Don't Miss out the Best of Dazaifu, Fukuoka
Dazaifu is one of the most popular places to visit in Fukuoka. However, many visitors often spend only half a day here before returning home.
Travelers may be familiar with Dazaifu Tenmangu, a shrine with a history spanning one thousand years, or the Starbucks Coffee Shop designed by famous Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. However, the appeal of Dazaifu isn't limited to just these vibrant attractions.
It would be a shame just to have some umegae mochi rice cakes and then board a train home. If you stay a night in Dazaifu, you can visit amazing places that are less known even among the locals.
In this article, we'll introduce a Dazaifu itinerary centered on art!
The Railway Kitchen Chikugo: Enjoy an Elegant Brunch aboard a Sightseeing Train
There are several ways to arrive at Dazaifu from the heart of Fukuoka. For example, there's the Dazaifu Liner Bus ("Tabito") departing from Fukuoka Bus Terminal. The Dazaifu Sightseeing Train ("Tabito") also goes directly to Dazaifu from Nishitetsu-Fukuoka (Tenjin) Station.
If you're searching for excitement and fabulous local cuisine while heading to your destination, we suggest embarking on The Railway Kitchen Chikugo.
Boarding the 9:51 train for Dazaifu, we had the course meal called A Taste of the Region-DAZAIFU BRUNCH SET on the way.
You can buy same-day tickets from 8:00 to 9:15 at the North Exit ticket counter of Nishitetsu-Fukuoka (Tenjin) Station. (*Only a limited number of same-day tickets are available.)
The exterior design of the Railway Kitchen Chikugo is a checkered pattern consisting of thin red lines on a white background. The inspiration for this design was apparently a kitchen cloth.
The interior is decorated with Jojima roof tiles and Yame bamboo. Traditional crafts from the Chikugo region (northwestern Kyushu) serve as lovely decorations. The result is a relaxing interior that feels like being in someone's home.
As sunlight pours in through the windows, beautiful music can be heard throughout the carriage. You might even forget that you're riding a train.
For brunch, the dining carriage serves a curated selection of coffee from Kurume and a gourmet hotdogs seasoned with yuzu pepper (a blend of yuzu citrus, chili peppers, and salt).
The hotdog bun has a chewy exterior while fluffy on the inside. This meal, garnished with refreshing yuzu pepper, won't weigh you down.
As a bonus, you can take home this attractive white travel mug cup! (The offer is valid until the end of May 2020.)
In addition, the train conductor will give you a commemorative train ticket, which travelers can even try punching themselves. The ticket punch was heavier than our writer expected, but it was a fun experience nonetheless.
A Taste of the Region-DAZAIFU BRUNCH SET costs 3,000 yen before tax. The menu occasionally changes by season, so please check the official homepage for details.
Dazaifu Tenmangu: Wander around Outdoor Art Exhibits
Photo above: "Really shiny stuff that doesn't mean anything" by Ryan Gander
Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine is dedicated to Sugawara Michizane, the guardian deity of wisdom and learning. This is also the head shrine for all the Tenmangu shrines across Japan.
Writers and artists often pray here to receive blessings for their works for 1,100 years.
In order to preserve and pass on these cultural treasures, Dazaifu Tenmangu launched an art program ten-odd years ago. Modern art pieces are on display around the shrine premises showcasing the talents of these artists.
You can search for various art pieces on the shrine grounds using a map. The photos above are courtesy of Ryan Gander.
Currently, there are seven artworks permanently displayed on the shrine premises. All of the creations feature Dazaifu Tenmangu and Shinto motifs.
Among these exhibits, a particularly impressive piece is "Everything is learned, VI."
In this display, a large rock is surrounded by a grove of Japanese apricot trees. The rock's surface has been slightly shaved down as if someone was sitting there and pondering something for a long time. We couldn't help wondering what conclusions reached the one who thought things over here and then left.
Equally impressive is the piece titled "Like the air that we breathe."
For this piece, Dazaifu Tenmangu preschoolers were asked to think of the thing they treasure most. These images were then carved into the side of a wooden column by an artist (pictured on the right side in the photo above).
Visitors looking at the carved images on the column are asked to imagine what the children were thinking about. The artist hopes that everyone realizes that the most important thing is imagination itself. This work has a quite philosophical approach.
After wandering around the open-air exhibits, we suggest checking out a limited-edition BEAMS JAPAN goshuin-cho (notebook for collecting shrine and temple seal stamps) designed by a renowned textile-dyeing artisan.
