Sumiyoshi Taisha: The Main Shrine of All Sumiyoshi Shrines in Japan

One of the many things that Japan is known for is its number of shrines. There are so many shrines scattered all over the country. Etched with tradition and history, shrines still standing across Japan are seen as imprints of what used to be. To this day, most Japanese people still travel and visit various shrines in the country to pray for their loved ones and to make wishes. Among the most notable shrines in Japan is Sumiyoshi Grand Shrine.

Sumiyoshi Grand Shrine: Facts, Entrance Fee, Stations, and Proximity to Osaka Castle

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Also known as Sumiyoshi Taisha in Japanese, this shrine is located in Sumiyoshi Ward. Situated in the city of Osaka in Japan, Sumiyoshi Taisha serves as the main shrine of all the Sumiyoshi shrines. 

Locals in the area also often call the shrine either "Sumiyoshi-san". Aside from being a main shrine, Sumiyoshi Taisha is also famous to visit on New Year’s Day for hatsumode(traditional event which most of japanese pray at shrine on New year's day). Sumiyoshi Taisha houses the Sumiyoshi Okami, which means “the great gods of Sumiyoshi.” Also known as "Sumiyoshi no Ōgami no Miya," it is composed of the Sumiyoshi tanjin, which consists of Sokotsutsu no Onomikoto, Uwatsutsu no Onomikoto, and Nakatsutsu no Onomikoto, and Okinagatarashihime no Mikoto, which is Empress Jingu.

Even though this shrine stands inland, Sumiyoshi Taisha actually venerates sea gods. This is because prior to the vast amounts of land reclamation in recent times, the grand shrine was actually very near to the coast. It is only in the late times that Sumiyoshi Taisha has become locked in land. The name of the grand shrine was based on a style of shrine architecture called Sumiyoshi-zukuri.

Located in the southern portion of the city of Osaka, the grand shrine is only a number of steps away from Sumiyoshi Taisha Station serving the Nankai Main Line. Riding from Nankai Namba Station, one-way trip costs 210 yen. The journey also takes no more than 10 minutes when riding local trains. However, it is important to note that faster train categories generally do not make a stop at Sumiyoshi Taisha Station.

Open from 6 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon, Sumiyoshi Taisha can also be reached by other modes of transportation. One option would be to take the Hankai Tramway from Tennoji. Coming from Tennojiekimae, the trip would take about 15 minutes and would cost 210 yen one-way. Get off at Sumiyoshitoriimae or Sumiyoshikoen Station, which is only a number of steps from Sumiyoshi Taisha. There is available parking in the shrine with 200 spaces for regular cars. The shrine can also be reached from Osaka Castle by taking the train, tram, subway, taxi, or private car.

History of This Grand Shrine

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With a shrine as grand as Sumiyoshi Taisha, it comes as no surprise that it holds so much history and tradition within its walls. It was during the early parts of the Heian period that Sumiyoshi Taisha became the object of Imperial patronage. Under the orders of Emperor Murakami in the year 965, Imperial messengers were sent to bring messages regarding important events and happenings to the guardian kami of the country. These heihaku were originally offered to 16 shrines, one of which was Sumiyoshi.

Sumiyoshi was assigned as the Ichinomiya, which stands for the chief Shinto shrine, of the former province of Settsu. The Sumiyoshi Grand Shrine was officially assigned one of the Kanpei-taisha from the year 1871 to the year 1946. This meant that the grand shrine was among the foremost in rank of shrines supported by the government. It was considered as prestige to have such ranking.

It was during the 9th year of reign of Emperor Chuai that Tamomi no Sukune founded Sumiyoshi Taisha. Sukune was a member of a powerful clan that resided in the area. He was provided the clan name of Owari as bestowed upon by Empress Jingu during her visit to the coast of Gokishichidō. This was following her return after she invaded Korea.

During this visit, the Empress also instructed Tamomi no Sukune to enshrine the Sumiyoshi sanjin. This was under the advice of an oracle who discussed the matter with the Empress prior to this visit. After her passing, Empress Jingu was also enshrined at Sumiyoshi. Beginning the reign of Emperor Ojin, the Tsumori clan was granted the position as head priest of the grand shrine. The members of this family were the descendants of the son of Tamomi no Sukune named Tsumori no Toyoada, also known as Tsumori no Toyonogodan.

Travel by the sea between the Land of the Sun and China and the Korean Peninsula was common back in the day  However, it was also quite treacherous. Hence, the shrine was constructed as a devotion to the guardian gods of sailors as well as seafarers. Envoys and diplomats traveling to the Kingdom of Silla or to Tang Dynasty China would first make a stop at Sumiyoshi Taisha to pray safe and successful trip.

There are four gods enshrined in Sumiyoshi Taisha. The first god is Sokotsutsu-no-O-no-Mikoto, who lives in the daiichi hongu or the first wing. The second god is Nakatsutsu-no-O-no-Mikoto, who lives in the daini hongu or the second wing. The third god is Uwatsutsu-no-O-no-Mikoto, who lives in the daisaan hongu or the third wing. Last but certainly not the least, the fourth god is Okinagatarashihime-no-Mikoto, who is an incarnation of Empress Jingu and resides in the fourth wing or daiyon hongu.

