Dotonbori, the epicenter of Osaka’s shopping and nightlife, can get exhausting at times. The next time you feel you need a respite from the throngs of shoppers and bar-hoppers, turn down Hozenji Yokocho for a taste of the old world and a little trip back in time. Yokocho is Japanese for alley, an apt name for this cobblestone street stretching 80 meters long and 2.7 meters wide.
On either side are more than 60 restaurants and bars to fit any budget and craving, but the real highlight is Hozenji Temple at the far western end of the alley.
Hozenji is small – just a few hundred square meters – but it’s well-known and well-loved despite this. It is most famous for its moss-covered statue of Fudo Myo-o, a dharmapāla or wrathful god. Dharmapalas are known as protectors and defenders of the law, and as such often have stern faces, appearing angry.
Although undoubtedly fierce, as bodhisattvas and buddhas they embody compassion, and as such use their fury for good: to protect the mortals who worship them. Fudo Myo-o is thought to help prevent disasters and fight off enemies, as well as assist in matchmaking and bring luck in business. Flames form a ring around his body, thought to burn out the material desires of those who worship him.
When visitors prey to the Fudo Myo-o statue at Hozenji, they throw water on him and the two attendants who flank him, a man and a woman believed to be a couple. This has caused moss to grow on all three statues, giving them a magical, otherworldly appearance.
Legend has it that originally, visitors to the shrine left cups of water by the statue to honor it. One day, a woman who had forgotten to bring a cup simply splashed water on the statue. Others followed suit and it is now a local tradition. This statue is affectionately called Mizukake (water-throwing) Fudo by locals.
Hozenji Temple was built in 1637 in an area which was once an execution site and a graveyard. At that time it was called Sennichiji (1,000 days temple), named after the ritual of praying for 1,000 days to calm the souls of the dead buried in the area. The nearby major thoroughfare Sennichimae (in front of Sennichi) remains today.
Later, this area became the “Broadway” of Osaka. The district peaked as Osaka’s entertainment mecca in the early 1900s and was known for its rakugo (Japanese storytelling) performances. It was here that Osaka’s first movie theater was built, based on the famous La Scala theater in Milan. In 1945, during the first round of air raids over Osaka, much of Hozenji was destroyed. Fudo Myo-o was the only statue that remained.