hatsumode at Sumiyoshi-taisha


Hatsumode — the year’s first visit to a shrine or temple —  is generally celebrated in Japan between January 1st and January 3rd and typically involves making your wishes for the new year known to the kami (the shrine gods); buying new omamori (good luck charms) and burning your old ones since they’re full of bad luck now; purchasing a new year fortune (omikuji), most of which say things like “If you make great effort your year will not be so bad”; and drinking a bit of amazake, a sweet and very mild form of nihonshu.  In 2006 I had a lovely hatsumode at Kasuga-jinja (春日神社), the shrine that’s right around the corner from my house; in 2007 I had a wild hatsumode at Senso-ji temple (金龍山浅草寺); and in 2008 I spent New Year’s Eve at a local bar and then after midnight walked up to a nearby zen temple for the ritual ringing of the bell.  But sometimes it’s nice to take your hatsumode celebrations to a few different locations, so in 2008 I also visited Osaka’s Sumiyoshi-taisha (住吉大社) with Ikko, who decided to wear a kimono even though “Every time I wear a kimono, it always rains.”  And it did rain a little bit too, but not enough to be bothersome.

Sumiyoshi-taisha enshrines the Sumiyoshi Sanjin — a trio of gods believed to protect fishermen and sailors — and is considered one of the oldest examples of the sumiyoshi-zukuri (住吉掌造り) style of shrine architecture.  Here’s a quick description from the venerable japan-guide.com:

Osaka’s Sumiyoshi Taisha is one of Japan’s oldest shrines. Founded in the 3rd century, before the influx of Buddhist architecture from the Asian mainland started, Sumiyoshi Taisha is one of the few shrines displaying a purely Japanese shrine architecture prototype (sumiyoshi-zukuri).

Osaka’s Sumiyoshi Taisha is the most famous of over two thousand Sumiyoshi shrines in Japan. Enshrining kami (Shinto gods) believed to protect travelers, fishermen and sailors on the sea, Sumiyoshi shrines are usually found close to harbors.

Sumiyoshi-taishi may be landlocked now, but at one time it was right near the shore and it was a famous place to watch the sun set over Osaka Bay.  Now that Osaka’s landfill-bloated waistline has expanded considerably, there’s no longer even a hint of a nearby shore — though somewhere in the vicinity is a stone lighthouse that, somewhat ironically, now serves the purpose of being interesting by posing as an object that no longer serves any purpose.

This year I had an especially propitious hatsumode that included not only a visit to Mizumadera temple (水間寺) — where young men in traditional Japanese clothing made mochi with wooden cudgels while Buddhist monks chanted their blessings over those of us who sat in the main hall — but also a trip to a small shinto shrine in the mountains that houses a kami that is specifically devoted to curing leg ailments, then a drive up to a shrine in the mountains of Nara that has a 1,200 year-old deified ginkgo tree on the grounds, capped off with a sunset view from the mountains of the reddest, most perfectly round sun that I’ve ever seen.

So why didn’t I write about that instead of a shrine visit that happened in 2008?  Because, as usual, I don’t have my film back from the developer yet.  Film may be beautiful, but it’s not necessarily timely.


2 Responses to “hatsumode at Sumiyoshi-taisha”

  1. 1 cher

    Hi, what time would you recommend we should arrive there on hatsumode?

    • 2 Trane DeVore

      I think any time of day will prove interesting. Of course, arriving on the 1st there will be large crowds — if you like crowds, that’s exciting, if not then you should wait until the 3rd, when the crowds will have calmed down a bit. I don’t think there’s any strict schedule of events, so just showing up and walking around should be nice.

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