The shrine also has ties to the diplomacy and sailing of the ancient Yamato royalty. It is believed that the shrine protects the Imperial embassies sent to China. The Tsumori clan, being the head priests, used to board these embassy ships.

Sumiyoshi Taisha and its riding grounds now known as Sumiyoshi Park used to face the sea until the Edo period, though it is completely landlocked now. The grand shrine was recognized as the face of the beautiful “hakushaseishou” landscape, which means of white sand and green pines. As a result, designs and art that incorporate this kind of scenery is often referred to as the Sumiyoshi design. The effects of the grand shrine had also rubbed off on Murasaki Shikibu that it was utilized as an essential stage in certain chapters of The Tale of Genji.

Features of Sumiyoshi Taisha: Four Main Halls and the Renowned Bridge

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Sumiyoshi Taisha has several features that catch the eye of travelers. First and foremost, the main entrance of Sumiyoshi Taisha can be recognized by its huge tori known as the nishi-ootorii, which translates to “west grand shrine gate.” As visitors pass through the gate and take steps up the promenade, they are welcomed by the soribashi, also known as taikobashi. A wooden bridge with a vibrant red hue that spans the kami-ike, also known as the “divine pond,” the soribashi is among the most notable symbols of Sumiyoshi Taisha.

Because crossing the bridge is recognized as part of the ritual purification prior to entering the shrine proper, the act of doing so is made to be quite difficult. On the other side of the bridge lies the temizu-sha ablution basin. This is where visitors pay their respects by doing the hand purification ritual. The main shrine, also known as unohi-sando, has an approach that is composed of a set of stone steps. Visitors would have to pass through another torii prior to going through a huge white and red gate made of wood.

The main precinct houses the four hongu. Following a unique pattern, the first, second, and third wings that enshrine the sumiyoshi-no-okami are fixed in a row that faces east-west while the bigger first wing located at the back. On the other hand, the fourth wing that enshrines Empress Jingu is fixed right next to the third wing on the right. The special style of this layout is known as sumiyoshi-zukuri. Factors that play a role in this pattern include the position of the entrance, the shape of the structures, and the color combination of white, red, and black.

Another special thing about these structures is the design of their roofs. The ends of their thatched roof gables are designed with two decorative poles known as chigi. These poles look like a pair of crossed swords. Sitting between the ends of the gables are three big blocks of wood that are meant to keep the thatched roof in its proper position. These blocks of wood are known as katsuogi, which are said to look like dried bonito fish. What makes this different from those used in other shrines is its rectangular shape while others are cylindrical.

The main precinct is surrounded by many other structures such as a prayer hall, purification hall, dance hall, and library. Market stalls can also be found inside the square main precinct during festivals. Fortunes, good luck charms called omamori, and ema prayer tablets can be bought from these stalls manned by shrine maidens. Visitors can leave the shrine by passing through the back gates. There are old, big trees outside some of the additional shrines in the area. It is believed that these trees serve as home of tree spirits known as kodama.

One of the more unusual parts of Sumiyoshi Taisha is the gosho gozen. A small altar, the structure is slightly raised. A stonewall made of a number of small pillars surround this small altar. Thousands of small grey or white round-shaped stones also pile between the altar and the stonewall. A few of these stones are marked with “dai,” “go,” or “ryoku.” Visitors are meant to look for these stones as getting all three are believed to bring good luck to the lucky finders.

Festivals and Ceremonies Held in Sumiyoshi Taisha

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As a popular shrine in Japan, Sumiyoshi Taisha holds several festivals and ceremonies all-year round. One of the special ceremonies held in Sumiyoshi Taisha is the Toka Shinto Service. Held every 4th of January, Shinto priests disguise themselves as the gods of fortune known as Fuku-no-kami. Beginning at 1 in the afternoon, the ceremony starts with the priests ringing in the New Year with offers of mochi before the gods.

This is followed by female kagura performers performing the Kumano and Shirabyoshi dances. While this is happening, mochi are distributed among the visitors. It is believed that the “Fuku-no-mochi” brings happiness in the coming year to the people who receive these tasty treats. The service itself used to be held at the royal court for the new year but it has become among the unique services of the shrine today.

On the 14th of June every year, the grand shrine also holds the Otaue Shinto Service. It is a ceremony praying for abundant harvests. This ceremony has actually been designated as an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property of Japan. This just shows how important this tradition is to the culture of the people of Japan. The people performing this ceremony shall plant rice seedlings blessed by the gods one by one on the ground in a careful manner.

Female Kagurame dancers shall perform the “Yaotomemai,” which literally translates to “a dance by eight maidens,” in the middle of the rice field stage. While the dance is being performed, other performers in armor costumes shall perform samurai rituals. This is followed by the local children performing a rice-planting dance. The ceremony is concluded with a dance known as the Sumiyoshi-odori that is timed with the conclusion of the planting in the rice field.

There are also festivals held in Sumiyoshi Taisha, with the most famous one being the Sumiyoshi Matsuri. Held every 30th of July to 1st of August, the festival is considered as the most important Shinto ritual of the year. It starts with the Mikoshi Washing Ceremony on Marine Day. This typically lasts for the whole duration of the festival, along with other performances.