One of the oldest and perhaps also most beautiful of the country
Everybody knows: If you are looking for monuments of the ancient culture of Japan, you go to Kyōto or Nara. Ōsaka doesn’t really appear on the list of the experienced traveller – at least not in this respect. Nevertheless, this city isn’t that bare of historic sights, as one would think – which I would like to document once again.
The Sumiyoshi Taisha (住吉大社/ すみよしたいしゃ) in Ōsaka (大阪 / おおさか) is the most important of all Sumiyoshi shrines in Japan, however not the oldest one housing the three Sumiyoshi “deities” (that honour goes to the Sumiyoshi Shrine in Hakata). But the Sumiyoshi Taisha is, on the other hand, also the place to worship yet another, a forth deity. All together we are talking about the three “Sumiyoshi Ōkami” (住吉大神 / すみよしおおかみ) – the “Great Deities” so to speak:
- Sokotsutsu no Onomikoto (底筒男命 /そこつつのおのみこと）(in the first main shrine, behind the second main shrine, when entering the center court)
- Nakatsutsu no Onomikoto (中筒男命 / なかつつのおのみこと）(in the second main shrine, behind the third main shrine, when entering the center court)
- Uwatsutsu no Onomikoto (表筒男命 / うわつつのおのみこと）(in the third main shrine, when entering the center court in the first row, left)
- Okinagatarashihime no Mikoto (息長足姫命 / おきながたらしひめのみこと), (in the forth main shrine, when entering the center court in the first row, right) i.e. the Empress Jingū ( 神功皇后 （じんぐうこうごう), who ruled the country after her husband’s, the Chūai-Tennō’s (仲哀天皇 / )ちゅうあいてんのう) death, from 201 to 269 AD on behalf of her son. She is not only said to have reached a remarkable age of 100 years, but also to have conquered Korea in a three-year campaign. And as if this wasn’t enough, she is also deemed the founding mother of the Sumiyoshi Taisha. Furthermore she is the foremother of a whole dynasty of deities – Hachiman (八幡 / はちまん), the deity that enjoys particular popularity in Japan was one of her sons.
As already mentioned elsewhere, the Japanese word “kami” (神 / かみ) is only very inadequately translated into “deity” or “god”, as shinō deities are not necessarily omniscient, almighty or immortal. I wouldn’t go as far as saying “gods like you and me”… In any case, the deities enshrined here have made it their task to protect travellers, sailors, fishermen and merchants.
It is being assumed that the shrine dates back to the 3rd century AD (as indicated above). In any case it has been mentioned in the great chronicles of Japan, the Kojiki (古事記 / こじき) written in the 8th century AD and the Nihonshoki (日本書紀 / にほんしょき), completed shortly after, in the 8th century as well.
Already when approaching the entry to the shrine’s core, you’ll discover an architectural gem: the “Soribashi” (反橋 / そりばし). This steeply arched bridge (which is, due to its shape, also called “Taikobashi” (太鼓橋 / たいこばし), as it somehow reminds on the voluptously round shaped Japanese drums) doesn’t only look rather “exotic” in the westerner’s eyes, but it also provides a most venturesome approach to the shrine itself.
If you have dutifully learned the names of the deities stated above, it will support you understanding the layout of the inner sphere of the shrine, as there are as many as four main shrines (something that might not be seen at any other shrine in the country) – each of them dedicated to its own deity (as indicated above, when I mentioned the names of the enshrined deities).
Besides the really breathtakingly beautiful grounds of the shrine, it is those four main shrines, virtually identical in their style, that make this place something absolutely special. One almost feels compelled to the idea that these might very well be the most beautiful shrines in the country.
Regardless of matters of taste, these buildings are remarkable. The front part of each building (that’s were visitors can pray and make donations) resembles the style of traditional buddhist temples. The rear part, however, where the deity resides, represents one of the oldest styles for the construction of a Shintō shrine, the so-called “Sumiyoshi zukuri” (住吉造 / すみよしつくり). While these buildings used to be continuously rebuilt every 20 years (at least since the middle of the 8th century), this most cost- and labour intensive form of “preservation” came out of practice in the 15. century. The buildings we can see today may, nevertheless, look like they were built just yesterday. And they do it for a very simple reason: The Sumiyoshi Taisha was thoroughly refurbished from 2008 to 2010.
On the compound of the Sumiyoshi Taisha you will also find four secondary shrines and quite a number of sub-shrines. Make sure to bring along some time when you come here, as, even though these smaller shrines don’t house the spirits of any of the “Great Deities”, there are quite some that are targeted at your material well-being and a miraculous multiplication of your money. Is it the painless delivery of a baby you are yearning for – here is the spot for placing your prayers!
But regardless of all that, and no matter if you believe in Shintō deities or not – here, as at many other religious places in Japan: Just let the atmosphere of the shrine sink in! You will find the magical fascination of the Sumiyoshi Taisha irristible.
Let me also draw your attention to the slightly baroque “library warehouse” (住吉御文庫 / すみよしおぶんこ), a two-storied, spotlessly white warehouse-building constructed in the 18th century. It is said that it houses 30,000 of the most precious books on places of pilgrimage of Ōsaka, Kyōto und Edo of the Edo era.
How to get there:
Take the tramway of the Hankai Uemachi line (阪堺電気軌道上町線 / はんかいでんききどううえまちせん) to Sumiyoshitoriimae (住吉鳥居前駅 / すみよしとりいまええき) – a little tramway adventure not available in most of the other large cities in Japan.
Take the Hankai line (阪堺線 / はんかいせん) to Sumiyoshikōen station (住吉公園駅 / すみよしこうえんえき)
Take the Nankai main line (南海本線 / なんかいほんせん) to Sumiyoshitaisha station (住吉大社駅 / すみよしたいしゃえき)
Daily from 6:00 am to 5:00 pm (April to September)
Daily from 6:30 am to 5:00 pm (October to March)
No admission fee