In Fukuoka, Japan: Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine & Sushi
The second day began a little slower than the first. With no plane to catch bright and early there was no deadline for us to get up by so we took our time getting ready. We ate a simple Japanese breakfast downstairs made up of a mix of different vegetable side dishes, fried rice and miso soup.
After breakfast we headed out to Tenjin Station to catch a train to Dazaifu.
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Dazaifu is the only place we were planning on using the train to get to. As I mentioned before, transportation is expensive not to mention how confusing the station itself is. We took our time looking at the subway map on the wall to ensure that we got the right ticket and plugged it into the machine, which thankfully had English. Upon entering the gate, however, there were no English signs and we weren’t really sure what platform to head toward of the four there. Luckily, a woman was walking by who spoke some English and she directed us toward the proper platform. The proper platform however seemed to have three different kinds of trains that came and left. There was the normal train that stopped at every station, the semi-fast train that skipped every other stop and then the express which went well, expressly. Jae-oo set about trying to figure out the time table on the wall, while I decided it’d be more pertinent to just ask other people standing around. We waited as a train came and left and as another one came and stopped. We weren’t sure if it went to Dazaifu, but when listening to the Japanese announcement I was sure I heard Dazaifu so we hopped on. The doors didn’t shut for some time and when the English announcement finally came over the speakers it confirmed this was the proper train.
We had to transfer once at Nishitetsu Futsukaichi Station, but luckily at the transfer point there were signs indicating in English where we should go to get to the Dazaifu train.
I asked a woman just to confirm we were in the right place and just at that moment a subway attendant walking by jumped into the conversation to help out and directed us to another platform. We got on the correct train and went the one stop to Dazaifu. Out of the Dazaifu Station everyone seemed to be heading the same direction, so we followed the crowd up a main street lined with restaurants and souvenir shops under stone gates to Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine.
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Dazaifu Tenmangu is a shrine built on the grave of Michizane Sugawara. Michizane was born in Kyoto in 845 to a scholarly family with a long tradition of loyal service to the Emperor. He also grew up to serve the Emperor as a trusted Minster of the Right, but fell into disfavor due to slander from his rivals and was exiled to Dazaifu. From Dazaifu he continued his studies and died rather unhappily a few years later. For two years following his death the city of Kyoto was plagued by disasters and the government took this to mean that Michizane was unhappy and punishing them. The government nullified his demotion and named him God of Scholarly of Achievement.
To get to the shrine, we first walked over the Taikobashi Bridge which spans the Shinji Pond. The bridge is made up of three parts, the arch representing the past, the flat part representing the present and the second arch representing the future coming from a Buddhism concept that only one thought should be held at any one time.
After crossing the pond that is in the shape of the Japanese character for “heart”, there is an archway and gate that opens up to Honden, the main shrine. Two years after the death of Michizane, his follower Yasuyuke Umasake built a shrine for him. In 919, a larger structure was constructed by the Fujiwara family but was burnt down during a civil war. The shrine that now stands here was built in 1591 and because it represents the God of Literature and Scholarly Pursuits, students from all over come to pray for help on their exams. This day was no exception. There were buses of students in uniforms walking up and down the path to the shrine all around us. There was even a group of kindergarten students. As I sat taking a break on a bench the group stopped in front of me and I heard about fifty hellos, one from each child down the line, which I responded to with a hello to each one politely. Subsequently, when they left I heard fifty goodbyes I also felt I should respond to. It was amusing and interesting at the same time because we really hadn’t met that many people that were comfortable speaking English here, but these little ones were all over it.
We took our time enjoying the scenery after that, especially the plum tree blossoms that were just beginning to bloom. Spring seems to be coming to Japan while it’s still below freezing in Seoul. While we meandered in the courtyard in front of the main hall Jae-oo snapped a photo of me in front of a tree beginning to blossom on the right side of the courtyard. Today, when I was reading more about Dazaifu I came upon an interesting anecdote regarding this tree. Known as the legendary tobiume, or the flying plum tree, according to the legend it flew from Kyoto to Dazaifu to be with Michizane in exile. Michizane was fond of plum trees and wrote poems about them starting when he was only five years old. They say that this tree is the first to bloom every year and is quickly followed by the other 6000 trees on the grounds. Many of them certainly seemed to be following suit.
The city around the shrine was very quiet so after a quick walk and a bite to eat at a local vendor’s stall, we decided to get back on the train to head back to Tenjin. Again we had to buy a ticket and once we entered the gate there was an attendant that I asked for direction. I think I’m more adept at understanding hand motions than Jae-oo is because I immediately understand her point and wave to mean that the train just ahead of us was the one we wanted and it was about to leave so I set off running. Jae-oo caught up beside me asking quickly if I was sure this was the train and I said that’s what she said and we jumped on just before the train shut its doors and departed.
The train conductors here still step off the train to check down the platform to make sure people are on and blow their whistles when they are about to take off. Thankfully, the conductor saw us and I like to think waited that extra 30 seconds for us to get there as we ran. We made it back to Tenjin, got a bowl of ramen, because you can’t have too much in Japan, and headed to a nearby manga shop so Jae-oo could look around. I’m into the historical and outside adventures, whereas he’s more interested in music, games and anime.
For dinner we wanted to find a good looking sushi joint.
We walked down the same street as the night before from Tenjin-Minami Station toward Canal City to see what restaurants looked tasty. Most of them looked tasty, but we noted time and time again that when we peered into each place there seemed to be a lot of people eating alone in each eatery. You don’t see that too often in Korea. Koreans eat with people and eating alone, unless it’s in a Kimbob Restaurant, is quite strange after living here for so long. We walked up the street taking in all of the choices and then back down. There was everything from octopus and crab to lobster and sushi rolls. We went back to one of the first places we saw that had the only group of people we saw. Unlike Korean style sushi, the soy sauce was a bit sweeter and they didn’t put wasabi in the sauce. I wondered why until I tasted the sushi. There enough wasabi on there already. We savored each bite with some saki and left to find some place a little more lively.
We headed back to the Nakasu yatai strip to see if our friends from the night before were there again. Unfortunately, the yatai hut we’d stopped into just one night before wasn’t there so we walked toward the Tenjin yatai street to see if maybe he was there. He wasn’t but we did find yet another great yatai hut. The Tenjin strip didn’t have as many choices as the Nakasu strip, but the guy trying to get us in convinced us. I was skeptical because the place looked full but he went in and got people to move around to make room.
As soon as we sat down people on all sides were talking to us and asking questions, though only the woman to my right and the cook could speak some English. At first I thought everyone inside knew each other because they were talking across the tent so much, but soon realized it was just different couples and the cook was doing a great job of making it one big friendly conversation. The cook that ran this yatai had Korean grandparents too and was having a lot of fun speaking Korean with us, which the other patrons seemed to enjoy as well. The food wasn’t nearly as chic as the Nakasu yatai tent we’d been in, but this one was also cheaper. The night before we’d been surrounded by other tourists, but tonight these were all Japanese locals, which was a different atmosphere all together.
We ended the night laughing and talking with them ready to meet our friends the next day.