The design depicts Dazaifu Tenmangu with pink plum blossoms and Japanese nightingales. Available in limited quantities, this classic yet contemporary seal book can be purchased on the 25th of each month. (2,500 yen including tax, limited to one per person.)
If you pay a ceremony fee (dedicated to the shrine deities), you'll receive a goshuin stamp from the Shinto priest. The sight of the priest holding his brush with dedication and concentration is truly impressive.
Buy One-Of-A-Kind Souvenirs
Freshly grilled umegae mochi isn't the only souvenir that is worth looking for in Dazaifu. There are many cute shops tucked away in various corners of the city selling miscellaneous items. Here you can pick up souvenirs that are one-of-a-kind.
Along Kotorii-shoji Alley, there is a shop called Kyushu Voice that opened in November 2019.
Formerly an electronics store, this traditional Japanese home was renovated into an antenna shop (niche outlet selling speciality products) by Fukuoka architects and designers. You'll find high-quality products from all around Kyushu.
The light fixtures inside the shop resemble torii gates found at Shinto shrines. Each detail of design has been creatively and carefully thought out.
The shop is stocked with daily items and miscellaneous goods from prefectures and cities in Kyushu.
Tirol Chocolate, known for its iconic square packaging and reasonable price, is a Fukuoka Brand. The ready-to-eat Kinako Mochi Curry (500 yen including tax) has also caused quite a stir since arriving on the market. This pouched curry made with kinako (roasted soybean flour) is full of flavor and very delicious.
There's also the Clear Soy Sauce made by a 150-year-old soy sauce factory from Kumamoto Prefecture. This liquid condiment can be used in typical recipes (540 yen including tax).
Many regulars at this souvenir shop have made special trips here just to eat certain products again.
Jyanome Usagi is a shop managed by a friendly married couple. The store's name is based on the twelve animals of the Chinese Zodiac. The owners are apparently born in the year of the snake ("jyanome" meaning snake eyes) and rabbit ("usagi").
Jyanome Usagi is specialized in Japanese miscellaneous goods with original designs. The products are a fusion of traditional culture and influences from contemporary culture. You'll find fun souvenirs that can't be found anywhere else.
However, the shop isn't limited to just original merchandise. It also features a variety of products made by creators from Kyushu.
For instance, they sell custom-made denim with intricate Japanese patterns. The designs are placed on each pair of pants using a hand-carved wooden block print and dyeing process.
Card files that help you quickly find a card when opened, unique setsubun ornaments, and attractive cloth bags for seal stamp notebooksーthese are just some of their many exciting products. Each item exudes Japanese charm.
HOTEL CULTIA Dazaifu: Stay in a Traditional Home
While Dazaifu is visited by about 10 million tourists annually, only a few stay the night as the majority return home on the same day.
HOTEL CULTIA Dazaifu was created out of the locals' wish for more tourists to learn about the wonderful places to visit in the area.
Formerly a historic building called Kokouan, HOTEL CULTIA Dazaifu was home to more than three generations of painters from the Yoshitsugu family. It has been renovated into the present-day hotel.
The carefully preserved appearance of the building looks just as it did during the height of its glory. Hotel guests can experience firsthand the impressive qualities of a traditional Japanese home (kominka).
None of the rooms have TVs or clocks, so guests can unwind and relax.
The former storehouses that have been renovated into guest rooms are extremely popular. The first floor features an elegant living space. The combination of a modern-day sofa with old-fashioned wooden cupboards creates a serene atmosphere.
The second floor offers a view of the Japanese garden so visitors can sense the charm of the seasons. The interior is a combination of Japanese and Western styles, with a cozy, comfortable atmosphere.
As natural light gently streams in through the window, you can spend a relaxing afternoon reading your favorite book.
We also recommend the Japanese-style tatami guest room located at the back of the garden.
The high ceiling opens up this comfortable space. It would be nice to sit on a floor cushion (zabuton) while reviewing the photos you took during the day.
Picture courtesy of HOTEL CULTIA Dazaifu
The hotel serves French fusion cuisine, and the kitchen staff prepares the dishes enthusiastically, using locally grown ingredients.
Lunch and dinner can be enjoyed by non-hotel guests, too.
The breakfast menu, however, is limited to hotel guests. It consists of takikomi rice (rice cooked in stock with various ingredients), salmon baked with mirin (cooking wine), a seasoned soft-boiled egg, sliced fruit, and a clear Japanese broth.
It's delicious and packed with nutrition, so you'll want to take your time savoring each dish in the morning.
HOTEL CULTIA Dazaifu is not only a place to spend the night. The facility also encourages guests to experience some of the local traditions.
