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Article by Hana
Apart from amazing food, colourful districts full of neon lights, little alleys filled with lanterns, shopping streets and a magnificent castle, Osaka also takes pride to be home to some beautiful shrines and temples where people come to seek enlightenment. While Kyoto is best known for its numerous Shinto shrines, Osaka has some magnificent religious sites too, which played an important role in Japanese history. So if you feel like you want to take a break from the crowds, and to experience a little bit more traditional side of Osaka, here are few of the most beautiful and important ones that you shouldn’t miss while sightseeing around the city:
Between the bars and shops right in the middle of the busy streets of colourful Dotombori, on a building corner where lanterns replace the regular streets lightning, there’s hidden Hozenji Temple, a guardian of the soul of old Osaka. The history of Hozenji temple goes back to the 17 th century, when the original premises of the temple grounds were much bigger than today. Shortly after the temple was built, it became a famous place for pilgrims who were coming here from afar. Locals started to set up their small shops and food stalls around to offer food to the pilgrims and this tradition eventually grew into a popular area of food and entertainment, similar to as we know it today. The main feature of the temple is the statue of Fudomyoo, a god of fury who represents discipline, firm moral character and he maintains a scary appearance to scare people into enlightenment. In the World War II., the temple grounds were destroyed by bombing and the only thing that remained was the Fudomyoo statue. Legend has it that after the war, an older lady came to pray to Fudomyoo but as she lost everything during the war, she splashed the statue with water instead of giving him an offering. However, her wish came true and because of the water, the Fudomyoo statue grew impressive moss all over itself. Ever since then, people come here to pray for their wishes to come true and splash more water over Fudomyoo. Because of the moss, the statues got its nickname “Mizukake Fudo,” which means “Splashing water Fudo”. Hozenji Temple is a true gem and a little quiet place in this otherwise chaotic shopping area. It feels like the time just stopped in here. The entry to the temple is free, but you are always welcome to leave a coin or two in the treasure box in front of Fudomyoo and to splash him with water.
Sumiyoshi Taisha is considered to be one of the best “power spots” around Osaka. Sumiyoshi is a Shinto branch, which has over 2300 shrines across Japan, but the one in Osaka is the famous headquarters with 2 million visitors every year. It’s believed that it answers prayers for safety during travels, for the wellbeing of households, and for the prosperity of businesses. But even though if you are not interested in prayer, the shrine’s grounds are a must-see thanks to its amazing scenery, historical atmosphere and traditional architecture. The main feature is a beautiful red bridge over a small pond and the Main Hall, built in an ancient Japanese architectural style, free of any continental influence. There’s free entry to the shrine’s premises and it’s located nearby Sumiyoshitaisha Station, where you can take the Nankai Line from Namba.
Not far from Namba Station, there is this small, but still very impressive shrine called Namba Yasaka Jinja. The exact date when this shrine was built is unknown, but it‘s been a prestigious and famous place ever since the Heian period (from 794 to 1192), and it’s considered to be the guardian deity of Namba area since the ancient times. The most eye-catching feature and a popular photo spot is the 12 meters high lion head dominating the shrine’s area. The lion head is actually a stage to perform the Chinese lion dance, with the speakers being hidden in its nose and lights coming from its eyes during the performance. The lion gets visitors from all over Japan, as it is believed that it can help you with your academic achievements, success in a job or prosperity for society. The entry to the shrine is free, however, you have to pay a fee if you’d like to see the Lion dance performance.
Tucked away in the mountains about an hour away from the city of Osaka, there’s Katsuo-ji Temple dedicated to prayers for good luck and victory, surrounded by stunning natural beauty of Japanese forests. The word “katsuo” refers to winning and people come here to buy daruma dolls as an offering while hoping to obtain the “winner’s luck” after they pray. You’ll see the darumas of all sizes everywhere around the temple and if you feel like you need a little bit more luck, you can buy one for yourself in a souvenir shop. Even though the temple is not directly situated in Osaka, it’s a beautiful half-day trip, especially in autumn when all the maple leaves around the temple grounds turn red and orange. The first thing you’ll see when getting into the premises is a big majestic entrance gate, a pond with koi fish and a torii gate on the other side of a small bridge. Every few minutes there’s a cloud of scented steam coming from the pond and it surrounds the gate and the bridge in a magical dreamy atmosphere. The entrance fee to the temple is 400 yen per adult. The easiest way to get to the temple from Osaka is to take the Hankyu bus number 49 from the Senri Chuo Station. To get to the Senri Chuo, you can take the Midosuji metro line which goes from both Namba and Umeda stations.
