Sumiyoshi Taisha

Sumiyoshi Taisha was completed in A.D.211 at Sumiyoshi, Osaka. An event that Empress Jingu held a ceremony after invading Korea is the origin of it.

Because this shrine has set up Sumiyoshi San-Shin (three deities), a set of three sea-related deities, Sumiyoshi Taisha has been worshiped as the god of shipping since more than thousand years ago. Some have been advocating that those three deities symbolize the three stars of Orion's belt, typically arguing that its three shrines standing in a row were built in the image of Orion's belt. A fact that Orion has been a seamark for sailing backs the theory up. 

Taiko-Bashi (drum bridge in Japanese) is one of the famous spots of Sumiyoshi-Taisha. The bridge is thought to have been built by Toyotomi Hideyori or Yodo-dono, a son and wife of Hideyosi as I mentioned in the article of Osaka Castlle, between the late 16th and early 17th. Since then, people have crossed the bridge for purifying their body and soul before entering the holy place -such as the main shrine- and facing the goodly entities.

Sumiyoshi Taisha is also known as the shrine representing the region where it stands; the Japanese regime between eleventh and twelfth century ordained representative shrines for every region, which became a traditional rule that is still going on today. Those shrines are given a title of Ichinomiya, the #1 shrine in Japanese.

By the way, Japan has two kinds of religious facility: temple and shrine. These facilities are like church for Christianity. For foreign travelers, they would seem to be the same kind of facility.

a typical temple

Strictly speaking, shrine and temple are classified into different type of facility from religious perspective, although most of Japanese people tend to lamp them as a single entity. 
Shrine is the place for Japanese ancient worship in which people bereave that there are so many gods residing in every aspect of nature. Temple, on the other hand, is the place for Buddhism, which was transmitted to Japan from China in the sixth century.
However, those two religions were partially mixed while a long period of time. In fact, even Sumiyoshi Taisha, one of the most historical shrine, sometimes holds a workshop on buddhism, renting its space to external buddhists. Sumiyoshi Taisha nonetheless is clearly classified into the shrine type facility.

There are some different attributes between temple and shrine. For example, shrine -'Jinjya' in Japanese- has a gate called 'Tori'. Tori is usually colored in red, and that unique appearance evokes Japanese people a feeling of sacred things. For that reason, people have made use of the mark of Tori for preventing various wrongdoings, painting it on the walls of their houses, poles, and so on.

There are various types of Tori, in terms of color, material, size, design, and location. Right of the photo below is the Sumiyoshi Taisha's Tori.

Besides Tori, people working or living in those facilities are inevitably different. The staff of Temples are called 'Jyushoku', and they wear black mantles and have bald heads.

On the other hand, those who work in Shrines are called 'Shinshoku' or 'Shinkan'. They wear white-based mantles and generally have hairs. 

Lastly, the name of facility is a decisive hint for distinguishing shrine and temple.  Most of the names of temples usually include Ji or Dera in their ends, such as Horyu-ji, Ginkaku-ji, and Kurama-dera. On the other hand, most of the names of shrines include Taisha, Jinja, or Gu, such as Sumiyoshi-taisha, Izumo-taisha, Yasaka-jinja, Shimogamo-jinja, Tsurugaoka-hachimangu, and Meiji-jingu.

Shrine is called Jinja in Japan, and the english ward 'shrine' are not well known among Japanese people. Jinja is the place for Japanese ancient worship as I mentioned above, and it is called Shinto. Because it has been in Japan from a long time ago than buddhism, Shinto is well agreeing with minds of those who live in Japan. Simpleness, cleanness, and neatness, that is shown in Japanese traditional culture is conspicuously expressed in the world of Shinto. Those characteristics can be seen various Japanese traditional design and the origin of it is definitely seen in Shinto. Learning the Shinto can be a significant way for understanding Japanese culture.

Left:Japanese tea room  Right:Japanese traditional garden


Osaka Castle

The foundation of current Japanese society was primarily formed during Edo periodo, (1603-1867). And that administration was completed by three generals: Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasuafter the warring states period. Osaka Castle was profoundly involved those three generals' straggles for unification of Japan. 

The place where Osaka Castle stands was previously a Buddhist temple called Ishiyama Hongan-ji, one of the important bases of Jodo Shinshu, a then emergent denomination of Buddhism. 
Oda Nobunaga, the man of supreme power in those days, considered its prosperity to be a threat against his administration, and therefor oppressed and seized it.

Oda Nobunaga died just before completing the unification of Japan, and then Toyotmi Hideyoshi, a faithful subordinate of Nobunaga, completed it, taking over his power base.
The construction of Osaka Castle started in 1853 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi at the vacant lot of Ishiyama Honganji; he had been intending to make it a symble of his authority. While Hideyoshi professed himself to be a legitimate successor of Nobunaga, he wanted to build a castle which was superior to Azuchi Castle, the principal castle of Nobunaga.

