Don't Miss the Ohatsu Tenjin Natsu Matsuri at Tsuyunotenjinsha Shrine
Every summer, on the third weekend of July, people from all over the Kansai area gather at Osaka's Tsuyunotenjinsha Shrine to enjoy its biggest festival: the Ohatsu Tenjin Natsu Matsuri. The two-day event starts on Friday and lasts all day Saturday.
What makes all this so amazing is that the tradition continues within the hustle and bustle of one of Japan's largest cities. Yes, "Ohatsu Tenjin Natsu Matsuri" is a mouthful. But don't worry, keep reading and you'll know what it's all about. You'll also know what to wear and where to be.
Forget Umi no Hi!
Let's not get this mixed up with other Osaka events going on in late July. After all, communities throughout Japan love their summer festivals and it's easy to mix them up. First, we have our event: the Ohatsu Tenjin Natsu Matsuri. It starts on the third Friday of July and resumes the next day from morning to night.
Now let's break it down. "Ohatsu Tenjin" is the unofficial name of Tsuyunoten Shrine. Tsuyunoten Shrine is a Shinto shrine in Umeda, a district in Osaka Japan. "Natsu" means summer and "Matsuri" means festival. Too easy!
Then on the national level, we have Umi no Hi. Umi no Hi is Marine Day, a Japanese national holiday celebrated on the third Monday of every July. Some of the locals celebrate by going to work but most have the day off. You'd think people would have fun at the beach but many stay home or go to the mall because it's too hot and humid. While Umi no Hi was officially declared a holiday in 1995, the Tsuyunoten Shrine is over 1,100 years old!
Back in Osaka is the one festival that's easy to mix up with this one: the Tenjin Matsuri. It's a completely different event. It goes down every July 24th and 25th at Osaka's Tenmangu Shrine. One of the largest religious festivals in Japan, you'll find traditional Japanese boats in a long river-parade and fireworks in the evening. It's easy for Tenjin Matsuri to overshadow Ohatsu Tenjin but that's all the more reason to learn more about both!
The taiko drum float
Instead of taking its festival elsewhere, the drummers of Tsuyunoten Shrine proudly beat their taiko drums while religious and community volunteers push the float through the busy streets. The thunderous sounds can be heard from as far as Umeda's Hankyu Station. The way I found the festival was by listening to the drums!
Since ancient times, the loud rumbling of the taiko drums quiets the audience and summons its attention. Once the people are quiet and attentive, the Shinto gods are pleased. For this reason taiko drums are closely tied with spirituality in Japan.
You'll hear the awesome power of these drums at this festival and many others throughout the year. Don't miss it!
Lion dance - Be there!
For more fun and tradition, don't miss the festival's Lion dance or "Shishi-mai."
The Japanese word for lion is "shishi" and the shishi costume has a red or golden head with a white mane. It has a green body with a white-spot pattern. One person operates the head and another takes the body. A team of shishi performs its dance to traditional Japanese music including flutes and drums. They bless the community with good health and fortune while also protecting it from evil.
Shishi can also make house calls. Before the festival, any local business can order a small dance. Then on the day of the festival, shishi answers the call, delivering extra special attention.
If you can't make it to the festival there's no need to worry, nearly every Shinto festival has its own Shishi-mai. What makes this one so special is that it involves several generations in one event.
Can't make it to this one? Don't worry, there's plenty more!
There are festivals of all sizes throughout Japan all year round. Making it to just a few each season is an adventure in itself. But there's no need to worry. Go to any one you like and have a great time. There's usually a parade, stands that sell food and other stands that offer games with prizes.
What will you wear? Nearly everyone goes in their regular clothes: t-shirt and shorts in the summer. This is a life-saver in any hot, humid evening. Others like to spice things up with a yukata or kimono. You can wear what you like, just make sure you are comfortable and have fun.
Just remember: if you wear something traditional, watch out for messy festival food. Keep it low-key with corn dogs or corn on the cob. Your dry cleaner will thank you!