|The Magnificent Summer Festival of the
Mercantile City of Osaka
The Tenjin Festival ranks alongside the Sanno
Festival in Tokyo and the Gion
Festival in Kyoto as one of the top three festivals in Japan. In the
city's Kitano-Tenmangu Shrine, dedicated to Michizane Sugawara, who was
deified as a god of learning, holds the festival as one of its summer observances.
It is an ancient event that is said to date back to the year 951, when
purification rites were performed to protect against the infectious diseases
which were rampant in the hot and humid summer months.
The two-day festival takes place on July 24-25. On the 24th a child, who represents the god holding a long halberd, the kamihoko, accompanies a guardian of the shrine to a boat and they are rowed out onto the river. There, in a Shinto rite called hokonagashi the halberd is thrown into the river. On the following day, the 25th, there is an event known as funatogo. This is an on-the-water festival during which, from the evening until about ten at night, some 100 river boats crowd onto the Okawa River. Enveloping the festival are the musical accompaniments, including Kagura, an ancient Shinto ceremonial music for the gods, which are played on the ground, on bridges, and on boats. Overhead, aerial fireworks light up the night sky with bright colors.
During the Edo period (1603-1868) the prospering commercial city of Osaka held the Tenjin Festival on an even grander scale than today. For example, at the peak of the city's prosperity, rivalling the funatogo was another highlight-the entry of more than 70 danjiri (festival floats) into the shrine precincts on the 24th of July. These days only a single danjiri remains. People from each district of the city would also make gorgeous dolls that were about 2.4 meters (7.9 feet) tall and stand these up in front of their houses to welcome the spirits of the gods. Currently, about 15 dolls are still preserved, and some of these are put on display in the shrine precincts during the days of the festival.
Photos: Carrying the float around town; In the grand funatogo, a line of boats go on the river under the fireworks. (Osaka Tourism Association)
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