Midosuji is the biggest and busiest street in Osaka City. As millions of people travel up and down this street, quietly tucked among the tall buildings that line the street are three small shrines: Namba, Goryo and Ikasuri Shrine. Though small today, Midosuji’s shrines date back to antiquity and were very popular for centuries.These three shrines have silently witnessed the Osaka’s evolution from small fishermen town to the 2nd largest city in Japan.
Midosuji’s Shrines: Namba Shrine [難波神社]
The most well-known of Midoshuji’s shrines is Namba Shrine. Namba Shrine was built by Emperor Hanzei around 4th century to commemorate his father, the late Emperor Nintoku. It used to be an outskirts of Osaka City, but Hideyoshi relocated it in 16th century. Later, the shrine added Susano-o to its list of deities.
Protected by Hideyoshi, Namba Shrine grew, but in the Edo Period, the government confiscated most of the shrine’s land. It shrunk further in the fires of WWII. While it is not that big today, considering it in the middle of Osaka where land is very valuable, it’s actually quite large.
Near the entrance of the shrine, you will notice there is a big tree. This tree is the oldest tree in Osaka city area and more than 400 years old. Some people even touch this tree to absorb the power out of it.
Bakuro Inari Shrine
Namba Shrine’s Bakuro Inari Shrine is quite popular and many businessmen stop here and pray for business success.
Namba Shrine also have the honor of being the origin of bunraku, Japanese puppet theater.
In 1805, Uemura Bunrakuken from Awaji Island built a puppet theater in this shrine. From that small stage, he crafted the art of Bunraku along with his troop.
During the summer on July 20th-21st in Namba Shrine is the popular Himuro Festival.
During the festival the shrine will chip pieces of ice from a large block and hand them out to festival goers. If you eat the ice, you will be free from sick for the rest of the summer.
Midosuji’s Shrines: Goryo Shrine [御霊神社]
The oldest of Midosuji’s shrines on this list is Goryo Shrine. Originally located near Utsuobo Park, Goryo Shrine was built in the late 8th century to honor local gods. In 1594, this shrine was relocated and merged with the former shrine that housed the Hachiman gods.
Goryo sounds like Goryon [ごりょん], an Edo Period word meaning “wife of a businessman”, so the shrine attracted the wives many of the store and shops owners near Midosuji.
Like many of Midosuji’s shrines, as well as many shrines throughout Osaka, Goryo Shrines was once much larger. A plot of the shrine’s southern land was sold to a company a number of years ago. This plot of land contained the shrine’s south torii. However, fearing divine retribution, the company didn’t take the torii down. Today the torii feel very out of place because a road runs straight in front of them, and the torii seems to lead in to a building!
Trials by Fire
Thre have been a number of fires over the years at Goryo Shrine.
Hade no Mamori no Ki
During one such fire, this tree somehow managed to survive mostly unscathed. Over the years, people started to believe that the tree could help improve and protect the skin.
The Komainu is also very old, from 1615 to be exact. He too, has survived many fires.
Midosuji’s Shrines: Ikasuri Shrine [坐摩神社]
The last of our list of Midosuji’s shrines has a very interesting story. Locally called “Zama Shrine”, Ikasuri Shrine was built Empress Jingu when she arrived to Osaka.
When Empress Jingu arrived in Osaka, the Ikasuri gods told her to build them a shrine in a place where ibis, shirasagi, gathered.
Ikasuri Shrine enshrines five gods, collectively called the Ikasuri gods (two for spring water and three gods of the hearth). None of these gods are in either the Nihon Shoki or the Kojiki, but is it clear that this shrine has something to do with the safety for houses.
The Watanabe Clan
This shrine once stood close to Watanabe Port near Tenma-bashi Station. During the Heian Period, Wanatanabe Port [渡辺津] was actually one of the biggest and most successful ports in Japan. Eventually, the Watanabe-to clan [渡辺党] formed and resided near the port. The Watanabe-to clan is the origin of the present day Watanabe [渡辺] family.
Interestingly, when the shrine moved from Watanabe port to its current place, the name Watanabe got incorporated into its new address.
The current style of Rakugo originated in Ikasuri Shrine, created by Katsuta Bunchi.
In Ikasuri Shrine is a little shrine called Toki Shrine, or “porcelain shrine”.
Long ago, there were many porcelain craftsmen near Ikasuri Shrine. Because making porcelain cab be especially dangerous, the craftsmen would often go to Ikasuri to pray for safety. Today, there are many porcelain items throughout Ikasuri Shrine.
Naturally, Ikasuri Shrine hosts Setomono Matsuri every summer on July 21st-23rd. Setomono means porcelain the festival attracts all sorts of porcelain craftsman to come an display their skills as well as sell their work.
Uncover Hidden Osaka
This is only a short list of the many small shrines scattered all over Midosuji Street. Every one of these shrines has a purpose as well as a story to tell. Though they are relatively small and almost exclusively visited by city locals, these shrines help make up the very distinct character of Osaka. The hidden parts of Osaka are closer than you think! Let yourself get a little lost and find go explore the side streets and alleys of Osaka today!
Coming next time,
Visit a temple that will take you to hell and back! Senko-ji Temple!
The adventure continues…