Welcome to the Furukuma Jinja Shrine website.
Furukuma Jinja Shrine venerates Sugawara no Michizane, a noble, scholar, and politician from approximately 1,200 years ago who became revered in Japan as “Tenjin-sama,” a kami or deity of learning, and his youngest son Sugawara no Fukube.
Please read on to learn about Furukuma Jinja Shrine, known affectionately by locals as the “Tenjin-sama of Yamaguchi.”
About Furukuma Jinja Shrine
The story begins in the year 901. Sugawara no Michizane, who at the time held the third highest position in Japan, fell victim to political jealousy and was exiled far away to Dazaifu . His children were also punished, but his 23rd child, the 10-year-old Sugawara no Fukube, was allowed to remain in Kyoto due to his young age.
Missing his father, Fukube spent a lonely year before deciding in 902 to set off, accompanied by several attendants, to visit his father in Dazaifu. However, while passing through Yamaguchi, he fell ill with a summer epidemic and became bedridden. An attendant rushed ahead to inform Michizane, who grieved deeply at the news and sent back a hanging scroll.
Upon returning to Yamaguchi, the attendant hung the scroll on the wall of Fukube’s sick room, revealing an image of Michizane carefully crafted through an intricate arrangement of the nodes of thin bamboo slats tied together to form the scroll.
Seeing an image of his father’s face for the first time in a long while brought Fukube great joy. He said, “I pray that the children of Yamaguchi will be spared from the same illness as me,” and passed away on August 26, 902, ending his tragically short life.
Touched with pity, the people of Yamaguchi buried him with care, and the anniversary of his death is still observed with rituals to this day.
The hanging scroll given by Michizane remains today as a sacred treasure belonging to the shrine, where it is still carefully preserved.
Enshrinement in 1373
About 500 years after Fukube’s passing, the ruler of Yamaguchi at the time, Lord Ōuchi Hiroyo, established his residence in what is now central Yamaguchi and worked to develop the area into a city resembling the capital, Kyoto.
In 1373, Hiroyo reproduced the spirit of Tenjin-sama (Michizane) and transferred it from Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in Kyoto, establishing the Yamaguchi Kitano Tenjin Shrine in the heart of Yamaguchi.
You may be surprised to hear of a spirit being “reproduced,” but this is common practice in Shinto, the ancient religion of Japan. There is no issue with enshrining the replicated spirit of a deity from a major shrine at another location as that same deity. It is akin to lighting one candle from the flame of another.
At the same time, the spirit of Fukube, which remained in Yamaguchi, was also enshrined in the same sanctuary, reuniting father and son after 500 years, thanks to Lord Hiroyo’s efforts.
Relocation in 1618
After another 150 years, control of Yamaguchi passed from the Ōuchi clan to the Mōri clan. The first Mōri lord in Yamaguchi, Mōri Hidenari, received a divine revelation in 1618 to relocate the Yamaguchi Kitano Tenjin Shrine elsewhere. On December 25, the same year, it was duly moved from central Yamaguchi to its current location. Concurrent with the move, the shrine’s name was changed from Kitano Tenjin to Ima Tenjin.
“Ima” (now) here signifies “new,” indicating that this was the new location for the enshrined Tenjin deity.
While the shrine’s buildings were dismantled and rebuilt at the new site, preserving the original form, the Mōri clan left evidence of their involvement in the relocation by affixing their family crest, a line with three dots under it, to the ridge of the hall of worship.
In 1873, under a government decree stating that shrines should be named after their localities to indicate clearly that a jinja’s kami (deity) is the protector of the community, Ima Tenjin was renamed Furukuma Jinja, as it is still called today.
While the location and monikers have changed over time, the affection of Yamaguchi’s people for Tenjin-sama and Fukube-sama remains constant. Revered as the “Tenjin-sama of Yamaguchi,” Furukuma Jinja Shrine continues to welcome many worshippers and visitors.