After the death of Hideyoshi, the members of his administration were split into two factions, which ended up in a war called the Battle of Sekigahara; it was a battle between Eastern Army and Western Army. The result of that war was a victory of Eastern Army led by Tokugawa Ieyasu while Western Army led by Ishida Mitsunari, a more faithful subordinate of Hideyoshi than Ieyasu, was defeated.

Consequently, Ieyasu effectively grasped the power and established his government in Edo (Tokyo), while Toyotomi family fell into one of the local rulers based in Osaka Castle. 
Toyotomi family, led by Toyotomi Hideyori and Yodo, a son of Hideyoshi and his mother, was eventually destroyed at Osaka Castle by Ieyasu's troops through two battles, which were so-called "Winter and Summer Campaign of siege of Osaka".

After that, Ieyasu consolidated his administration and Edo Period continued until 1867. The management of Osaka castle was succeeded to Ieyasu's relations and the senior executives of his administration through Edo Period, undergoing several fires and repair works.

Edo Period came to an end with the Meiji Restoration, which effectively was a revolution by local powers who were getting more influences as the Administration of Tokugawa had weakened.

The prototype of today’s Japanese government was established as a result of the Meiji Restoration, with Osaka Castle inevitably seized by the new government. At present, Osaka Castle has been managed by Osaka City, although its registered owner has yet to be transferred from previous Japanese army; which was recently revealed by Mainichi Shinbun Co., Ltd., one of the major newspaper and publishing company of Japan, and became a controversial news.


Umeda Sky Building

Umeda Sky Building has been a world famous building, nominated one of the TOP 20 BUILDING AROUND THE WORLD by Doling Kindersley, a British multinational publishing company. It has a observatory on its roof top where people can enjoy the whole view of Osaka City, and also, the building itself has recently become one of the major landscape of Osaka City. 

This building has been attracting so many foreign travelers since Lonely Planet, the world's most famous travel guidebook, introduced it as the most dramatic, modern architecture in Osaka phrasing it a "future Triumphal Arc".


Invitation to my home town, Osaka City

Osaka is the next major city after Tokyo, and you can catch the characteristics of the city more readily by comparing with Tokyo, Japan's capital city. According to some people, the differences between these two cities can be explained by using a metaphor of the differences between U.S. West Coast and East Coast; Osaka is West Coast, Tokyo is East Coast. For example, Osaka people tend to have frank temperaments as opposed to Tokyo people generally preferring formal manners, though the differences are much subtler.

There are two big downtown-like cities that represent Osaka; Namba, A.K.A. Minami(south in Japanese) and Umeda, A.K.A. Kita(north in Japanese). And these both cities are located along the Midosuji, the main street of Osaka.

the view of Midosuji

Besides, Midosuji has the largest financial and business towns of Osaka such as Honmachi, Yodoyabashi, and Kitahama between the two downtowns.

Furthermore, going north along Midosuji beyond Umeda, there is Shin-Osaka town(New Osaka in Japanese), the entrance town of Osaka City; Shin-Osaka has a Shinkansen Station which is running through the Japanese islands from north to south.
                                Shin-Osaka station building

Then, let me tell you some characteristics of the two big towns briefly: Umeda and Namba.

Umeda  As most of amusement areas are in the underground or buildings, having an entire grasp of the town from ground level is impossible. Since there are many office buildings around or in the town compared to Numba, the passersby are not necessarily enjoying their leisure time. Expect for some particular nightlife areas, Umeda is generally being such a safe town that people can walk around even in night time with reassurance of safety.

Namba The most flourishing area of Namba is shopping arcades running along Midosuji. Unlike Umeda, Namba is almost entirely a play spot, so most of passersby are spending their spare time shopping, drinking, or walking with company to seek something fun. Regarding the mood of the city, the more south you go, the more vulgar it becomes. To put it briefly, the Doutonbori river plays a role of the boundary line between the north -more sound- district and the south -more boisterous- district, though another expression that the south area is a drinking and amusement area and the north area is a shopping area may be more appropriate. At any rate, for avoiding getting yourself into trouble, not walking at midnight is more advisable option whether in the south or north. 

Note about where to stay: I recommend the visitors to Osaka to stay at Esaka, which is located further north than Umeda along Midosuji. The town is located just at the middle point between suburb and metropolis, and you can go to Umeda about ten minutes and Namba about twenty minutes by the subway Midsuji Line. To put it briefly, Esaka is a town that has good environment for having good accessibility to the major towns of Osaka, and therefore has some hotels for tourists. For your information, Shin-Osaka, which has much more hotels and accessibility than Esaka, is another good location for staying although it hasn't as good environment as Esaka. 

Next, let me introduce some attractive spots of Osaka from architectural perspective.

1 Umeda Sky Building
2 Nakanoshima Area
3 Midosuji Street
4 Shinsaibashi Shopping Street 
5 Namba Parks
6 Osaka Castle
7 Sumiyoshi-Taisha (Sumiyoshi Great Shrine)
8 Shitennouji, a histric temple