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Japan: Osaka (Tenjin Matsuri)

The City of Osaka is known as the City of Water and Light. Located in the Kansai Region of Japan, it is host to one of Japan’s top three festivals, the Tenjin Matsuri. The festival, which originated 1,000 years ago at the Tenmangu Shrine takes place annually from July 24 to July 25. The Tenmangu Shrine is one of Osaka’s most famous Shinto shrines and dedicated to Sugawara Michizane (845-903), who was deified as Tenman Tenjin, patron god of art and learning.

Millions attend this epic celebration also regarded as the greatest boat festival in the world. The festival incorporates over 100 boats and 3,000 participants and proceeds first by land through the streets of Osaka and then by water down the Okawa River. The festival kicks off as early as 7:45 AM on the morning of July 24 with a ritual followed by prayers at the river for peace, safety and prosperity. In the afternoon, drums sounded by men in tall red hats indicate that preparations for the festival are complete.

On July 25, starting at 3:30 PM, the red hatted drummers lead the land procession of mikoshi from the Tenmangu Shrine. Included in the procession is the Sarutahiko, a long-nosed goblin riding a horse, a ceremonial float accompanied by festival music, lion dancers and umbrella dancers. After the procession arrives at Okawa River, the participants board boats and the parade continues up and down the river. In addition to the procession boats, there are stage boats, which feature traditional Noh (musical drama) and Bunraku (puppet theater) performances.

Seemingly endless rows of food stalls line the river banks offering everything imaginable in the way of summer matsuri fare and there is plenty of alcohol to add to the celebratory spirit.

The river procession culminates around 7:00 PM followed by a fireworks display, which continues until 9:00 PM. The mikoshi makes its way back to the shrine around 10:00 PM, marking the end of the festival. The return of the mikoshi to the shrine is accompanied by the rhythmical Osaka-style handclapping for closing a ceremony.

There is fierce competition for good seats along the river but you have an alternative. You can purchase a reserved seat located near Tenmanbashi Station for ¥7,000 (advance booking required) and be guaranteed a good view of the procession, but only a moderately good view of the fireworks display.

The festival is a great opportunity to familiarize yourself with Osaka culture and should not be missed when visiting Kansai during the summer.

 

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Umbrella dancers

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Address: 2-1-8 Tenjinbashi, Kita-ku, Osaka City, Osaka Prefecture

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