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DiscoverMeet the People

The Friendly Faces of Dazaifu Tenmangu

Dazaifu Tenmangu is vibrant and full of activity. From cleaning the shrine and its grounds, maintaining the gardens, and curating the art to performing sacred ceremonies, the people who work at Dazaifu Tenmangu bring warmth, energy and faith to the shrine every day. Meet five of the friendly faces that devote themselves to welcoming visitors and preserving the legacy of Sugawara Michizane.

Mori Taro

Mori Taro has served as a priest at Dazaifu Tenmangu for 20 years. His father was also a priest at Dazaifu Tenmangu and his mother was a researcher at the shrine. Although he didn't intend to follow in his father’s footsteps, he realized that the shrine represented Japanese culture in its purest form, and wanted to share that with a wider audience.

What do you normally wear at the shrine?
Priests normally wear a white robe and hakama pleated pants. For rituals and ceremonies, we wear another more colorful layer over the top, made of dyed silk. This formal robe is a traditional design from the Heian period (794–1185).

What’s your favorite spot on the shrine grounds?
There’s a tall camphor tree over 1,500 years old near the honden. It's a source of inspiration and encouragement for me, and just gazing up at it, I'm overcome with a sense of calm. Despite being so old, it gets the most beautiful, fresh green leaves each spring.

Can you tell us about the festivals held at the shrine?
There are ritual events and festivals all year round, and the two biggest are Sugawara Michizane's birthday on July 25 and the Jinkoshiki festival which runs from September 21–25. On the final evening of the Jinkoshiki we hold the Thousand Candles Ceremony, when scores of lanterns are lit over the taiko-bashi bridges. The finale is the beautiful kagura dance by a shrine maiden on a special stage set up over the pond.

Misake Yasuyoshi

In his role as a priest, Misake Yasuyoshi assists people in making offerings to Tenjin, cleans the shrine grounds and prepares for the many rituals and festivals held at the shrine. This is his hometown, so he has always felt a strong connection with Dazaifu Tenmangu. When he was younger, he spent some time in Tokyo, but was ultimately drawn back home.

What do you like about working here?
The chance to experience Japan’s four seasons with my five senses. The scenery and scents change even within a single season, and the weather, sunlight, trees, and flowers are always changing. The shrine and its surroundings feel alive.

When is the best time to visit?
It’s always a good time to visit, but I recommend February to March, when the shrine's several-thousand plum trees bloom. The plum blossoms in the crisp morning air of late winter are beautiful, and as the temperature rises towards noon, the scent of plum blossoms drifts through the grounds.

Do you have a favorite spot at the shrine?
One of my favorite spots here is Kita Shinen garden, behind the main sanctuary. It has a tranquil atmosphere, and you can have tea and umegaemochi sweets in the teahouses there. Make sure you visit hungry so that you can enjoy these tasty treats.

Kinoshita Izumi

Kinoshita Izumi is a miko, or shrine maiden. She wears a white robe with a red, floor-length hakama skirt. You will often find her staffing one of the shrine's amulet counters or performing in a traditional ceremony. She enjoys helping visitors connect to Tenjin and choose the best amulet for their needs. She is a talented calligrapher and kagura performer. She performs kagura dance for ceremonies and special occasions.

What do you like about working at Dazaifu Tenmangu?
There’s always something happening here and the grounds are beautiful. Of course, plum blossom season in February and March is lovely, but sunny days in late spring and early summer are my favorite—the young leaves of the trees in the grounds appear the most vibrant green. I also enjoy being able to help and bring happiness to the people that visit the shrine.

What is something people might not know about the shrine?
A lot of people don't know about Tenkai Inari Shrine, a short distance behind the main sanctuary. It's a nice walk and the path is straddled with red torii gates. Follow the path and climb the stone stairs to reach the shrine, which is known locally for its spiritual energy.

Can you tell us more about the kagura dance?
It takes a lot of practice, and we are accompanied by the Japanese classical flute and the Japanese harp. It’s not a dance for entertainment but a dance of worship to Tenjin, so it’s important to perform well. I feel an enormous sense of achievement after I complete it.

Koga Yoshinori

As a landscape architect, it is Koga Yoshinori’s job to tend to the plants and trees here, especially the 6,000 plum trees, of 200 different varieties. Pruning is a very important skill, and you will often see the gardeners up ladders, shaping the trees. They wear a uniform including traditional tabi-style shoes, which are flexible for climbing.

What do you like most about your work?
It’s satisfying to see the plum trees in bloom after taking care of them all year. They're the hardest trees to look after here, and some of them are very old. They bloom from mid-January through early March, and are really worth seeing.

Why did you choose this work?
I've always been interested in gardening. I like being surrounded by green and it gives me an opportunity to feel nature and the changing seasons.

When are you at your busiest?
I'm at my busiest from July through January, when I'm pruning and getting the gardens ready for the coming spring.

What do you recommend for visitors to the shrine?
I recommend taking a leisurely walk through the grounds, stopping to look at the plants and flowers, especially the camphor trees. There are more than 100 camphors and they are all very old. Some of the oldest are more than 1,500 years old and predate even the shrine. It's amazing to think they have stood watch over Dazaifu Tenmangu for so many years.

Anderson Eri

As a curator at Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine Institute for Art and Culture, Anderson Eri works closely with visiting artists, and manages the art and cultural properties. Sometimes, you will also see her guiding visitors and helping at the amulet counters, wearing a white robe and a deep-red floor-length hakama skirt.

What do you like about your work?
The opportunity to meet many people; one encounter can open many new doors.

What is the connection between Dazaifu Tenmangu and the arts?
Sugawara Michizane, or Tenjin, is worshipped as the deity of learning, culture, and the arts. He was at the center of cutting-edge art and culture in his day. The shrine held the Dazaifu Expo in 1873, 1874, and 1875 to honor that connection. We've brought back that idea with the Dazaifu Tenmangu Art Program, which has been running since 2006, to bring art to the present generation. We work with the Kyushu National Museum, continuing Tenjin’s role as a supporter of culture and the arts.

Do you have a favorite object in the museum?
With 50,000 pieces, it’s hard to choose a favorite! But I like Brush Tenjin by Kagoshima Juzo, a master craftsman and a Living National Treasure. He made an exquisite doll of Tenjin, crafted from washi paper and dedicated to Japan's three greatest calligraphers, Sugawara Michizane, Ono Tofu and Kukai. It has a hat shaped like the tip of a calligraphy brush. It's not one of the permanent exhibits, but if you're lucky you may get a chance to see it. It's a small piece, but it makes quite an impression.

What is one of your most interesting art projects at Dazaifu Tenmangu?
Ryan Gander’s New New Day project. Ryan proposed coming up with a new day of celebration for Dazaifu Tenmangu while holding his solo exhibition, You have my word, at the shrine in 2011. Since then, we've been celebrating New New Day each year on March 16. It's an examination of Shinto and purity through icons like a bride’s white kimono, and salt, used for purification. The concept is to paint familiar objects white, to help us see them in a new way. It's a day for us to rethink the things around us and their importance.