A Day Walking in Osaka’s Hirano-go District
A hidden gem in southeastern Osaka city, the Hirano-go district in Hirano-ku is a few minutes’ stroll south of Hirano station on the JR West Yamatoji train line or a short walk east of the Tanimachi subway line’s Hirano station. Here you will find a dozen or more temples and several shrines, some dating back to the Edo era, interspersed among old and new residential housing and small businesses.
Ambling through these quiet streets, you may hear Buddhist monks chanting from inside their dormitories, or bell ringing by people praying to Shinto gods, or the rustling of shōji papered doors among row houses. Guide maps are posted in several places, and copies are available from several of the main temples. Take your time, but be mindful that there is some traffic on the narrow streets. The larger sites will have toilets open to the public. Let’s Hirano-go!
First, we visit Dainenbutsu-ji, the largest temple in Hirano-go, built to honor Amida Nyorai, one of the Thirteen Buddhist Sites of Osaka representing the Japanese grouping of thirteen Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and Wisdom Kings. It is depicted on the map above in red on the upper left. Amida, the Buddha of Infinite Life and Light, is the main Buddha of the Pure Land Sect, or Seishi Bosatsu. Incidentally, the famous Great Buddha of Kamakura is also an Amida type.
Within the temple grounds grows a sacred Shinto tree adorned with twisted rice straw rope and white paper zig-zags. A bell tower, a treasure museum, a dragon king temple, a storehouse for Buddhist scriptures, and other outbuildings, encircle the main temple. You can bring your own refreshments to eat at the outdoor picnic tables. The Buddhist colors of green, white, vermilion, blue, and yellow hang in brocade swaths inside the main temple and in long streamers on a flagpole outside. Sit a while outside and enjoy the symmetry of the structures.
Heading west, you will see where the neighborhood has several sets of Edo-era row houses (machiya) as well as other traditional buildings. These are generally made of wood and plaster with heavy tile roofs and low ceilings. Drop in for closer look inside some of these living museums. They are open to the public and are usually free of charge. Please remove your shoes in the entrance before stepping up onto the floor. Observe the art, fashion, tableware, gardens, and other elements of the past at your leisure. Below is Fujioka-tei.
Here is the Kusunoki Daimyōjin, a small Shinto shrine. Note the stone path leading up to the main building enshrining the kami, or god, of the sacred camphor tree. This is an Inari shrine, probably the most common type in Japan, as indicated by the vermilion gates (torii) and the pair of foxes. You can see an offertory box in the middle. Toss in a coin or two before ringing the bell and praying at the sanctuary.
Ekōji temple and monastery’s entrance features a general gate, or “sōmon”, with an irimoya-style roof. Strong wooden beams support the heavy ceramic roof tiles. Dragons perch on each corner of the roof to ward off evil spirits. As is customary with many religious buildings in Japan, this has been recently rebuilt.
Nearby, Kōbō Daishi temple offers a chance to spin a stone prayer wheel. “Ikkai Issho”, carved into the base, means “one turn, one time”. But, Buddhist monks are probably the only ones who can read the old-style kanji characters on the black wheel.
Clean your hands using water from the ladle before lighting an incense offering within this carved stone monument.
Finally, catch up to a more recent era, the 20th Century, on the shopping street “Sun Alley” that runs east to west halfway through Hirano-go. This covered row of two-story shops and restaurants has changed very little since the 1970s. Alas, many businesses are now shuttered as shoppers now prefer to patronize newer malls and supermarkets. You can still find real Japanese foods and goods here, with friendly, robust Osakan service.
Colorful pickled vegetables in an open stall.
Stop and enjoy a refreshing beverage at LUCK Cafe. Hot coffee in winter, or iced matcha in summer, served in a cozy corner.
Or take some more time to stroll further west and south in Hirano-go.