In the heart of Osaka, this thrilling festival is one of the Top 3 in all of Japan.
Summer in west Japan is a herald of many things — sweltering humidity, chirping cicadas, and the ubiquitous sight of shaved ice for sale. It’s also the most festive season of the year!
It seems as if every week, there is another festival complete with food stalls, game booths and everyone in traditional Japanese clothing cracking open cold beers to celebrate. The festivities culminate in Osaka during midsummer with an event that draws over a million spectators each year, the Tenjin Matsuri (Festival).
Tenjin Festival’s sacred origins
The Tenjin Festival is one of the three “great festivals of Japan” (the other two are Gion Matsuri in Kyoto and Kanda Matsuri in Tokyo). It has taken place annually on July 24 and 25 since the 10th century and its roots are in Shinto, the ancient animistic religion of the country.
The festival celebrates Sugawara no Michizane, a deity of learning and scholarship. Also known as “Tenjin,” this god is enshrined at the legendary Osaka Tenmangu Shrine in Tenma. Tenjin Matsuri literally means “festival of the gods.”
Biggest party in town
The entire Tenma district comes alive during the festival. Food stalls are installed on residential streets and in parks. The festival officially kicks off with a Shinto ritual and dance at Osaka Tenmangu on the 24th.
The main events are held on the second day. From 3:30 p.m. there is a great parade over land and water starting from the shrine and going all around the district.
The procession starts by going down Tenjinbashi-suji, the longest covered shopping street in the country. As is evident in the name, this street has long been an important part of the festival. Tenjinbashi-suji is the historic omotesando, or approach, to the shrine. These days it’s known as a bargain shopping destination but during the festival, it returns to its historic role.
A procession carrying a gilded mikoshi (portable mini shrines that still weigh around two tons), inside which a likeness of Tenjin resides, is paraded through the shopping street. Massive floats, elaborately costumed marchers (including one dressed as Sarutahiko, a demon-like deity, atop a horse), dancers, drummers, and more march through the streets singing and shouting joyously. The procession then makes its way further around the neighborhood before reaching the Okawa River.
Spectators picnic for hours in advance on the banks of the river to watch the nation’s largest maritime parade. Tenjin’s mikoshi is transferred to a boat and paraded down the river. Over 100 illuminated boats filled with drummers and dancers float along the river at dusk.
People then gather, crowding onto balconies and rooftops where possible, to behold the finale — a spectacular fireworks display. It’s a beautiful end to a magnificent event.
Know before you go
The festivities are free. To get a good viewpoint, it’s best to camp out as early as possible on the day of. Special seating is available for a fee. You can find information at its official site here (Japanese) or from the Imperial Hotel website here (English).