With this in mind, they've planned an excursion for hotel guests called the Kyushu National Museum Night Tour. Every Saturday, visitors can take part in a variety of immersive experiences.
In addition to guides giving commentary on the exhibits, you can peek inside the storehouse in the museum's backyard or try on indigenous clothes from various countries.
This stimulating experience is reminiscent of the Hollywood movie "Night at the Museum"!
Tour participants will receive a coupon redeemable for umegae mochi (fried rice cakes). On Fridays and Saturdays from 17:00 to 20:00, guests can present their coupon at any shop to redeem piping hot mochi.
If you wake up early the next day, you can participate in a morning prayer free of charge. This daily ritual is held at 8:30 at Dazaifu Tenmangu. Nearby, priests can be heard reciting Shinto prayers. Worshipers gather in the shrine's main building and pray with all their hearts as they welcome a new day.
Popular Spots near Dazaifu: Ideal for Anime Fans, Buddha Lovers, and History Buffs!
There are some areas that are worth adding to your itinerary when visiting Dazaifu.
Homangu Kamado Shrine, a pilgrimage site for fans of the animation series “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba,” Kanzeonji Temple, a hall with Buddhist art that houses Japan's oldest hanging bell, and the Dazaifu Government Office Ruins, which are believed to have a deep connection with the name of Japan's new era, Reiwa, are some of these places.
Homangu Kamado Shrine: A Sacred Site with an Artistic Atmosphere
Homangu Kamado Shrine is a famous matchmaking place with a history exceeding 1,350 years. The premises are covered with greenery and a beautiful row of cherry trees under the torii gate will stop you in your tracks in the spring.
Homangu Kamado Shrine's "juyosho," or amulet office, was designed by the world renowned interior designer Masamichi Katayama, who also designed the UNIQLO in Ginza.
This space doesn't lose any of its solemnity with this cute design. Visitors will likely love it one hundred years from now.
The shrine's crest is a cherry blossom motif. That's why the wall encasing the front counter area is covered with pink marble tiles. They resemble thin strips of colored paper and match with the ceiling decorated with petal motifs, creating a truly magnificent atmosphere.
Here, various good luck charms (omamori) and ema (Shinto prayer plaques) are on sale. There are charms for a happy marriage, business prosperity, and other good fortunes. These protective charms are designed with great detail and unique features.
Also, the shrine's name (Kamado) is the surname of the main character in the popular animation series “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba.” Many fans, thus, make a pilgrimage here and leave behind ema prayer plaques illustrated with anime characters.
Some of the drawings by these fans are quite impressive. This is one reason why young visitors are heading to shrines and temples in increasing numbers.
Kanzeonji Temple: A Hall Filled with Buddhist Art
Built in 746, Kanzeonji is one of Kyushu's most important temples. During its golden age, Kanzeonji had a total of 49 associated temples. However, most of them were lost to fires, typhoons and other natural disasters.
The temple storehouse holds many valuable cultural assets. When you come face to face with the Kannon bodhisattva statue (the goddess of mercy) measuring over five meters in height, you'll feel a deep solemnity filling your heart.
Dazaifu Government Office Ruins: A Deep Connection with the Reiwa Era
Ohashi Rekishi Park is popular among locals, who come here to relax or take a walk.
It was previously the site of one of Kyushu's important administrative hubs. Today, the foundation of the Dazaifu Government Office Ruins (above photo) indicates the size of the buildings at the time.
This is also a secret spot for cherry blossom viewing. Surrounded by laughter and fluttering petals, the locals merrily usher in spring while enjoying the sakura.
The Dazaifu Exhibition Hall is located near the entrance. It houses relics and stone artifacts that were unearthed during an archaeological excavation.
There's also a re-creation of "Ume no Hana no Utage" (Plum Flower Party), an anthology of Japanese 31-syllable traditional waka poems. This anthology contains the "Man'yoshu" (The Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves), which is connected to the origin of the name of Japan's current era—Reiwa.
Nearby is a stone monument inscribed with a tanka (short poem) from the Man'yoshu. Since Reiwa was announced as the new imperial era, this has become a popular sightseeing spot.
Take Your Time Exploring Dazaifu
Our journey started in Fukuoka and we were able to discover many less-known charms of Dazaifu just by spending two days here. Dazaifu continues to greet thousands of sightseeing travelers every day while preserving and passing on traditional culture and history.
Why not take the time to experience the unique art and beauty of Dazaifu on your next visit?
Written by Miho
Main image courtesy of Nishi-Nippon Railroad Co., Ltd. (Nishitetsu)
Sponsored by Nishi-Nippon Railroad Co., Ltd. (Nishitetsu)