Sumiyoshi Taisha 住吉大社
Sumiyoshi Taisha, in southern Osaka, is claimed to be one of the oldest shrines in Japan, said to date back to 211 AD, when legend has it the shrine was built to give thanks to the gods of the sea for the safe return of the Empress Jingu on a voyage to Korea. With little historical evidence to go on, Empress Jingu is now considered to be most likely mythical rather than historical and the first Sumiyoshi Shrine was probably located in Hakata (Fukuoka), not Osaka.
Sumiyoshi Taisha is mentioned in Murasaki Shikibu's The Tale of Genji and is believed to be the entrance point of the Silk Road in to Japan.
In its early days it is believed the entrance to the shrine stood at the water's edge in what is now the adjacent Sumiyoshi Koen (Sumiyoshi Park).
Shrine Architecture - sumiyoshi zukuri
Sumiyoshi Taisha (Sumiyoshi Grand Shrine) predates the arrival of Buddhism in Japan and along with Izumo Taisha (taisha-zukuri) and the Ise Jingu (shinmei-zukuri) has its own style of architecture known as sumiyoshi zukuri, free of mainland Asian influences.
The oldest buildings at Sumiyoshi Taisha date from 1810 and are painted in a dark red color. The roofs are straight (rather than curved in later styles) and made of thatch.
Other features of sumiyoshi zukuri are the okichigi - forked finials on the roof of the honden or main shrine and the five square billets (katsuogi) placed horizontally along the roof. The building is surrounded by a wooden fence or tamagaki.
Other notable structures include a kagura hall, an arched bridge over a scenic pond known as Taiko bashi or Sorihashi, said to have been originally given to the shrine by Yodogimi, the lover of Toyotomi Hideyoshi and over 700 stone lanterns donated by seafarers and companies related to marine transport.
In the Heian Period, Sumiyoshi Taisha was the recipient of imperial favor and patronage. It was from nearby Suminoe no Tsu that imperial embassies to China set sail and were joined on their voyages by the head priests of the shrine.
Sumiyoshi Taisha is now a popular place for traditional Shinto marriage ceremonies and draws huge crowds of Osakans for the New Year hatsumode (first shrine visit of the year).
There are hundreds of other Sumiyoshi shrines in Japan dedicated to the kami who protect sailors, fishermen and those traveling on the sea.
Access - getting to Sumiyoshi Taisha
Sumiyoshi Taisha (in Japanese)
Sumiyoshi-ku, Sumiyoshi 2-9-89
Tel: 06 6672 0753
Sumiyoshi can be reached in about 15 minutes by the Hankai Tramway Uemachi Line from Tennoji Station to Sumiyoshi or Sumiyoshikoen (200 yen). Alternatively take a Nankai train from Namba Station to Sumiyoshi Taisha Station (210 yen; 10 minutes) or to Sumiyoshi-higashi Station on the Koya Line.