Dazaifu is a small town just 15km from Fukuoka and a popular half-day destination for visitors to this part of Kyushu.
The town’s main highlight is its Tenman-gu Shrine, dedicated to a ninth century scholar, poet and court official named Michizane who was exiled to Dazaifu from Kyoto after falling victim to court intrigues. He died here in 903, in misery, and the shrine was built on his grave, although the current building is a more recent construction dating from 1591.
Among other things Michizane, or Tenjin, to use his deified name, is said to be a Shinto deity of education and today high school students (and their ambitious mothers) come to pray for good examination results and leave their hopes and wishes attached to trees in the shrine garden.
The gardens are beautiful though rather crowded with coach loads of Chinese tourists on the day of our visit. To avoid the crowds we walked up a small hill where a procession of red torii gates leads up to a small shrine and cave-like altar.
Elsewhere in the shrine grounds is a lake with an island spanned by two gracefully curved bridges. There are 6,000 plum trees here which burst into colour in early Spring.
Other attractions in Dazaifu include the Komyozenji temple with a dry stone Zen garden and a tree-planted moss garden renowned for its autumn colours.
There are also a couple of museums here including the ultra modern Kyushu National Museum.
The street leading from the railway station is lined with interesting shops selling souvenirs, snack foods and, a family favourite, Totoro merchandise.
Dazaifu is definitely worth a visit, even if you are not sitting for your exams.