Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sumiyoshi Taisha...When Grand Had a Different Measure

2nd November, 2006 - We didn't have too many plans for Osaka... other than to gradually wind down from the amazing 12 days we spent in Kyōto. Osaka has not really held on to the architecture of it's past. There are a few exceptions to this, including the Sumiyoshi Grand Shrine - or more properly Sumiyoshi Taisha (note link is in Japanese only).

To get there, at least by train, you need to make at least one stop. Catching the subway line to Namba station, you then change over to the Nankai Main Line, and then about 10 mins later you get off at... well you guessed it... the Sumiyoshi Taisha Station. Be careful as express trains don't stop there.

View Larger Map

Approaching the shrine, you will come across a very small number of shops selling goods - where we bought some traditional bekkouame candy. It was surprisingly quiet (perhaps because it was a Thursday)... a distinct contrast to the subways in Osaka which even around 11am-ish were packed sardine tight).

The approach to the shrine passes under a stone torii, guarded by a pair of guardian komainu...lion dogs. A fairly understated entrance.

One of the things that sets Sumiyoshi Taisha apart from other shrines is the Taiko-bashi, the curved vermilion bridge that was famous even in the time of Murasaki Shikibu, who authored one of (if not) the first novels in the world, known as the Tale of Genji
Taiko Bashi with komainu

One of the things that surprised me was that you can actually cross the bridge... most other things like this that I've seen  are well and truly blocked off from real use. Here's T-chan... looking wistfully out, wondering what the future of parenthood had in store for us... either that, or she was wondering how we would cope when we stop walking between 10 and 20 km a day (thanks to our trusty pedometer, which we now had a love hate relationship with). I suspect relief would be the way she would describe it.
Taiko Bashi
Sumiyoshi Taisha is one of the oldest Shintō shrines still surviving today, dating from the 3rd century. There are four deities enshrined here: Uwatsutsuo-no-mikoto, Nakatsutsuo-no-mikoto, Sokotsutsuo-no-omikoto and Jingu-Kogo. The first three are known as sea gods, and are responsible for the protection of Japan (I am assuming from external invasion by sea, or Godzilla-style attack). You might be wondering (from the above map) why Sumiyoshi Taisha houses sea gods... well... the neighbourhood used to be on the coast before the massive land reclamation in Osaka. Clearly the gods didn't see that one coming....

The fourth spirit at the shrine is that of the Empress Jingū (who lived in the 3rd century AD, and according to Wikipedia made it to the ripe old age of 100)... actually, she was officially taken off the list of Japanese sovereigns during the Meiji era - perhaps due to her questionable historical accuracy (i.e. she may have been entirely fictional). That didn't stop her portrait being added to the Japanese currency in 1883 even though no picture of her existed (and  hence she took on a very Western appearance... perhaps as the artist responsible was an Italian). Needless to say, her status is somewhat mysterious... even though she was credited with leading the Japanese armies across the seas to successfully invade Korea. History is always so... malleable.

This shrine is unusual in that the architectural style can be said to be almost entirely predate Chinese influence (excepting the Taiko-bashi  which is very Chinese). Little else remains today in Osaka dating from that time. The honden (where the kami are housed) are in a particular style known as the Sumiyoshi-zukuri... one of three original (pre-Chinese) styles that have been retained in Japan. There are four of these honden, each dedicated to it's own kami. 

Not sure if this is typical - but the honden shown here are all numbered... not named... so the one on the left is #3...belonging to Uwatsutsuo-no-mikoto (you need to research that... they don't tell you).

 And here's #4 (the one on the right)....the home of Empress Jingū herself.

And here's a view looking through the doorway in the first honden (that belonging to Sokotsutsuo-no-omikoto)...behind the door lies the kami's house, and that's not for public viewing. As far as I know, there's no little light that comes on to indicate whether the gods in at the moment, so it might be a bit of hit and miss as far as communicating directly with the god. The bell out the front does however act somewhat like a door bell... so give it a ring, and say hello.

Interior entrance of honden

Here's the reverse view of the 3rd and 4th honden...which clearly shows the gabled design, crossed beams, raised floor, and thatched hinoki cypress bark roof

Shinto has a reverence for nature that is inextricably tied up with the concept of the spirits (kami) manifestation in the objects of the real world. That's why objects such as mountains, rivers, and even trees can become sacred. The shimenrwa (rope) identifies the boundary between the normal world and the sacred... just in case you missed it.

In this case, the aged tree looks unmistakably if it has formed by pouring itself from some fissure in the Earth's crust...

And here we find another representation of the Sumiyoshi torii,,, which is actually quite a distinctive design unlike other in Japan.

Within one of the shrine's buildings we found this odd arrangement... complete with maneki neko (waving good luck cats). I have to admit that we kinda felt a little disappointed that in the heart of Shinto belief in the Kansai district, in the holiest of holies, we would find an almost cliche tourist shrine. Still...this shrine is famous for worship for the coming rice festival, and I understand that this sub-shrine is for that purpose.

Some of the smaller shrine buildings show an interesting fusion of the Japanese raised floor architecture with the Chinese influenced roof design. Haven't been able to work out what these buildings are for as they don't rate in the official shrine building list. I'm kinda hoping that they weren't toilets...

Every year on the 14th June, an ancient Shinto dance is held, known as Otaue-shinji, which accompanies a rice-planting ceremony – a prayer for good harvests in the coming year. Alas...6 months too late... or is that 6 months too early? Either way, it's a nice shrine that's worth visiting... and quite different from the Buddhist-centric view that is common in Kyōto.
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  1. I think this place is really beautiful ~~~Amazing

  2. It was very nice... although I do wonder what it would have been like before the land reclamation "stole the sea" from it's seaside outlook... A sorry tale indeed for the home of the sea kami.

    I would very much love to see the Grand Shrines at Ise and Izumo... one day

  3. I didn't expect these Osaka posts after the last Kyoto one ^_^ When and where will the next set of posts be from?

  4. Hmmm it's a bit of a change (but not that much of a change). Actually things are about to change quite dramatically... as there's a new arrival that will come on the scene that greatly changed our focus (in every way, including our travels).

    This trip is very quickly reaching the end... but it's with a great deal of joy that I look back on this trip....