After all the tragic and tragedy, people are apprehensive about travelling to Japan for various reasons. But when I received the invite for a media familiarisation trip to Kyushu, I barely hesitated. Firstly, Kyushu was not directly affected by the crisis and secondly, the visit is unlike the typical Tokyo or Osaka experience.
Kyushu (九州) is the third largest island in Japan and is known for its rich culture and traditions. During the seven days I spent in Kyushu, I had a true experience in the countryside, away from the stresses of the city. Of the four hotels I stayed at over the six nights, only one had internet access!
Taking a midnight flight to Fukuoka airport by Singapore Airlines, I arrived bright and early and was immediately ushered into a sightseeing programme.
The first stop for the day was Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine, which was built in memory of Michizane Sugawara (the God of learning). Michizane was serving the Emperor but was unfortunately demoted from his position as Minister of the Right in 901 AD due to slander and political chicanery from his rivals. He was then sent to Dazaifu to work, where he suffered in exile and misery, finally passing away two years later.
All the way he continued his scholarly studies and for his pure heart and good deed, was worshipped as the God of literature and learning after his death. The Tenmangu Shrine was thus built on the site of Michizane’s grave.
Before entering the temple, we had to wash our hands first:
First you had to wash the left hand, then the right hand, then the mouth.
Inside, you could pay 100 Yen to pick your fortune and after reading it you can hang it up with the rest.
It was a generic fortune covering all the areas in life like health, career, family, love, wealth etc. I picked exactly the same one as this lady from JTB:
You can also purchase these tablets to write your wishes on and hang them up in the temple. There were tablets scribbled with wishes in Japanese, Korean, Mandarin and English…
Paying respects to the Shrine was right inside the temple, where you could toss a 5 Yen coin in to make a wish.
As Michizane was such a fine scholarly example, many students visit this Shrine to pray for academic success and on my visit there, I was greeted by students from different schools who were there on field trips or art classes.
During Michizane’s time at Dazaifu, he was offered mochi (Japanese rice cakes) by an old lady selling them in front of a temple. Legend has it that this nun stuffed the mochi with ume (Japanese plum) and set it on his coffin when he passed away. This umegae mochi then became a specialty of Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine and now can be found at all the gift shops and restaurants lined up along the street leading up to the shrine.
I had the opportunity to try making umegae mochi when I was there. Basically it is a generous filling of sweet bean paste wrapped with mochi toasted between iron plates.
The mochi was already prepared for me so all I had to do was roll the sweet bean paste into the mochi and then flatten it with the heated iron plates, before leaving it on the stove, turning the plates over and over until the mochi turns a golden brown.
Crispy and warm on the outside, with the oozing sweet bean paste on the inside, the umegae mochi makes a great snack.
Next up: Hakata Doll making…