Starting with the traditional summer event Tenjin Matsuri, Osaka is home to many festivals that take place in summertime. Here are five recommended summer festivals to check out in Osaka.
Tenjin Matsuri, which revolves around Osaka’s Tenmangu Shrine, is called one of the three greatest festivals in Japan along with Kanda Matsuri in Tokyo and Gion Matsuri in Kyoto. Kicking off on July 24th with the Yoimiya (eve of festival) and followed by the Hongu main event on July 25th, this festival is a summer tradition in Osaka that is attended by 1.3 million people each year. Within this festival, the most famous parts are the Rikutogyo (street procession) and the Funatogyo (a ritual where divine spirits are placed on boats to cross the river) that has a history of more than 1,000 years, with both events taking place on the day of Hongu. The term togyo means that the god will appear. During the Rikutogyo, floats carrying figures of gods and other carriages go around the territory of the Shinto deity worshipped by the locals. The deity is called the ujigami, while its territory is called ujichi. The floats carry the ujigami around the ujichi to the sound of Japanese drums. Afterwards, the festival shifts to its climax, the Funatogyo. Approximately 100 boats will sail on the Okawa River and then about 5,000 shots of dedicated fireworks blast to the sky. Enjoy the fantastic atmosphere that is created by the light from the bonfire reflected on the surface of the river and from the lanterns, together with the fireworks brightening the evening sky.
The Tenjin Matsuri is the festival recommended to people who want to see people that look wild but are valient, or those that want to feel the mysterious air enveloping the festival.
1. Tenjin Matsuri
Together with Tenjin Matsuri and Ikutama Natsu Matsuri, the Sumiyoshi Festival rounds up the three major summer festivals in Osaka. It has also long been called the Oharai because it is the festival that closes all the summer festivals in Osaka and it purifies the entire region. On July 30, the Yoimiya Festival (Eve Festival) is held, and on the following day, July 31, the summer purification and regular rites take place. On August 1, they hold the Mikoshi Togyo parade, where gods are sent on mikoshi (portable shrines) to Shukuin Tongu Shrine in Sakai.
During the summer purification rites, women and children wearing costumes from the medieval Muromachi Period festively perform a dance called chinowa kuguri, which involves going through a large hoop made of kaya grass. The general public may join them. In this event, people pass through the ring made of grass while humming Japan’s oldest poem to pray for protection from illness and harm, so if you go there, you should take part together with the Japanese people around you. It will surely become a great memory of your travel. Meanwhile, during the Mikoshi Togyo parade that was revived in 2005, the portables shrines and imperial carriages are carried through the shrine grounds, the city streets and through the Yamato River. The sight of people bravely parading while shouting "bera!" is truly spectacular. The Sumiyoshi Festival is the perfect event to close the energetic summer festivals of Osaka.
2. Sumiyoshi Festival
Located at the heart of Osaka’s busy Minami district, Hozenji Temple is also fondly called Mizukake Fudo Temple. Every day, this temple is crowded with people worshipping the mossy Fudo Myoo (Acala, one of the Five Wisdom Kings) by pouring a lot of water to pray for a thriving business, success in love, or other wishes.
The Hozenji Yokocho is said to have developed from the street stalls inside the Hozenji Temple precinct. Around 60 stalls of restaurants selling such food items as okonomiyaki and kushikatsu (fried skewers), and old restaurants and bars are gathered in a row on an 80m road. The Hozenji Yokocho Festival began in 1982 to commemorate the revival of stone pavements at Yokocho after the Nankai Railway repaved them after they had long been made of asphalt-paved roads. This year, it will be held on August 10 (Wed.) and 11 (Thurs.) and the event will feature performing arts and Bunraku (Japanese puppet show), and each shop will be doing business in handmade stalls.
The Hozenji Yokocho Festival creates a Naniwa-style ambience that is full of active energy and dynamism despite its small scale.
3. Hozenji Yokocho Festival
The famous Tenjinbashisuji Shotengai (shopping street) is Japan’s longest shopping street with about 600 stores scattered on a 2.6km street from north to south. From the south side, the shopping arcade goes on and on from 1-chome up to 6-chome. Here, you will enjoy various shops, such as ordinary and cheap but delicious restaurants, and Western stores that carry Osaka-like clothes with animal patterns. There are also many shops popular for their croquettes and takoyaki (octopus dumplings), so you can definitely walk while eating here. However, you need to be careful about bicycles and the throngs of people walking along with you.
Tenjin Tenma Awa Odori is the festival that is staged within the precinct of Osaka Tenmangu Shrine from 1-chome of the shopping street up to the fourth avenue. Usually held on a Sunday in the latter part of August, it is the event where you will be able to watch people from the local communities perform the awa odori dance. You can even join the dance at the Tenmangu Temple that is held as the finale of the festival. When the announcement is made, watch others and follow how they dance. It would be a great memory of your trip to Osaka.
*Photo is for illustration purposes
4. Tenjin Tenma Awa Odori
The Gangara Himatsuri is a festival held in Ikeda, Osaka on August 24 (Wednesday). With a long history dating back 1644, it is held to pray for the safety and wellbeing of families and for warding off fires and evil.
The festival kicks off with fire rituals at the Atagojinja Shrine, and that fire becomes a sacred flame. It is used during the Gangara Himatsuri. When the characters (one meaning "big one", the other meaning "big") are lit on Mt. Satsuki, three sets of two huge torches weighing 100kg and measuring 4m each will be paraded within Ikeda on two courses. While you will get to enjoy a thrilling scene with the vibrant flames from the huge torches, bear in mind that this is a sacred event for the people there. Also, it is dangerous to get too close to the fire, so watch while taking adequate caution.
The end of this festival signals that fall is just around the corner. With that, the Gangara Himatsuri is a festival recommended to people who want to enjoy summer up to the last day.
5. Gangara Himatsuri – Daiichimonji Tento/Daimonji Kento
Osaka has a lot of festivals, from the energetic and lively festivals, up to festivals where the atmosphere and sights from old times remain. So for summer this year, how about enjoying the summer festivals in Osaka?
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.