You’re wondering through one of Japan’s biggest cities, amongst tall concrete buildings, bright neon signs, and hundreds of other people. The modern architecture is fascinating but as you turn the corner onto a quieter street you see something entirely different. In pristine condition, as though you have just walked back hundreds of years ago, a shrine gate lays there to greet you. And beyond it a green, tranquil environment invites you in.
The Namba Yasaka Shrine's lion's brilliant stare. Photo: Lishan Collins
A Hidden Place of Calm
This has been one of my most favorites surprises whilst traveling through Japan. That between the concrete walls of every Japanese city, you will always find quiet in the many shrines scattered through the streets. They are always present to offer some respite and peace if the hustle and bustle ever starts to become overwhelming.
The enormous lion head-shaped stage measures 12m in height, and 9m in width. Photo: Lishan Collins
Striking, Unusual Architecture
Nestled in Osaka’s quieter streets, however, located south of Namba Station lies one of Japan's lesser known but more unique shrines. As you approach the walls of the shrine, you might just spot two large, staring eyes. These eyes belong to the shrine’s huge lion head-shaped Ema-Den. Standing 12 meters tall and 9 meters wide, this is of course, the shrine’s most eye-catching feature. Not to belittle the rest of the shrine's tranquil setting, however, with its small but pleasant garden and other shrines.
The mouth of the lion, encompassing half of the lion's face, is believed to swallow malevolent spirits and attract good luck. The shrine itself has long been believed to be the home of the guardian deity that protects the Namba district. What remains now was actually once part of a greater Buddhist temple complex, most of which was destroyed during the 1945 air raids.
Omiku-ji (random fortunes) hang from a tree in the shrine's garden. The ones tied here are most likely bad fortunes, left at the shrine so that the ill fortune does not follow the receiver home.
Photo: Lishan Collins
Deep Rooted History and Mythology
The shrine also holds an annual event representing the Japanese myth in which the enshrined deity once killed a giant snake to bring peace to all the people of the Namba area. The festival that takes place on the third Sunday every January, has people partaking in a tug of war ritual, symbolic of the battle between snake and deity.
To experience another side of Osaka, and to offer another perspective beyond the bright lights and big buildings Osaka is known for, Namba Yasaka Shrine is well worth the visit.
The first sight you are greeted with when you enter from the east entrance of Namba Yasaka Shrine. Photo: Lishan Collins
Getting There From Hostel Hyaku
The shrine rests slightly south-west from Namba Nankai station and so, from Hostel Hyaku it is an easy 20 minute walk along the main road before turning south.
The alternative route is take the subway from Nippombashi Station, a 5 minute walk from the hostel, to travel one stop along the Sen-Nichimae Line to Namba Subway Station. From there it is a 9 minute walk (750m) to the shrine. This option is probably only 5 minutes quicker than walking the distance.
Words by Lishan Collins.
THE NEED TO KNOW DETAILS:
Transport: Free 21 minute walk, or JPY 180 for 1 minute subway station and 9 minute walk
Admission fee: Free
Opening Hours: 06:00 to 17:00