Formerly the site of the unified Kyushu's government office, Dazaifu was once called the "distant Imperial Court." It was also a window where Japan mixed with cultures from the rest of Asia, and is a very important area in Japanese ancient history. Here are 5 recommended tourism spots where you can experience the history and culture of Dazaifu.
1. Dazaifu Tenmangu
Dazaifu Tenmangu was built in 919 and enshrines the deity of learning, Sugawara no Michizane. It, along with Kyoto's Kitano Tenmangu, is the main shrine of the 12,000 tenmangu shrines around the country. The current main building was built in 1591, and is registered as a national important cultural property. In front of the hall of worship stands a tobiume plum tree that is said to have yearned for Michizane, who was demoted from the capital, and flew here. There are plenty of plum and cherry blossom trees as well as Japanese irises and other plants around the grounds so you can enjoy beautiful flowers all year round. The road from Dazaifu Station to the shrine is lined with teahouses and souvenir shops, so on your way back from praying, definitely stop and try the famous umegae mochi.
2. Kyushu National Museum
The Kyushu National Museum is right behind Dazaifu Tenmangu. While the national museums in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Nara are all art museums, this one is a history museum. It was built with the concept of treating the formation of Japanese culture from an Asian history point of view. They have a wide variety of exhibits featuring the creation of Japanese culture from the Stone Age to modern eras. On the 4th floor, you can learn about the way Japanese, Asian, and European cultures have interacted in the cultural exchange exhibition. Also, there are also exhibits featuring folk art from around the Asian continent that you can experience for yourself.
Kanzeonji is an old temple representative of Kyushu that was built in 746. In the past, it was surrounded by 49 temple buildings, and was the foremost gathering of temple buildings in western Japan, but many of the buildings were lost to great fires and currently only the main temple structure and the auditorium, which were both built in the Genroku period (1688 - 1703), remain. Kanzeonji is known for having Kyushu's leading treasury of Buddhist statues, and many statues that have been designated as national important cultural artifacts are stores and on display here, including 16 statues that were created during the 11th to 14th centuries. The Kannon statues sitting in a row that are all around 5m tall are an unforgettable sight! Within the grounds, there's also Japan's oldest temple bell that is registered as a national treasure, so don't forget to see it!
Koumyouzenji, known for being a moss-covered temple, is also famous for having beautiful autumn foliage. However, it is also the only temple in Kyushu that has a traditional dry landscape garden. When you pass through the main gate, the front garden before the main building is called Bukkou Sekitei. 15 stones in the garden are arranged in the character for "light." Inside the main garden, you can gaze out at the back garden called Itteki Kaitei and it represents a large sea using white sand and green moss for the land. It's right next to Dazaifu Tenmangu, so why not spend a leisurely time here embraced by the quietness that seems otherworldly?
Kaidan-in was originally built in 761 as a facility for monks to learn the official precepts, and originally it was part of Kanzeonji. It's also called Nishi-Kaidan ("west Kaidan") along with Nara's Todaiji as the Chuo-Kaidan ("central Kaidan") and Tochigi's Shimotsuke Yakushiji as the Higashi-Kaidan ("east Kaidan"), and together they're called the Tenka Sankaidan ("three ruling Kaidan"). The Vairocana Buddha enshrined as the idol of the main shrine was created during the end of the Heian era (second half of the 12th century), and it's registered as a national important cultural property. It's said that beneath the ordination platform in the main shrine, dirt from the three countries relating to Buddhism (India, China, and Japan) is stored.
Since ancient times, Dazaifu has been the seat of Kyushu's government and culture as well as the place of interaction with foreign countries. There are many more things to see there as well. It's only about 20 minutes away from Fukuoka, so if you visit, you should stretch your legs and make your way over to Dazaifu as well.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.