In a corner of one of the busiest streets in Osaka, you can catch a whiff of incense which seems totally out of place in this pleasure quarter. It comes from Hozenji Yokocho, located in the south of Dotombori.
Here, a narrow street, 80m long, 2.7m wide, stretches from east to west centering on “Mizukake Fudo Myoo (Acala)” which strongly preserves the inner spirit and feelings of the place. We will introduce the charms of the area, steeped in history, culture and rich significance.
It is unusual for a temple as small as Hozenji to be so famous.
The temple itself with Fudo Myoo and Konpira Do housing Jihi Jizoson (the god of mercy) covers no more than several hundred square meters, requiring only a minute or so to visit both parts. However it was on a larger scale in the early Edo era (early 17c), and was the prosperous center of the ‘One-thousand days of prayer’ ritual, known as Sennichiji (1,000-day temple), which the current place name Sennichimae derives from.
Before long, a stage play theater was built in the precinct. A temple and stage play may seem to be a strange combination, but they were both somewhat beyond legal jurisdiction. The theater no longer remains, but the thespian tradition lives on in the regular yose performances, etc.
At that time, it was a kind of Mecca for a stage play called “Naniwa Goza (the five theaters of Osaka)” including Nakaza, Kadoza, etc, on Dotombori. The whole area was, so to speak, a kind of “Broadway”. As a prosperous center of public entertainment, it was constantly crowded with rakugo connoisseurs when yose reached its peak in the period from the Meiji to the early Showa era (late 19c to early 20c), and the first reinforced-concrete movie theater in Japan, Osaka Shochikuza (currently a performance theater) was built here, modeled after Milan’s La Scala.
The fame became permanent due to a story titled “Meotozenzai” by Sakunosuke Oda published in 1940. At the end of the story, the main characters Ryukichi and Choko go into a shop called “Meotozenzai” at Hozenji. Choko delivers her famous line “Being a couple is better than being single”, before zenzai dessert is served in two bowls. No doubt Sakunosuke himself was inspired by the history of zenzai he heard at the shop. The novel was subsequently made into a movie, which made Hozenji and Meotozenzai well known nationwide.
The shop Meotozenzai started its business under the name “Ofuku” in 1883. Zenzai dessert came in two bowls for each serving from the beginning. When the customers asked why, the hostess answered “It is a couple.” Since then, the rumor started that eating zenzai as a couple would bring happiness, and in the fullness of time it became the shop’s name.
Only the image of Fudo Myoo (Acala) remained intact when the neighborhood was razed by fire in WWII. Nowadays people affectionately call the image Mizukake Fudo.
Traditionally Fudo Myoo holds a sword and a rope, and a grim visage to sever evil karma. According to the chief priest Mr. Shinko Kanda, this particular Fudo “used to look kind and fairly handsome”. Now the whole image is covered with moss and the face is hidden from view.
Why is it like this? Rumor has it that a woman once made a wish and she poured water over the image from her clasped hands which first caused the moss to form.
Now everybody pours water over the image with a dipper, so the moss will never disappear. When there is no water, people draw water with the pump for the next worshipper. This has become a custom, probably thanks to Fudo. “When you pray, others pray with you and a kind heart spreads its goodwill. I will be glad if this is such a place”, says the chief priest. Surely no moss will gather on such a caring heart.
Hozenji Yokocho developed along with Hozenji and Dotombori. Recently, around 60 shops with a history line the streets, a popular site of Naniwa atmosphere. The area sprang to life following the two great fires in 2002 and 2003 by the support from people who loved Yokocho.
Katsudon (rice and pork cutlet) specialty shop “Katsudon” is one of these establishments. The owner Mr. Watanabe says “I wasn’t aware of how many people loved our stuff before the fires. Our cooperation has become stronger, so it surely was a blessing in disguise”. Rice and pork are served separately in his signature katsudon. Made with Kyushu roast pork, the juicy taste spreads over your palate to fill you with satisfaction.
