Our Experience at the Dazaifu Tenman-gū Shrine: Angeline Zhou and Eileen Chen

With just having made our own umegae mochi and the taste of red bean lingering on our tongues, we walked, still with great difficulty, past the multitudes of soft-serve ice cream booths, umegae mochi displays and gift shops that lead to the entrance of the Dazaifu Tenman-gū shrine. This shrine, we learned, is only one of the many Tenman-gū Shrines located throughout Japan that honors the spirit of Sugawara Michizane. In Japanese culture, Michizane is associated with Tenjin, the Shinto deity of education. Michizane was a celebrated scholar until his death in 903, but also displayed an extraordinary knack for poetry and scholarship even as a child. He penned his first waka (a type of poetry in Japanese literature) at only five years old and is said to have been gazing at his family’s plum tree as he wrote, “How beautiful the red plum blossom, I wish to color my cheek with it.”

Five year old Michizane’s honest, straightforward expression of the intimate connection between humans and nature left a strong impression on me. To me, Michizane’s first waka captures a formative element, one that deeply respects nature and its beauty, of both olden and modern Japanese society. One week was more than enough to realize that Japan, with all its technological advancements and flourishing pop culture, has managed to hold tightly onto its belief in a harmonious relationship between man and nature. Many of us noticed that this was a recurrent theme during our stay: Japan’s ability to retain and pay homage to traditional values yet cultivate an extremely dynamic, unique modern society and culture. Michizane revealed an integral part of Japanese culture and the timelessness of certain Japanese beliefs with two phrases, at five years old.

Don’t kids just say the darndest things??
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Our delicious umegae mochi!

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Chelsea thinking to herself: “Extra leftovers???”

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Brent and Tyler near the entrance of the shrine. Rainy days can’t keep us away!
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Plum trees, which typically bloom from late February to mid march, are easily found all around the grounds of Dazaifu Tenman-gū. As one might be able to tell from his first poem, Michizane was quite fond of plum trees. It’s even said that after Michizane was forced into exile from Kyoto (on Honshu) to Dazaifu Tenman-gū (on Fukuoka, a different island) and later passed away, a plum tree from Kyoto flew to Fukuoka to be reunited with Michizane. This plum tree is said to be the first that blooms every year. (Checking the validity of this statement is a good justification to to back to Japan every year 😉 )

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We prayed and picked our fortunes and… it began hailing.

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Some TOMODACHIs cheesin on one of the three bridges (that represent the past, present, and future).
(Angeline Zhou)

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