Celebrating The Passing of The Seasons
Every season of the year in Osaka has its festivals. From beautiful cherry blossom viewing in Spring to the dynamic Tenjin Matsuri Festival in the summer, and the festivities on Mido-Suji Avenue in Autumn, Osaka's annual events are like a clock, marking in festivities the passage of the year in the great metropolis.
Experience the Excitement of Osaka's Biggest Event
The spectacular Tenjin Matsuri is Osaka's most popular summer event, and one of Japan's three biggest festivals (along with Tokyo's Kanda Festival and Kyoto's Gion Festival). Held on July 24 and 25 every year, the festival is dedicated to the Osaka Temmangu Shrine, and is comprised of two days of festivities and events that draw thousands of participants and well over a million spectators.
The festival has been celebrated for over 1000 years. It is said to have originated with a sacred halberd which was found floating in the water not far from Osaka Temmangu Shrine, where the 10th century scholar and warrior Sugawara no Michizane is enshrined. When the halberd landed, a feast was organized and a Shinto purification ceremony was held. This was the start of the festival. During the Edo period when Osaka was considered the marketplace of Japan, the festival became the main summer event in the Water Metropolis, and remains so today.
Following initiation ceremonies on the 24th, on the festival day of the 25th, some 3000 people in gorgeous traditional costume take to the streets. Led by a portable shrine housing the enshrined Sugawara no Michizane, the procession including other portable shrines, horses, and wagons pulled by oxen head down toward Mido-Suji Avenue. At Tenjin Bridge the participants board some 100 boats, the climax of the festival. After dark, the boats with countless torches and lanterns proceed from the Hokonagashi Bridge on the Dojimagawa River to Enokoshima, creating a spectacular pageant that passes in front of spectators and reflects beautifully on the water. The festival ends in the evening with a grand display of over 1000 magnificent fireworks. It is a festival of fire and water.
A variety of events are organized as part of the festival, ranging from a ceremony of floating sacred halberds to a boat display, to an exciting and animated dragon dance. This is one festival you do not want to miss!
Other Major Annual Festivals
In addition to the fantastic Tenjin Matsuri, Osaka also has numerous other festivals and special events; there's something taking place all twelve months of the year. As in ancient times, these festivals mark the passing of the seasons, and draw the people of the area together to share a common festive moment, and express thanks for the good fortune received throughout the year.
Major Festivals in January
Toka Ebisu (10th day of Ebisu) Festival
Held on January 9 through 11 at the Imamiya Ebisu Shrine, the lively Toka Ebisu Festival draws throngs of people who come to pray for prosperity in their business and buy new "fukusasa" sacred bamboo branches decorated with lucky items in hopes of the success of their endeavor. The deity of commerce at Ebisu shrines is affectionately called "Ebessan" and is professed to be good luck by those engaged in commerce and business. Everyone in the merchant city of Osaka knows and loves the Toka Ebisu Festival. The shrine itself is visited annually by a million people who come to pray for commercial prosperity.
Shitennoji "Doya Doya" Festival
On January 14 is the remarkable "Doya Doya" Festival at Shitennoji Temple. This dynamic event is held on the final day of the Shushoe Order Memorial Service. During the main attraction, two groups of young men clad only in headbands and loincloths confront each other and struggle for possession of a cow god amulet. As they struggle, they shout "doya-doya," and so-called "strength water" is poured on them. This water is said to evaporate quickly from their bodies due to the heat and energy exerted by the young men.
Major Spring Festivals
Cherry Blossom Festivals
With the arrival of spring comes the season of sakura, or flowering cherry trees. And with the blossoming of the sakura comes the ritual of the cherry blossom festival. Cherry blossom festivals are held throughout the city, almost anywhere that cherry trees are found. Visit any shrine or park for various sakura viewing activities both by day and by night, including traditional dances, lantern lighting, and food and drink.
Held at Shitennoji Temple on April 22, this festival is a memorial service for Shotoku Taishi, the founder fo Shitennoji Temple, to pray for the repose of his soul. Gagaku court dance and music is performed according to ancient rituals on a stone stage set up on the Kame-no-ike pond. Come experience the history.
Major Summer Festivals
Aizen Matsuri Festival
Held between June 30 and July 2 at the Shoman-in Temple in the Tennoji Area, the Aizen Matsuri is one of Osaka's three big annual festivals. The focus of the festival is "Hoekago-Mode," where young women in yukata ride kago up the route from the station to the temple, shouting encouragements along the way.
The festival is a Buddhist memorial service at the temple dedicated to Aizen Myo, a guardian deity of charm and love, which has many devotees among entertainers.
Held in late July or early August at the Sumiyoshitaisha Grand Shrine, the noble ancient rites of the Sumiyoshi festival include Nagoshi Oharai (purification in summer) with the participation of nagoshi girls, children and citizens of the area. After the spirits are transferred to the mikoshi portable shrine and Horen palanquin, the procession makes its way through the streets all the way to Sakai. When the mikoshi reaches its destination, a ceremony takes place. It is similar to many other festivals across Japan, but with a distinctly Osaka flavor. This festival is a great opportunity to see the some of the ancient customs of Naniwa still in practice today.
Major Autumn Festivals
Although not a festival by the traditional definition, the Mido-Suji Parade is held every year on Mido-Suji Avenue, usually on the second Sunday in October. It has a festive international flavor, with colorful floats and folk and traditional artists and performers from Japan and abroad involved in the fun. Every year about 10,000 participants parade down the long avenue, to the delighted clapping of as many as 1.2 million spectators.
Major Winter Festivals
Held on November 22 and 23 at Sukunahikona Jinja Shrine, this is a festival dedicated to the guardian god of Dosho-machi, Osaka's medicine district, and to Shinno, the divine founder of medicine from China. During the festival, the shrine is crowded with people holding bamboo branches with a "paper tiger" attached believed to ward off evil, and who pray for protection against illness and other misfortune. People in the drug and pharmaceuticals business people also come here for assistance from this god.