There are 10 other sacred cow statues in the precincts, so please look for them.

Shinjiike Pond

On the way to the main shrine, there is a pond in the shape of "heart".
The name "Shinjiike" comes from the shape of the pond.
There are three bridges across Shinji Pond, but did you know that each of them has its own meaning? The three bridges are built in the order of Taikobashi, Hirahashi, and Taikobashi.

  • Taikobashi
  • Taikobashi and Hirahashi
    Taikobashi and Hirahashi

Each bridge is said to represent the past, present and future. It seems that there is also a meaning that the mind and body are purified while passing through the three bridges over Shinji Pond.
There are also some cautions in crossing this bridge.

Past bridge: Do not look back.
Bridge of the present: do not stop.
Bridge of the future: Do not stumble.

It sounds like a life lesson.
There is a jinx that says good things will happen if you can cross the bridge in the future without tripping over it.
I walked carefully and managed to cross it without tripping.
I am secretly hoping that something good will happen in the future.

If you cross the bridge on your way back, it is better to go home without crossing the bridge because the order is reversed.
It is recommended that you take a side road to get out.
When returning from the side road, it is also recommended to enjoy the beautiful contrast between the vermilion color of the Taikobashi and the green trees.

Scenery of Shinji Pond and Taiko Bridge
Scenery of Shinji Pond and Taiko Bridge

Kirin statue

Kirin statue
Kirin statue

There is a Kirin statue on the right after crossing the bridge.

The Kirin is a mythical Chinese mythical beast that appears as a sign of good things to come.
In 1852, it was donated by the merchants of Hakata to reflect Michizane's life of good governance and sincerity.
It is said that Mr. Thomas Blake Glover, a famous trader who contributed to Japan's industrial revolution, fell in love with the Kirin statue at first sight and asked for it.
Even today, it is very elaborate and splendidly built, so it must have been more eye-catching at the time.



A Temizuya with an eye-catching vermilion exterior.
It is a very splendid one made of a single rock cut from the sacred mountain Homan mountainside.
I don't think you'll ever see one of this size.
There is a relief of a divine turtle (Jinki) in the center, so pay attention to it when you cleanse your hands and mouth before worshiping.

Romon gate

This is an unusual tower gate with a different shape on the main shrine side and the taiko bridge side.
From the front, it is a double gate with roofs on the top and bottom, and from the inside, it looks like a single-layered gate.
I remember thinking it strange when I visited the temple for the first time because of the difference in appearance between the two gates on the way there and on the way back.
The current gate was rebuilt in 1914 after being destroyed by fire in the Meiji period.
When you visit the shrine, please pay attention to the difference in appearance.

  • Romon gate on the Taiko Bridge side
    Romon gate on the Taiko Bridge side
  • Romon gate on the main hall side
    Romon gate on the main hall side

Main hall shrine

In 919, Fujiwara no Nakahira, the Minister of the Left, built this temple on the site of Sugawara no Michizane's grave by order of Emperor Daigo.
After that, it was destroyed by fire several times, and the current main hall was rebuilt in 1591 by Takakage Kobayakawa under the orders of Hideyoshi Toyotomi.
Adopting the architectural style of the Momoyama period, you can feel the beauty even after about 400 years have passed.
The main shrine is designated as a national important cultural property.

Main hall shrine
Main hall shrine

Temporary shrine

Worshippers in front the temporary hall construction site in early February
Worshippers in front the temporary hall construction site in early February

In preparation for the "1125th Anniversary of Sugawara no Michizane" festival in 2027, the first major renovation of the main hall in 124 years is scheduled to begin in May 2023.
During the renovation, a temporary hall will be constructed in front of the main hall.
Therefore, visitors are currently allowed to pray in front of the temporary hall to be built.
Construction of the temporary building will begin in February and is expected to be completed in May.
I'm looking forward to seeing what the temporary sanctuary will look like.


Omikuji tied with prayers

From January 1, the color of the omikuji has changed to pink, which is the image of plum.
At Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine, the colors of the omikuji change with the seasons.
It is very rare that the color of the omikuji changes.
The color change of the omikuji according to the season is said to have  been selected as one of the 100 New Japanese Styles.
There are various colors of omikuji, but I love the light pink omikuji of this season.
The omikuji tied with prayers are very beautiful.


It is no exaggeration to say that Dazaifu is famous for Umegaemochi.
There are many Umegaemochi shops in the souvenir shops along the approach to the shrine.
When people from outside the prefecture eat this Umegaemochi, they often say, "There's no plum in it."
Because of the name Umegaemochi, it is often misunderstood that it contains plums, but it is a simple yakimochi with red bean paste wrapped in mochi dough. There is a plum stamp on the surface

So why is it called Umegaemochi?
There is an anecdote about it.

When Sugawara no Michizane was demoted to Dazaifu, he was forced to live like a sinner.
It seems that the origin is that an old woman who could not stand the   lack of food every day stuck a rice cake in a branch of plum and gave it.

I think that if the old woman was found, there was a risk that she would be accused of a crime, so maybe she secretly brought it in so that she  would not be found.
When I think about Sugawara no Michizane, who was in such a situation because of an innocent crime, it is heartbreaking.


Umegaemochi has a slightly different taste depending on the store.
Everyone has his or her own taste, but I recommend the Umegae mochi of Teradaya.
You can find it on the left at the top of the approach to the temple.
You can take them out, but you can also eat them inside the store.
If you have time to spare, I recommend ordering a set of Umegaemochi and tea while admiring the beautiful garden inside the store.
The freshly baked umegaemochi are crispy and very tasty.
You can also take one home as a souvenir, but it will taste different from the freshly baked one.



This time, I introduced Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine, which is related to Sugawara no Michizane.
The anecdote of Tobiume was taught to me by my teacher during an ancient literature class when I was a student.
I remember it well because I was deeply impressed that it was a wonderful story.
Tobiume, which is next to the main shrine in the precincts, blooms first.
It seems that he still admires Michizane even now...
Please enjoy the plum blossoms on the precincts, which are about to reach their peak, along with the scent of plum blossoms.
Don't forget the pink omikuji and umegaemochi.


Address: 4-7-1 Saifu, Dazaifu City, Fukuoka Prefecture
Nearest station: Nishitetsu Dazaifu Station About 5 minutes on foot to Dazaifu Tenmangu
Worship time
Gate opening time: 6:00 from the vernal equinox to the day before the autumnal equinox / 6:30 on days other than the above
Closing time: April, May, September, October, November: 19:00 / June, July, August: 19:30 / December, January, February, March: 18:30