If you have some free time and happen to be in Osaka, I recommend checking out the Tennôji area. Though the neighborhood on the immediate south side of Tennôji station has been undergoing a major upgrade (mostly new shopping centers) over the past several years, the stretches north and west of the station still offer some of Osaka’s finest shitamachi (working-class neighborhood) flavor. I absolutely love the people, food, and air here. To me it feels like “real Osaka,” if there is such a thing.
Tennôji is also home to the historic temple Shitennôji, which is dated to the year 593, when Prince Shôtoku, the first great patron of Buddhism in Japan, is believed to have had it constructed. This is also where Tennôji gets its name. Obviously the structures standing in the complex today are not the originals, but it is still a wonderful temple, for ages a favorite religious and entertainment destination.
I visited the temple today to see for my first time Osaka Shitennôji Doyadoya. According to the City of Osaka website, Shushôe takes place at the Rokujidô (Pavilion of the Sixth Hour) from New Year’s Day until January 14. During is a period when the entire clergy holds services to pray for peace in the realm and bountiful harvests of the five grains. On the final day, services are held for the Ox god (Goôhô) and paper amulets bearing this seal are sent fluttering from the rafters of the pavilion. A tradition of scrambling to catch these began ages ago and continues to this day. This particular festival is referred to as Doyadoya.
Written in the Edo period, the Settsu meisho zue states, “Shushôe takes place from New Year’s Day to the hour of the Rooster on the fourteenth day…” Doyadoya used to begin at the hour of the Rooster (6:00PM) and amulets bearing the seal of Ox god where released between around 8:00 to 9:00PM, but the time has since been moved to 2:30PM or so, to prevent disorder. Students from the following schools are regular participants: Seiryû Gakuen, Shitennôji Habikio Junior High and High Schools, and Izumi Chairudo Kindergarten.
This is a gallant event in that participants come unclothed to jostle for the hundreds of Ox god talismans sent down from above. Today these are tied to willow branches and taken home, but in years past these branches were believed to ward off pests if planted in rice paddies. The word Doyadoya is thought to come from a common expression referring to the crowds that noisily flocked (doyadoya to) to the Rokujidô in hopes of winning a talismans bearing the seal of the Ox god.
Especially entertaining are the the teachers, also clad in loincloths, who lead the high-adrenalin exercises through megaphones and hurl water on the young men. The students cry out in the winter cold while the crowd roars with laughter, and perhaps a few sympathetic groans.
It was a great time, and I am glad I went.
Since I am on the subject, I also have to mention that Shitennôji, being such an important place in Osaka religious and cultural history, is also the setting of a number of Kamigata rakugo stories. Tennôji mairi (Pilgrimage to [Shi]Tennôji) has to be the best known of these. In this rakugo it is the middle of higan, vernal equinoctial week. A man gets his friend (Jinbei) to join him on a pilgrimage to Shitennôji, saying he wants to have a service held and sound the requiem bell for his recently departed, beloved dog Kuro. Soon, they pass through the fabled stone gateway, and, on Jinbei’s lead, the two proceed on a whirlwind tour through the temple precincts. They come to any number of shops and show-tents (misemono goya), giving listeners a great illustration of the lively place Shitennôji used to be.
What with all the enthusiastic participants and eager crowd, whistles shrilling in unison with manly chants, quality entertainment in an old temple-school tradition, not to mention a crowd of preparatory school and cell phone company representatives stationed outside the temple gate waiting to sweep up students and their families on their way out, I felt momentarily what Shitennôji must have been like in ages past, what a lively place it still is.