A journey to ancient osaka.
Uemachi-daichi spreads to the north to Tenmabashi, close to Umeda, and to the south to Sumiyoshi. The plateau during the Jomon period which was about 7,000B.C, used to be a peninsular that was 12 kilometers long and 2.5 kilometers wide. The rest of what Osaka is now, used to be under waters. Being surrounded by waters, the area was protected from invasions. Also with its richness of water resources, the land offered a comfortable habitat for humans as well as plants and all other living creatures. So it is believed that when humans first came to what is called Japan now, this place was their first choice to stay.
Uemachi-daichi became an important gateway for international trade for its convenience in water transportation. Both Naniwa-tsu and Sumiyoshi-tsu were the main ports from where goods, techniques and culture were brought in from China and the Korean Peninsula. Prince Shotoku built the Shitennoji Temple in this area in hopes of prosperity of Buddhism from China. And in 645 Naniwanomiya was built here as the capital of politics. Although it did not last long as the capital, it still remained as the international trading port and one of the main spots for domestic product transportation. As time passed Toyotomi Hideyoshi even built the Osaka Castle here. And that's a quick review of ancient Osaka.
The very first Osaka citizen was from Morinomiya?!
The Morinomiya Ruins is located at about a 5-minute walk south of the JR Kanjyo line Morinomiya Station. The remains are from the mid Jomon period to the Yayoi period and the largest Kaizuka (shell mound) in western Japan was found here. Now, above the remains stands the Morinomiya Piloti Hall; a multipurpose hall where concerts, stage performances and lectures are held. It is a high-floored structure to preserve the remains that were found in the 1960's, although you cannot observe the entire site of the remains.
Since a Kaizuka is a garbage mound, it is meaningful to study the garbage of the ancient times to learn about what their lives were like. The Morinomiya Ruins is from the mid Jomon period to the Yayoi period, which means that there is 2000 years worth of garbage piled up here. Shells of freshwater clam and oysters, fish bones of sea bream, conger and sea bass, deer and boar bones were found here; probably what they were eating in ancient times. Besides food, there were arrow-heads, fish hooks, stone tools used as knives and broken pieces of clay pottery. What is interesting is that the clay potteries from the Yayoi period have rice chaff on them.
Skeletons from the ancient times are also exhibited here – about 148 centimeters tall, female, in her 30's. Who knows, she maybe the very first Osaka citizen!
The exhibition room is located on the first floor on the western side of the hall. Not only these items but a chronology is posted on the wall so you can get a better idea of the time flow. Be sure to visit the room – after all the admission is free!
Remains of Naniwanomiya
After you've studied about Osaka during the Jomon-Yayoi period, next is the Asuka-Nara period. Naniwanomiya was a palace that was built on the northern end of the Uemachi-daichi and during those times Osaka was the capital of politics and economy.
The remains are a 15-minute walk away from the Morinomiya station; just walk along the main street which is the Chuo-oodori heading west. On your left hand side will appear a wide piece of land that is 90,677 square meters. You'll find people taking a walk with their dog, reading a book on the stone stairs or practicing their clarinet – if you go on a sunny day though...
This piece of land is right where the Naniwanomiya was built two times, once by Emperor Kotoku and the second by Emperor Shomu during the Asuka and Nara period. It was the first real international city in Japan. Trading with China and the Korean Peninsula as well as Kyushu and Kanto area was very busy here.
Unfortunately though, there is nothing here but land. So if you'd like to learn more, go across the street to the Osaka Museum of History. On the 10th floor is the exhibition on ancient Osaka. A real size reproduction of the Daigokuden ceremony can be seen here. Those dressed as they would at that time are all lined up between the bright vermillion colored pillars. You can almost feel the excitement of what it was like back then. What is also interesting is that the clay pottery has the words "Baekje" written on it and roof tiles have designs of grapes and arabesque. It seems as though people in those days admired culture from the west. By the way the exhibition room commands a great view of the Remains of Naniwa-no-Miya Palace and Osaka Castle, so enjoy that as well.
A portion of the floor on the first floor entrance is covered with glass which allows you to look under where the remains of the warehouse from the ancient period are preserved. There are a few holes which are the places where the pillars used to stand. If you wish, you can ask for a volunteer guide who can take you on a tour of the underground remains. According to one of the guides the entire scale of the Remains of Naniwanomiya is 4 times larger than that of Hanshin Koshien Stadium (the stadium is 39,600 sq. meters).
Shintennoji-the combination of Chinese, Korean and Japanese
Another place to feel the ancient atmosphere is the Shitennoji Temple. It is one subway station away south from the Remains of the Naniwanomiya. The nearest station will be "Shitennoji-mae Yuhigaoka" on the Tanimachi line. The temple was built in 593 by Prince Shotoku. It is the oldest genuine Buddhist temple built in Japan and for over 1,400 years it has been fondly regarded by the people. Even now nearly 2,000 thousand people visit the temple annually. Records show that craftsman from Baekje were invited over to design the roof tiles and architecture, the way the roofs are lined up on the Goju-no-tou and how the corridor is designed, all show that the design has been inspired by the Chinese culture.
