Names in this site follow the Japanese custom of family name first.

April 7, 2013

Ohatsu Tenjin Shrine, Osaka

Popularly known as "Ohatsu Tenjin," the official name of this shrine is Tsuyu Tenjinsha. The founding goes back to the now grey times more than 1,300 years ago when metropolitan Osaka was a bay with scattered islands and sandbanks. It is difficult to imagine among today's profusion of concrete and glass, not to forget all those humans moving around among them. It was a quiet and lonely place when our shrine was founded on one of these islands, Sone-su. In the 11th c. things improved when the island became part of the mainland thanks to a land reclamation project. A village named Sonezaki was establsihed and the shrine became the guardian of the community. When the railways came in the late 19th century, the area turned into the gateway to Osaka, but the shrine still guards the surrounding area.

Osaka, Ohatsu Tenjin, Umeda
[The shrine building]

At the origin of the shrine stands the leading court scholar Sugawara Michizane. Falsely accused, this Minister of the Right was exiled to Dazaifu in Kyushu. On his way in exile, traveling down from the capital Kyoto, he visited this shrine and composed a poem which means something like: "My sleeve is soaked with dew formed by the tears I shed recalling Kyoto." "Dew" is "tsuyu" - and so the official name of the shrine was born, Tsuyu Tenjinsha. Michizane would go on to be deified as Tenjin, the patron saint of scholarship.

Osaka, Ohatsu Tenjin, Umeda 
[Statue of Tokubei and Ohatsu]

Now the popular name. "Ohatsu" is the female protagonist in a play written for the puppet theater (bunraku or ningyo joruri) by master playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon, called Sonezaki Shinju ("The Love Suicides of Sonezaki"). This work relates the tragic love story of Tokubei, a shop clerk, and Ohatsu, a courtesan, who seeing no way out for their love (it was socially accepted to visit a courtesan, but falling in love with her would lead to ostracism - like in 19th c. Europe) were driven to suicide in the woods of the shrine grounds - woods which do not exist anymore, by the way. The play was based on a real incident that happened in 1703 and became tremendously popular, bringing many new visitors to the shrine, who started calling it "Ohatsu Tenjin." Because of the association with the love story of Tokubei and Ohatsu, even today many couples wishing to have a strong bond visit to pray (enmusubi) - although I would think that the affair between the puppet lovers is not a good omen as it ended rather badly!

[The shopping arcade]

The present shrine buildings date from 1957 - they were rebuilt after their destruction in WWII. The area around the shrine with the Ohatsu Tenjindori Shopping Arcade today has a pleasantly retro atmosphere. It is a warm and comfortable place and the shrine itself is always busy with visitors.
Where: Near JR Osaka St, Umeda St on the Hankyu, Hanshin and subway Midosuji lines, and Higashi Umeda St on the subway Tanimachi line.
When: The shrine grounds are always open.
How much: Free.
Note: On the 1st and 3rd Friday of every month, the shrine holds a flea market wherein about 30 antique dealers participate. On the 3rd Friday and Saturday of July the summer festival is celebrated, with lion dances, umbrella dances and big drums.