Hokoku is a small Shinto shrine located within the park that surrounds the Osaka castle. Osaka Castle Park is the second biggest park in Osaka and therefore it’s an unmissable place to see when visiting this lively city. Hokoku shrine is not particularly big or very old (it was built only in 19 th century), but it’s a beautiful place especially during springtime when all the cherry trees bloom in lovely pink and white hues. The shrine was built in honour of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a warrior, samurai, politician and Japan’s great unifier, rising from a commoner to a ruler. Worshipers not only come here to pray, but many wedding ceremonies are also held here, so you may try your luck to spot a beautiful Japanese bride in the traditional ceremonial kimono. It’s also a very popular place to visit for the first prayer in New Year with hundreds of visitors coming daily during the first week of January.
Not far from Shinsekai right next to the Tennoji ZOO, you will find Isshinji Temple, founded by Japanese religious reformer Honen in the 12 th century. Unfortunately, the temple was partially destroyed in the World War II., so today it’s welcoming its visitors with its modern and unique entrance, not similar to any other gate of Japanese temples. It has been constructed out of steel and concrete, featuring two scary looking sculptures of Nio Guardians, who often guard many Buddhist temples around all Japan. The entrance gives no hint, that there’s a beautiful temple and a cemetery hiding behind it. Isshinji Temple can get very busy during the day, but instead of international tourists, you’ll meet here worshipers who often come to pray here. The reason why they come to this place is not because of the unusual architecture, but because Isshinji is home to the remains of millions of Osaka residents' ancestors and also because of “Okutsu Butsu”, which translates as Bone Buddha. Bone Buddha is a sculpture made of clay and crushed bones of people and it was firstly introduced in the 17 th century. By the end of the 19 th century, Isshinji Temple was running out of space to store urns with ashes of people, so they came with a solution to build their own Okutsu Butsu statue. Isshinji Temple is open daily from 9 am to 4 pm and the entrance is free. It’s only about 10 minute walk from Tennoji station, where many of the Osaka train and metro lines go. After visiting Isshinji Temple, you can go for a nice dinner in Shinsekai, where famous dish kushikatsu was firstly prepared, or watch the sunset above Osaka from the viewing platform on top of the Abeno Harukas Tower.
The last place of worship on our list, which is worth your attention is Temmangu Shrine. Surrounded by tall office buildings and busy shopping streets, this shrine has over 1000 years long history and it was dedicated to one of the Japanese greatest scholars and poets - Sugawara no Michizane. That’s why students often come to pray here for some good luck and calm nerves during their exams. The shrine itself draws in visitors for its impressive architecture, fairly large grounds and plum trees that bloom in early spring with bright pink colours of their flowers. Apparently, plum was said to be the favourite tree of Michizane.
Both shrine and temple are the two most common historical buildings you’ll see while visiting Japan. Many people may not realize this, but there is truly a significant difference between them. The simplest one is that shrines are Shinto and temples are Buddhist, which are the two main religions practised in Japan. Buddhism was brought to Japan in the 6 th century from China and Korea, while Shintoism is an indigenous religion of Japan that originated here, however, it’s unknown when exactly. It’s said that Shinto is as old as Japanese culture. Buddhism worships Buddha and in the temples, you can often see pictures and statues of him, while Shintoism is an animistic religion with an infinite amount of gods and goddesses (in Shinto they believe that everything in this world possesses a spirit). There are also some aesthetic and architectural differences between temples and shrines. Temple usually has a pagoda that is rich in ornaments, gold statues and decorations and there will be a Buddha statue or pictures of him inside. Shrines are known for the significant torii gates and animal statues that guard the entrance to the shrine. Torii gates are often painted in vermillion colour (a rich brilliant red shade). There is also a water basin in shrines where visitors can wash their hands before entering, whereas in temples, you are most likely to find a big incense burner which is believed to have healing power. Despite the differences between these two religions, together they rather cooperate than compete. Most of the times you can find both shrine and temple within one religious complex and Japanese people tend to practice both religions together, for example, it’s common to have a Shinto wedding and a Buddhist funeral. People of Japan also visit temples and shrines on New Year’s Eve. There are no big celebrations nor fireworks on this day in Japan. People come to temples and shrines to pray to gods for a good year to come. The employees of each particular religious site ring a giant bell for 108 times as a countdown before midnight. It is believed that it will reduce 108 kleshas – factors that produce mental torment (depression, anxiety, fear, anger, jealousy and desire). People come to hear the bells ringing on New Year’s Eve to get the kleshas off their minds. Regardless of your personal beliefs, everyone is always welcome to shrines and temples in Japan. Whether you want to admire the unique architecture, soak in the Japanese traditions, or just to stroll around these serene and peaceful places, it is a must to visit at least once when travelling to Osaka.