Entering the west gate you see in front of you what is called the Shitennoji style architecture. The colorful Goju-no-tou with white walls, vermilion pillars and green grids, the Kondo (main hall) and Kodou (lecture hall) are in line from north to south. The important point is that the three are all in one line – that's the style.
The central cathedral is surrounded by noble architecture as well. The Daigokuden where Prince Shotoku is enshrined, the statue of the Prince when he was two years old (Nisai-no-taishi-zo) which you can actually see from behind the bamboo blind and the statue of when he was 49 years old (Shijyuku-sai-zo ) which is opened to the public only on January 22. At the Kameido is a well where people say Prince Shotoku looked at his reflection on the water and drew his self-portrait with a toothpick. It is believed that the water that springs out from this well is very clean and pure and the water is especially referred to as "Shiraishi Tamade-no Mizu". The Houbutsu-kan exhibits swords and other treasures from the Asuka period.
If you have a chance to visit in spring, we recommend you see the Shoryo-ebugaku Dai-hoyo which is a ceremony held every year on April 22 to commemorate Prince Shotoku at the Ishibutai (stone stage). The "Tennoji Bugaku (court dance)" that is performed at this ceremony is very interesting. The scene of bright colored costumes, a little scary black mask and small wings that the children have on their back may be something quite different from what you may imagine as being Japanese. This performance includes Chinese, Korean Peninsula and Japanese style performances and is also designated as the country's significant intangible folk cultural asset.
Another recommendation is the garden of Gokuraku-jodo. It is a beautiful Japanese style garden that has a small white path to walk along which leads you to heaven. Especially in a comfortable climate you can enjoy the flowers and water flowing in the stream. Within the garden is a tea-ceremony room where you can enjoy mattcha (green tea) and the famous Tsurigane Manju (Japanese style steamed buns shaped like a hanging bell).
If you are interested in second-hand books you should visit the temple in spring or autumn when the used book festival is held. Nearly 300 thousand books from novels to art books, comics, film posters and even antique records are sold here. And on every month on the 21st and 22nd is the antique festival where you get to buy not only antiques but enjoy some of the stands as well.
Well, did you enjoy your day here? Before you head back, be sure to check out beautiful sunset that can be seen from here. In Buddhism it is believed that heaven is at the west so people worship the sunset. Since Shitennoji Temple is located on the west end of the plateau and commands a beautiful view of the sunset some used to believe that this was the closest place on earth to heaven. That is the reason why the people of Osaka refer to Shitennoji as the "Buddhist altar of Osaka".
Sumiyoshi-san can help you with anything
Last but not least on our Uemachi-daichi tour is the Sumiyoshi Grand Shrine that has a history of over 1,800 years. The shrine has long been worshiped as the God of sea voyage.
Let's head to Sumiyoshi on the streetcar; the only one running in Osaka city. The Hankai Electric Railway starts right next to the Kintetsu Department Store Abeno in Tennoji and runs along the Abeno-suji. The trip starts off from running within the city but eventually takes you through the residential area. Along the way you'll be passing by the Abe Oji Shrine where the Abe's who were the local ruling family at the time are enshrined and the Tezukayama Tumulus near the Tezukayama 3 chome station. By the way, this area is a high-class residential district with very good cake shops and restaurants.
In about 15 minutes you'll be arriving at the Sumiyoshitaisha Grand Shrine. It is said that long ago there was a big cedar tree here and three hawks came flying down on it and that is why this place was chosen to be a place for God. Actually the temple ground is surrounded by many trees and as you walk along the approach you soon come to the Taikobashi Bridge. They say that you are blessed and purified just by crossing this bridge. When you do, be careful because the arch is really steep so it is dangerous especially when you are going down. Purify your hands and mouth at the fountain before you go on. The main shrines face west and look as though a ship sailing out in the sea.
The people refer to the Sumiyoshitaisha Grand Shrine as "Sumiyossan". Besides the four main shrines it has shrines to protect sea and air voyage and many Gods that are related with the sea. No wonder why there are so many stone lanterns that are dedicated from shipping companies. The sea is the origin of life and being related to the sea also means that the God here protects the people from everything. Praying for productiveness of crops, being blessed with children, prosperous in business, safety of the family, entertainment and beauty; the God here can take care of it all. Since the shrine has to look after so many hopes, there are more than 100 different ceremonies held here annually. To name a few, one is the Unoha Shinji Ceremony that commemorates the foundation of the shrine and the Rice Planting Ritual in which they actually plant rice. And this shrine is the most popular shrine to visit on New Year's Day.
Those who are running their own business should visit the "Nankunsha" better known as the "Hattatsusan". The God enshrined here is worshipped by many merchants in Osaka and the official way to pray is to visit on the first day of the dragon of every month and after 48 visits your business will be prosperous all long. The guardian deity is the Maneki-neko. After you have prayed you can buy one of them – a cat with one hand up to invite others. Some say that if you collect 48 cats, they will exchange it with one large size cat. Just to let you know, that will take you four years.
So that's all for our tour of ancient Osaka through the Uemachi-daichi. As you've seen the area has a laid back, easy going atmosphere so instead of just driving by, we recommend you stroll around and find your own discoveries. Enjoy the history of Osaka!