7 Historical Temples and Shrines in Osaka for Cultural History Buffs
May 13, 2020
Japan is a country with a rich religious history and tradition that has evolved and grown over thousands of years. It is the home and birthplace of Shinto, a polytheistic belief system revolving around kami. Believers say Kami are divine spirits and gods which inhabit all things. Buddhism has also played a monumental role in Japanese history, politics, religion, and art. People believed that Korean monks introduced Buddhism around the 6th century. With the advent of Buddhism, Japanese society underwent some interesting and lasting changes. Why not visit a temple or a shrine during your trip to Osaka?
Osaka, located in the Kansai region of Honshu, is one of Japan’s most ancient cities. It boasts some of the oldest temples and historic attractions in the country. It is also home to the excitement and energy of a modern city. For anyone planning a visit to Osaka or anyone already here, absorbing some of the history and culture is a must. In the meantime, I have compiled a list of seven historic temples and shrines to visit in Osaka. Conveniently, all of them are located at close distances from one of the city’s many train stations! Get the most out of your trip and come home with a deeper understanding of Japan’s rich history and tradition!
Temple in Osaka #1: Hozenji Temple
If you find yourself in the lively shopping district of Namba or visiting the iconic Dotonbori bridge and wish to take a trip back to old times, Hozenji temple is the perfect place for you. You can access the temple by taking a short walk from Namba station. Hozenji temple in Osaka was originally constructed in the year 1637. The temple is dedicated to Fudo Myoo, one of five guardians buddhism. The English translation of Fudo Myoo is "Wisdom King Acala". Namba and the surrounding area was once a great center of traditional entertainment. There were kabuki (Japanese dance drama) and bunraku (Japanese puppet theater) performances at Hozenji.
The temple also held traditional rakugo, storytelling and hosted special stage plays. Visitors can splash a moss covered statue of Fudo Myoo for good luck if they visit this gem of a temple. The statue is now entirely green moss since many visitors splash it many times! Can you believe that? One more thing, if you visit Hozenji temple be sure to explore the Hozenji Yokocho which is also a famous spot in Osaka. It is a maze of small alleyways that surround the temple. Later on in this list, I will describe the Namba Yasaka Shrine which is a close walk from the Hozenji Temple, so don't miss that if you decide to visit!
Temple in Osaka #2: Isshinji Temple
Isshinji Temple is a Buddhist Temple originally constructed in the 12th century. It was destroyed along with many other structures during World War II. Afterwards, the temple was rebuilt in Osaka according to its previous form and style. Easy to access, it is about a ten minute walk from Tennoji station on the JR loop line, the Midosuji line, or the Tanimachi line. The modern metal entrance to the temple is very unique. It was designed by the current head priest and it is not exactly historical. However, it makes for a beautiful piece of contemporary art. Honen originally constructed the temple in the year 1185. Honen was a member of the “Pure Land Sect”. The temple now attracts a number of visitors who come to worship ancestors and the “Okutsu Butsu”. The Okutsu Butsu is also known as the Bone Buddha.
In the past, visitors brought the remains of cremated ancestors in urns to store at the temple. Eventually, they used these remains to create a statue of Amita (a celestial buddha). After this, they created six more statues in a similar fashion before the US aerial bombings destroyed the entire structure. Even after, they rebuilt the temple and collected the remains and statues. This temple in Osaka now includes new statues making a total of twelve which contain the remains of roughly one million ancestors.
Temple in Osaka #3: Shitennoji Temple
Shittenoji is another temple in Japan. Locals argue that this is the oldest buddhist temple since people have officially constructed and administered this in the country. The temple is rebuild many times since its construction in year 593. Prince Shotoku supervised while they built the temple. Shotoku was one of the first devout Buddhists of Japan during a time when the religion had not quite taken hold among the Japanese people. At this time, shinto and other native belief systems dominated. Prince Shotoku was a regent and a politician during the Asuka period. He served under empress Suiko and was a member of Japan’s royal family. Prince Shotoku invited three Korean Baekje carpenters to manage its building. The modern temple consists materials during its last reconstruction in the year 1963.
It was originally built to honor the Shitenno, or the four heavenly kings. Four buildings exist to honor the them. These include a pharmacy, a welfare institution, a hospital, and institution of religion and education. There are a number of beautiful structures at the temple. Some are a five-story pagoda, a main golden pavilion which houses the bodhisattva kannon, a Kōdō (lecture hall), a number of beautiful gates, and more. It is easily accessible using the city’s train system. It is only a five minute walk from Shitennoji-mae Yuhigaoka Station on the Osaka Municipal Subway Tanimachi Line. Visitors can access the Shitennoji Temple by foot from Tennoji station, roughly a fifteen minute walk. It is also a fifteen minute walk from Osaka Abenobashi station on the Kintetsu Minami-Osaka Line.
Shrine in Osaka #1: Osaka Tenmangu Shrine
The Tenmangu shrine is well over one thousand years old. This shrine was originally constructed in the 10th century. The shrine itself is devotes to an important figure in Shinto named Sugawara Michizane. This figure is a deity of scholarship and knowledge. Since its original construction, the shrine was on fire and destroyed, on multiple occasions. Many other ancient structures throughout Japan faced this fate. Japan’s history is full of war and conflict as well as peace and prosperity. The main hall and gate of the current structure dates back to around 1845, making it an incredibly dated structure.
