At last we have arrived at the actual day of Tenjin Matsuri. The first half of the day long parade starts at Osaka Tenmangu Shrine around the mid-afternoon, and second half of the parade conducted on the Okawa River usually takes place around 6:00 in the evening, so it will be nice and dark for the fireworks show at 7:30.
This article covers all the main events of the street parade and most of the river parade as well. We hope you will be able to use it to help you plan how you want to attend the festival. We will absolutely highlight the culturally and historically significant things at Tenjin Matsuri and we encourage everyone to definitely see them. However, if you want to see the fireworks more than the parade, that is of course a fine choice.
This post is about Honmiya. For more information about Yomiya, please see the following post!
Osaka’s Biggest Festival
Let’s take a second to talk about crowds.
Huge crowds (srsly we’re talking millions of ppl) come from far and wide for the firework show and will completely fill Sakuranomiya Park. While the Okawa River is not far away from Osaka Tenmangu (about a 15 minute walk) because the street parade doesn’t take long to transition to the boats on the water, it is a bit of a hustle if you want to attend both parts of the parade. Getting a good spot to see the parade coming out of Tenmangu, and especially the river part of the parade, means you will have to go early to find an optimal spot in order to beat the crowds.
Again, this can be hard if you want to see both parts of the festival. The odds will be more in your favor if Tenjin Matsuri lands on a weekday, meaning that a lot of people will have to be at work until the late afternoon. That withstanding, there will still be plenty of tourists, kids on holiday, and college kids with nothing better to do saving seats for friends and family later in the day.
The Okatogyo [陸渡御] is the formal name for the street part of the Tenjin Matsuri parade. This parade starts from Osaka Tenmangu, roughly around 3:30 in the afternoon. Many people will crowd around the entrance of Osaka Tenmangu to see the taiko, danjiri, and performers coming out of the shrine, but you don’t have to be exactly at Osaka Tenmangu to see the parade. The route for the Okatogyo is actually very long, going all the way around Mido-Suji Street and the Osaka City Office before heading back towards Tenjinbashi Bridge. This route will give you many different places where you can see the parade. You could probably even a good view of the parade from Nakanoshima Park.
The Okatogyo starts off with a bang, leading with its gigantic six-man taiko the Moyooshi Daiko. You can read more about the taiko in out Yomiya article.
The next big thing to keep your eye out for is Sarutahiko. This is NOT a tengu. After Amatersu took over Izumo, she sent her descendant Ninigi to Japan. Ninigi was guided to Japan by the god, Sarutahiko [猿田彦] who just happened to have a red face and very large nose. For this reason, many Japanese festival have a Sarutahiko to invoke a sort of “guiding” figure.
Mitsu Yane Danjiri
Next to come is the mammoth three roof danjiri, Mitsu Yane Danjiri [三つ屋根], the only one of its kind in Japan. Centuries ago, there were many danjiri like this during Tenjin Matsuri, but sadly they have gradually been destroyed by fires leaving only this one with us today.
Shishimai and Kasa Odori
One of the most colorful and popular components of the Okatogyo are the shishimai and kasa odori performances. These performances probably started in the Edo Period and are certainly exciting and everyone looks forward to seeing them dance through the streets.
After the cow will be a procession of many important priests from Osaka Tenmagu, but what you really need to be watching for is the Gohouren [御鳳輦] which is supposed to carry the soul of Tenjin-san from Osaka Tenmangu around the city. This has historically been the main event of Tenjin Matsuri, because it allows Tenjin to see how Osaka has prospered over the past year.
Ootori Mikoshi and Tama Mikoshi
Finally we get to our grande finale with the two golden mikoshi: the Ootori Mikoshi [鳳神輿] and the Tama Mikoshi [玉神輿].
These mikoshi are much bigger than all the mikoshi throughout the Tenjin Matsuri and weight about 2 tons each. During the Edo Period, these mikoshi were considered to be the main event of the Tenjin Matsuri.
The Funatogyo[船渡御] is the river portion of the parade for Tenjin Matsuri. During this part of the parade about a hundred boats will sail up and down the Okawa River, starting from near Tenjinbashi Bridge and going up to Hishobashi Bridge before returning to Tenjinbashi Bridge. The whole thing will take about 2 hours.
The boats of the Funtagyo consist of three groups: Gubu, Hohai, and Retsugai.
Gubu, Hohai, and Retsugai
Gubusen boats contain people who were part of the Okatogyo, such as the taiko, kasa ordori, danjiri and so on.
Hohaisen boats serve as a sort of welcoming committee for Tenjin-san and start from Hishobashi Bridge and go down river to meet the other boats in the Funatogyo. Local companies sponsor these boats and you can actually pay to get a seat on one of these boats and ride up and down the river as part of the festival.
The view from these seats is fantastic, but not only are these seats very competitive, they are expensive. Prices typically run about 30,000 yen (about $300 USD) and they absolutely sell out every year. There was once a free city boat that offered to carry people during the festival, but as of 2017 the city was unable to secure funding for it.
The last group of boats are the Retsugaisen. Retsugaisen sail around certain spots of the Okawa River banging a drum and calling out to the people on the shore that Tenjin Matsuri has started.
Once the sunsets completely you will see one of the boats has a giant fire burning on it!
Despite being very dramatic, this fire only serves as a giant torch to light the way for the boats on the river.
The items that were carried during the Okatogyo will be placed on boats and will proceed up the river in the order they held during the Okatogyo.
Eventually the boat carrying Tenjin-san will sail up the Okawa River.
The fireworks show will start at 7:30 once the sun has completely gone down and it is nice and dark. The show will last until about 9:00 and will display a total of 5,000 firewoks! By the time the show starts, the park will be completely full. You will unlikely be able to find anywhere to sit down, or even stand with a clear view of the fireworks. Since we were running around trying to get pictures of the Funtagyo, we basically got beat out :/
It was amazing to see the streets and neighborhoods all the way to Sakuranomiyabashi Bridge were completely packed! Sakuranomiya Station was also a nightmare. We could clearly see that the station choked full and avoided it at all costs.
Getting the Best View
Getting a clear view of the fireworks is trickier than you might assume. Sakuranomiya Park has a lot of trees and is surrounded by tall buildings. Osaka City also has two international airports nearby. As to not disturb air traffic, the fireworks simply cannot be fired very high in to the sky. This can make them harder to see from a distance.
The best places to be to view the fireworks are Osaka Amenity Park (OAP) or next to Sakuranomiyabashi Bridge. However, if you want a spot at either of those places you need to be there as early as 1:00 in the afternoon.
Venues and restaurants with a nice view of the river take advantage of Tenjin Matsuri and charge a special surcharge for seating. There is also reserved seating along the river you can pay for, but like getting a seat on the Hohaisen, it is expensive and competitive.
Tenjin Matsuri is a massive crazy festival. This thousand year old Osaka tradition has only grown over time and shows no signs of slowing down soon. It is now inconceivable that Tenjin Matsuri was once, just another local Osaka festival.