Sugawara no Michizane was born in Kyoto on June 25, 845. The Sugawara clan had been scholars for generations. Michizane’s grandfather and father had served as tutors to the emperors of their day.
Michizane displayed remarkable talent in his studies from a young age. At five, he composed his first waka (a form of Japanese poetry), and by eleven, he was writing poetry in Chinese, an astonishing feat given that Chinese was not his native language. His ability to write exquisite poems in Chinese amazed those around him.
In addition to his academic prowess, Michizane was also skilled in the martial arts. One day, an archery competition was being held on the grounds of an estate as a young Michizane was walking by. When the participants noticed him, they thought to poke fun at and embarrass the bookish young man by challenging him to demonstrate his ability, underestimating Michizane’s archery skills due to his scholarly reputation. To their shock, Michizane fired arrow after arrow dead into the center of the target, leaving those who had taunted him red-faced.
With his scholarly aptitude and, more than anything, his honest character, Michizane quickly became a popular figure.
Michizane in his prime
As Michizane’s popularity grew, he carved out a path as a politician as well as a scholar.
In 886, he was appointed to a position equivalent to the governor of what is now Kagawa Prefecture. At the time, it was common for officials in such positions to send proxies to fulfill their regional duties while remaining in the capital. True to his upright nature, however, Michizane traveled himself to Kagawa, where he implemented various policies that earned him widespread support from the populace.
During his tenure, a friend back at home came under false allegations and persecution, prompting Michizane to briefly leave his post in Kagawa and return urgently to Kyoto to resolve the issue. After settling the matter, he went back to Kagawa again—an arduous trip at a time without trains or cars. How many nobles from 1,200 years ago would go to such lengths for a friend?
Honest, hardworking, and a man of action, Michizane kept gaining distinction after returning to Kyoto from his successful governorship. In 899, he finally rose to the position of Minister of the Right, the third-highest rank in Japan at the time. Even then, it is said he modestly attempted to decline the promotion multiple times, claiming he was not suited for such a high responsibility, only reluctantly taking office due to the insistence of those around him.
Betrayal and Later Life
At the time, scholars were considered to have a lower status among the nobility. In contrast, those with a high status were the elite Fujiwara clan, who had held the reins of political power for generations. They looked unfavorably on Michizane’s meteoric rise from a lowly academic background up through the ranks. When he attained the position of Minister of the Right, their resentment finally turned to action.
In 901, the child emperor at the time received shocking allegations: “Michizane is plotting to overthrow Your Majesty and install his son-in-law on the throne instead.”
Michizane had always profoundly respected and revered the emperor as the heart of the nation. Naturally, this claim was an utterly baseless fabrication spread by the Fujiwara. However, the young emperor believed it. He banished Michizane in disgrace to Dazaifu, a remote outpost in Fukuoka.
Despite his sorrow, Michizane bore no resentment towards the emperor at being exiled to Dazaifu. He spent his remaining days praying devotedly for the peace and stability of the nation until passing away on February 25, 903, at the age of 59.
From Vengeful Spirit to Kami (Deity) of Learning
Several years after Michizane’s death, strange occurrences began plaguing Kyoto. In 909, the ringleader behind Michizane’s exile died at the young age of 39, soon followed by other conspirators. Then, in 930, lightning struck the Seiryo Hall of the Imperial Palace, killing many.
Attributing these events to “Michizane’s curse,” the panicked nobles attempted to appease his restless spirit through prayers and reversing the charges against him. But disasters persisted until 947 when his former estate was consecrated as a jinja (shrine) to venerate Michizane as a kami (deity).
Initially feared as an avenging spirit, the thunder and lightning ascribed to Michizane’s wrath led people to view him as a thunder or heavenly (ten) deity (jin), “Tenjin.” Over time, however, as growing numbers came to revere Michizane’s honest and virtuous nature—his true character—his reputation transformed from that of an angry spirit to a kami (deity) of honesty. Eventually, recalling his superlative scholarship in life, he became worshipped as the kami of learning, as he remains today.