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God's Messengers and Blossoms ~ Temmangu Shrine

While staying in Japan, you might be surprised to find that there are many shrines throughout the nation.  Among these many shrines, if you find a statue of a lying ox in the grounds, you may be sure that the shrine is "Temmangu."Lying_ox

Temmangu are the shrines that enshrine SUGAWARA no Michizane, the God of academic achievements, and there oxen are regarded as messengers of the God.

SUGAWARA no Michizane ( 845-903 ) was a real person in the Heian Period.

Sugawara_no_michizaneHe was renowned as a politician as well as a clever scholar, however, because of a false charge laid by his political competitors, he was relegated from the capital ( Kyoto ) to Dazaifu in Kyushu.  Two years later, he passed away in despair.

In the capital, after Michizane's death, a series of mysterious phenomena occured.  The people concerned with bringing him the false charges died one by one through disease or freak accidents.  Furthermore, various disasters such as fire and thunder struck the city.

People thought that Michizane's anger must have been causing these unnatural phenomena, and, to pacify his anger, enshrined him as a god.  Later, Michizane came to be worshipped as the god of academic achievements because he had excelled academically.

So why are oxen regarded as messengers of God in Temmangu?  Why do oxen statues there always lie instead of stand?

There are several legends that offer an explanation, however, a popular one is as follows:

On the way to the planned burial site of Michizane, the ox carrying his body suddenly stopped and lay down.  It refused to move from there, no matter how hard the attendants tried to make it go ahead.  They took it as a sign of Michizane, and finally buried his body in the very spot where the ox had stopped.  That place is today the site of Dazaifu Temmangu in Kyushu.

It is said that this is the reason why oxen are regarded as messengers of God and why the statues of oxen are always lying down instead of standing.Lying_ox_emblem

Michizane is also well known for having loved ume ( plum ) blossoms.  The following is the famous waka poem which Michizane wrote when he left the capital for Dazaifu.

 kochi fukaba nioi okoseyo ume-no-hana
 aruji nashitote haru wo wasuruna

    ( the meaning )
    When the spring wind blows,
      Send me your scent on the wind.
      My dear ume blossoms,
      Never forget spring
      Even without your master.

Legend has it that the ume tree flew and followed Michizane to Dazaifu.
Red_ume

This is why Temmangu shrines often use the emblem of ume blossom and have many ume trees in their grounds.Emblem_lantern

Red Each year, during early spring, ume blossom festivals are held at Temmangu shrines across the nation to honor SUGAWARA no Michizane, and many people visit the shrines to enjoy the beautiful ume blossoms.White_ume_honden

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