The Namba Yasaka Shrine: Demons beware!
Posted by ampontan on Friday, January 26, 2007
Here’s a brain teaser: What has occupied the same site for almost a millenium, has 220 separate areas where you can buy protective amulets or fortunes from vending machines, has an outdoor structure that is designed to resemble a mythological lion with fangs and an open mouth—inside of which is a performance stage—and has an open space where neighborhood kids come to hang out and play volleyball?
If you guessed a religious institution, you got lucky, but you guessed right. It’s the Namba Yasaka Shinto Shrine in Osaka, not far from the old Osaka Stadium where the Nankai Hawks baseball team used to play until they moved to Fukuoka.
Osaka is known as Japan’s mercantile city, so it’s not surprising that the shrine would be influenced by regional traits, but the sheer number of opportunities for spending money is unusual even for that town, much less a Shinto shrine. For 300 to 500 yen (US$2.50 – $4.12), visitors can buy fortunes providing the lowdown on their family, health, success in school, success in business, and naturally, success in love. There are even amulets for sale that correspond to different blood types. Some of these fortunes come with a free maneki neko (also here) or a daruma. Some of them are sold on the honor system—you put your money into a slot—and some are sold in actual vending machines. The top of this Japanese-language site features a series of rotating photographs that include shots of the vending machines.
The shrine’s origin is not clear, but there was a Shinto shrine on this site during the period from 1069 to 1072. At some point, it was part of a religious two-for-the-price-of-one package, sharing the grounds with a Buddhist temple. These combinations were not uncommon in Japan, but they were separated after the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Shortly afterward, Namba Yasaka became an exclusively Shinto facility in 1872.
The outdoor structure is called the Ojishi-den, or Palace of the Great Lion. Visitors say it’s about the size of a three-story building, and officially it is 12 meters high, 11 meters wide, and 10 meters deep. The ferocious face is designed to drive away any demons, and if I were a demon, I’d sure find some other place to go. There’s a stage inside that mouth, and according to reports, it’s used for concerts several times a year. The reports did not mention the sort of music played at those concerts.
As is the case with most Shinto shrines, it conducts a matsuri every year. Held on the third Sunday of January—just last week!–the festival features a tug-of-war contest (a common element in Japanese events of this type). A scene from the tug-of-war in front of the Ojishi-den is shown in the photo.
Having read this post, I’m sure you can draw your own conclusions about the differences in religious customs between Japan and…well, the rest of the known universe. I don’t think I could put it into words anyway!