A great time to visit the Tenmangu shrine is during Tenjin Matsuri. This festival takes place every year on July 24 and 25. It has a high rank and reputation as one of Japan’s top three festivals. The matsuri festivities accompany the parading of the shrine’s deity through the city. It is also taken to the banks of rivers. Also, many fireworks lit during the festivities. The Tenmangu Shrine is located just outside Osaka Tenmangu station on the JR Touzai-Gakkentoshi Line. After visiting the Tenmangu shrine, take a stroll down the Tenjinbashisuji Shopping Street. This street is one of Japan’s longest shopping streets. It is full of shops where you can pick up souvenirs and delicious restaurants where you can enjoy a meal.
Shrine in Osaka #2: Ikukunitama Shrine
Ikukunitama shrine was first constructed hundreds of years ago on the grounds of Osaka castle. It was burned down in the year 1583 and is now at the current location. The shrine houses the deities Ikushima and Tarushima. They are important gods who guard and watch over the land and Earth. On most days, Ikukunitama is quite tranquil and peaceful, but a few special days on the calendar bring it to life and attract big crowds. On June 30th, for example, there is the oharai ceremony. Its purpose is to drive away both disease and bad luck. On July 11th and 12th, there is the Ikutama summer festival. This is a time when visitors are able to spectate an exciting lion dance. They can also view a portable shrine procession or taste delicacies from food stalls. Lastly, they can enjoy energetic traditional drumming.
Arguably the most popular event, however, is the Shakuhachi Festival. On the first Saturday of September, you can experience this festival. This festival celebrates and honors Hikohachi Yonezawa, the creator of a storytelling technique called Kamikata Rakugo. Rakugo speakers use Kamikata Rakugo as a comedic form to enthrall audiences. If you go with kids, there is plenty to keep them entertained during this festival, too! The shrine is about a five minute walk from Tanimachi-9 chome station on the Tanimachi line. Also, visitors can access from the Uehonmachi station on the Kintetsu Osaka line. It is about ten minutes from that station.
Shrine in Osaka #3: Namba Yasaka Shrine
The Nanba Yasaka shrine, like the Hozenji Temple described above, is located near the lively crowds of downtown Osaka. It is about a five minute walk from the Nanba shopping parks. This allows for a spell of respite from the hectic pace of the city. Before, people at the time rebuilt the shrine after fire and bombings destroyed it in world war two. As the cherry blossom trees surround the shrine, if you visit in spring you can see some beautiful flowers! The shrine itself has a traditional Japanese architectural form but is not so large.
Interestingly, according to most visitors, the significant giant stone with lion-head structure is the most memorable part of the Namba Yasaka shrine. The head is 12 meters tall and 11 meters wide. This giant head also acts as a source of good. Believers say that anyone who passes into its mouth can get rid of evil spirits. It would also grant them success in their business or academic pursuits. If you can’t make it to this shrine to see the cherry blossoms, try to visit on the third Sunday of January. At this time, there is the tug of war ritual where people celebrate the god, Susano Ono Mikoto. This god is a figure of legend who killed the serpent god Yamato no Orochi and liberated the Japanese people from struggle and hardship.
Shrine in Osaka #4: Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine
This shrine is located in southern Osaka, a few steps from Sumiyoshi Taisha station on the Nankai main line. Then visitors can visit the compound through the Hankai Tramway from Tennoji. The Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine and complex was built in the 3rd Century. This means, people have built this shrine before the arrival of Buddhism in Japan. It is the head shrine of all of the Sumiyoshi shrines in Japan. There are over two thousand! These Sumiyoshi shrines house kami, in which believes think that they protect travelers, fishermen and sailors. Hence, they say you can find kami near harbors and close to the sea or old harbors. The many beautiful structures of Sumiyoshi Taisha offer a glimpse of a native architectural form. We call this Japanese form as “Sumiyoshi-zukuri”, which has been developed independently of the influence from mainland Asia.
The four main structures of the complex include strait roofs, which has decorations with forked finials and horizontal billets. Unlike many other structures, they face south in accordance with the Chinese tradition. On their way to the entrance to the compound, visitors can see the beautiful Sorihashi bridge. The bridge arches over a pond. Beautiful trees and greenery surround the entire compound. It emanates with a peaceful, calm energy. If you visit during Hatsumode, the new year’s first visit to a shrine or temple, prepare yourself to encounter busy crowds of pilgrims!
Visitors may not only make a trip to visit a temple or shrine but they may visit Osaka for a wide variety of reasons. Some people have interest in visiting restaurants for a taste of the delicious local cuisine. Others come to Osaka to enjoy shopping at one of the city’s many department stores and lively shopping districts. Besides, many more might pass through the city on a business trip. However, missing out on Osaka’s great history and ancient past would be a big loss! Given the ease of access and the overwhelming beauty of the above seven historic temples and shrines, I hope you will pay a visit to at least one on your next trip.
Gain your good luck by splashing water at the statue of Fudo Myoo in Hozenji temple. Pay a tribute to Japan’s ancestors at Isshinji temple by offering a prayer to remains housed in one of its many buddha statues. Or on the other hand, why not check out the beautiful pagoda and golden pavilion of Japan’s oldest official buddhist temple, Shitennoji? Wherever you decide to go, enjoy the beautiful scenery and garden along with the temple or shrine in Osaka. Take amazing pictures and make some incredible memories breathing the history of an ancient culture and civilization!