Osaka: A Temple Hopping We Will Go
Only have a day to spend in Osaka? It’s almost impossible to see this huge metropolis in a 24-hour span, however, you can at least see a large part of its history. Join me on a temple/ shrine hopping adventure.
I actually found the first temple by accident, whilst hunting down a place to eat breakfast. In Osaka’s Chuo-Ku district (closest subway stop is either Shinsaibashi or Yotsubashi). Barely a 1 minute walk from Eggs N’ Things, is a pretty little place known as Mitsuhachimingu. It nestles between shops and businesses on a quiet street away from the hustle and bustle. The grounds are pristine, there is a small shop (for purchasing omamori and other holy items) manned by a sweet, elderly Japanese lady, and is a veritable haven in chaos. The name is interesting, as “mitsu” means “port”, perhaps suggesting that at its conception water came as far inland as this location. It’s said to date back to a divine spirit from Oita Prefecture, which made its way here during the time of the building of the Great Statue of Buddha in Nara. It stands today as guardian for Osaka’s Minami area. What I particularly like about this temple is its Ema boards (Japanese wishing plaques); they are heart-shaped. If you need a break from civilisation for some peace and quiet, a walk around here is perfect. It’s not a well-known tourist spot, so at most times it’s quite empty.
A three minute walk from Mitsuhachimingu, is Mitsutera, a regal looking Buddhist temple. It caught my eye because part of its external structure looks like a mini Osaka castle! It sits at quite a juxtaposition between modern, glossy buildings, facing out into a busy street (Osaka’s Highway 25 crosses in front). Step back in time when you enter its gates. The main shrine sits opposite, with a large monument in front. A bright, wooden Buddha sits serenely to one side, waiting patiently to greet every visitor. Facing from this back to the entrance, on the left is a standing Buddha statue, a prayer wheel, and a purification fountain. History for this particular tabernacle is hard to come by online, but I do know it belongs to the Omuro Shingen sect of Buddhism, and that it is also known by the name Midosuji-no-Mittera-san. Either way, it’s very pretty, with traditional architecture and indicate details (take a close look at the animals depicted on the central statue).
Possibly Osaka’s best known, Shittenoji maintains a large plot within Osaka’s Tennoji-Ku district. If you wished to walk it from Mitsutera, it would take quite a while! Instead, utilise Osaka’s vast subway system, starting at Namba Station, change at Tanimachi Kyu (9) Chome using the Sen-Nichimae line, and from there to Shiten-Nojimaeyuhigaoka, a journey that takes roughly 4 minutes. From here it’s a 9 minute walk to Shitennoji. Confused with the subway? Jourdan.co helps you find routes from any stop. Back to the temple. Frankly, it’s stunning. You could easily while a way an entire day in its grounds. Most of it is free, however to view the garan (walled complex), there is a fee (¥600). It’s worth the cost. Enter the Golden Pavillion, home to an image of the Nyorai Kannon (an opulent Buddha image), but do not take photos. This is in fact the first officially administered Buddhist temple of Japan, and the oldest. In 593, Prince Shotoku invited three Korean Baekje carpenters to start construction. The Prince was well known for his devotion to Buddhism, a religion at the time not widespread through the land. Most of what you see today is the result of a complete rebuild in 1963. The Shitenno are believed to be four heavenly kings. Thus, Prince Shotoku had four institutions built to honour them and allow the Japanese people to reach higher states of civilisation. The five-storey Pagoda contained within the garan is arguably Shitennoji’s most famous feature. Aside from the pagoda, I am particularly fond of the large turtle lake, home to many, many turtles! Turtles are a symbol of wisdom and longevity in Buddhism.
Last place on our whistle-stop tour of Osaka’s holy estates is Sumiyoshi-Taisha. This one is a bit further out, occupying Osaka’s Sumiyoshi ward. Best way to reach it from Shitennoji, is to go from Shiten-Nojimaeyuhigaoka using the Tanimachi line, changing at Abeno, then catching the Hankaidenki- Uemachi tram line (a wonderful insight into daily Osaka) to Sumiyoshitorii-Mae, a journey of about 18 minutes. Walk from Sumiyoshitorii-Mae to the beautiful Shinto shrine of Sumiyoshi-Taisha, a scant 2 minutes. Pass through its large Torii (gate) and into the main Sumiyoshi shrine of Japan. Take a walk over the handsome, curved bridge and admire the calm waters below. It contains many small shrines within its grounds, including one centred around cats! It became an object of imperial patronage during the early part of the Heinan Period. It also has some interesting architectural features, including the honden (main hall), which is constructed in the Sumiyoshi-zukuri style, and is a national treasure, due to being the oldest example of its type. The main shrine has an Okichigi, a forked finial, on its roof, as well as 5 square billets, known as katsugoi, lining the horizontal length of the roof. Another interesting feature is the kakutorii, a gate located south of the Honden. Why is it unique? Well the middle bar does not extend out of the vertical posts (a feature common with most torii), and each edge is squared off. This type of construction is named Sumiyoshi-torii after this particular gate. This is another place that’s easy to spend a good few hours at. It’s peaceful and interesting, sitting within a less tourist-y area, though still a busy and bustling place. The oranges of the structures pop against the green of the vegetation that surrounds the sanctuary.
And voila! Thank you for joining me on this journey. If you wish to embark yourself, I suggest you start early, pack plenty of water, wear sensible shoes, and prepare for achy feet! However, it’s worth the discomfort. Osaka is an incredible city rich in culture, history, and vibrant with modern amenities and night life. Sometimes an escape from the trappings of neoteric existence is needed, and there’s no better place to unplug and unwind, than a Buddhist temple or a Shinto shrine.