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May 5, 2013

A Prayer for Safe Sea Travel - Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine (Osaka, Shrines)

The Sumiyoshi Shrine in Osaka is one of the great unknowns among foreign tourists, who flock to the ferroconcrete castle and neglect this beautiful shrine with its "national treasure" class structures. The only excuse is that it stands a bit eccentric, in a southern corner of the city. Originally, it stood at the coast but due to land reclaiming projects in recent times, the sea is now a few kilometers removed and can not be seen because of intervening apartment blocks (incongruously, an old lighthouse still stands beside one of the flats, just south of Suminoe Park).

Sumiyoshi Shrine, Osaka

The earliest historical reference to the shrine dates from 686, when emperor Temmu visited to make an offering. It is possible the shrine dates back a few centuries earlier, when contacts with Korea grew and ships bound for the continent set out from the port of Suminoe (a name that can also be read as Sumiyoshi). The shrine served to pray for safe sea travel.

Sumiyoshi Shrine, Osaka 

Sumiyoshi became the most important shrine in the Osaka area and also received support from the court. Its powerful supporters donated many treasures to the shrine, but the real treasure are the buildings themselves. The NT Main Hall (1810) is in fact a series of four halls. Three are dedicated to the three Sumiyoshi deities, who appeared when the Creator God Izanagi washed the impurities from the Underworld away; the fourth is given to the mythical empress Jingu, who led a campaign against Korea. At that time the Sumiyoshi deities guided her ships to the continent and gave her the necessary protection.

Sumiyoshi Shrine, Osaka 

The three Sumiyoshi-deity shrines stand in a neat row, one behind the other as a convoy of ships, while the building for the deified Empress stands to the side of the first shrine structure - as if it was added as an afterthought. All the four sanctuaries have the same building plan. Inside are two rooms, the second closed off as it houses the deity. The red pillars and white plank walls provide a nice contrast, also with the many trees in the shrine grounds.

Another interesting structure in the shrine is an arched bridge that is indeed very steep. Not for nothing it is a popular playground for the neighborhood's children. The bridge was originally given to the shrine by Yodogimi, the widow of Hideyoshi.

Sumiyoshi Shrine, Osaka

The shrine has several popular festivals, among them the Rice-Planting Festival (Otaue Matsuri) on June 14 and the Sumiyoshi Matsuri, the shrine's summer festival, from July 30 to August 1.

Sumiyoshi park, just south of the shrine, is interesting to walk into, not only for the Basho haiku stone standing to the left of the path after entering it from the shrine side, but also for the many pine and camphor trees it harbors. These trees originally graced the beach, in the good old days that humans still respected nature (or were not powerful enough to destroy it).
Where: 3-min. walk from Sumiyoshi Taisha Station on the Nankai Main Line, or from Sumiyoshi Torii-mae Station on the Hankai Line. When: March-May and September: 6:00-17:00; June-August: 6:00-18:00; October-February: 6:30-17:00. How much: Grounds free.