Owner of “Katsudon”
“Katsudon” (Japanese Only)
Okonomi-yaki (pancake) “Yakizen” joined after the fires. The owner Mr. Yamamoto was happy to “become a member of Yokocho with a history. Nevertheless, I had a very hard time with no regular customers at first.” Soon the fame of his signature Modern Yaki, etc, spread by word of mouth, and the shop became popular. Office workers come at night to enjoy a drink with teppanyaki. “We have a lot of customers from overseas. I can feel the energy of Hozenji Yokocho”, he remarks.
Hozenji Yokocho added more kindness and human feelings through its experience of hardship. It will continue to be popular together with Mizukake Fudo.
Owner of “Yakizen” (right)
The female owner uses her skill to produce a dish unavailable at home.
Kushiage (fried pieces on a skewer) specialty restaurant with seasonal flare.
WASABI (Japanese Only)
After visiting Mizukake Fudo, visit Kamigata Ukiyoe Museum at the gate.
The only museum in the world exhibiting Kamigata Ukiyoe on a regular basis, it started off as a private museum in a place related to Kabuki and Ukiyoe, the Osaka traditional arts, and it is celebrating its 10th anniversary in April.
Edo (Tokyo) comes first when you think about Ukiyoe, but a lot of them were produced in Kamigata (Osaka). They mostly featured kabuki actors,and Edo’s staple scenery and beautiful women like those portrayed by Hokusai and Utamaro, etc, were rare here.
Also the curator Mr. Fujikawa says “Portraits of Kabuki actors were depicted differently in the east and in the west”. “In Edo, all the actors were painted with a narrow nose and jaw, looking handsome. Also, they tend to be tall and slim, while in Kamigata characters were painted with a big nose or chubby figure to express their personality. It shows the difference in culture and temperament; the fictional world was enjoyed with idealized actors in Edo, while actors were loved as real persons, weaknesses and all, in Kamigata”. “The same actor cuts a different figure in his youth and middle age. You can enjoy the art more if you discover such details”, according to Mr. Fujikawa.
“Kawatake Norikomino Nigiwai (crowded boat from Kawatake)” by Yoshiyuki
Represented in “The Fifer”, a famous piece by Manet where numerous Ukiyoe techniques are used in various ways; composed only with a boy and space with no background, flat expression, depicting the person from the front, a black pattern on the pants shows the outline of the legs, etc. Also, pictures with words found in art nouveau posters, etc, are also considered as having Ukiyoe influence.
An Ukiyoe is not completed until the skills of painter, engraver and printer become one. You can experience printing here (reservation required, \500). There are four colors; black, red, green and orange for a postcard size printing block. Put the edge of paper on the mark in two places to prevent sliding when you print. You will find just how difficult it is to place red precisely on the lips.
Hozenji Yokocho is approx. 2.7m wide. When you pass others, your sleeves almost touch. After the fire in 2002, rebuilding required a road over 4m wide according to the Building Standards Act. The reconstruction committee made up of shop owners thought that the local flavor would be lost if that were put into practice…. So they aimed for rebuilding without change, and submitted an application for a special law. If granted, the whole of Yokocho would be considered as a single site, and the streets would be considered as passageways, placing it outside the legal requirement. This system had been mainly applied for rebuilding wooden houses in crowded areas, and never had been applied to shops. But Osaka Prefecture placed importance on the cultural value of Hozenji Yokocho, and granted the application. A petition of around 300,000 signatures also gave support.
Chief Priest Mr. Kanda again felt “This place is supported by human feelings. We should never forget that”.
Though located in a corner of busy Minami, Hozenji Yokocho projects an adult ambience. I went there to write this edition and strongly got the feeling that all the people, including the Hozenji chief priest and shop owners, really love this place Yokocho and they care a lot about it. Moreover, their feelings are conveyed over the whole town, and to the visitors, creating the unique gentle atmosphere.
By the way, we will introduce “bunraku”, representative of Osaka classic performing art whose theater lies close to Hozenji Yokocho. Please look forward to it!