Nagoya’s Osu – a fascinating temple and market district

Thanks to its position as the leading city of central Honshu island, Nagoya has a long and fascinating history.   One place where some of that history can be discovered is the neighborhood of the Osu Kannon.

Osu Kannon Temple (official name Kitano-san Shinpuku-ji Hosho-inwas originally founded in 1324 to house a wooden statue of Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy, that was carved by Kobo Daishi, a Buddhist priest credited with popularizing Buddhism in Japan during the 9th century.  But the temple was originally located in what is now Hashima City, about 30 kilometers northwest of Nagoya in Gifu Prefecture.  Regular flooding of the temple prompted Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1868), to have the temple relocated to its present site in Nagoya in 1612. 

As with many towns and cities throughout history, merchants began to ply their wares in the vicinity of the religious site, counting on worshipers as a steady stream of customers, with the result that a large and vibrant shopping district developed next to the temple. And so it has been for the last 400 years.

These days the shopping district is a grid of covered streets, the quintessential Japanese-style shotengai, complete with an old-fashioned working class atmosphere.  Thanks to the extensive grid and color coding of the major streets, there is something of the feel of a Western-style shopping mall, although the passing of an occasional bicycle quickly returns visitors to the reality of their presence in Japan.

Some streets seem to specialize in particular goods: shoes here, sporting goods there, electrical goods in a different area, imported food in yet another.  No matter what you might be shopping for, with over 400 shops, odds are good you will find it here.  At the same time, no matter which street one wanders, there are sights and sounds to savor and people watching aplenty.

There are also lots of restaurants and casual street food outlets.  You need never go hungry (or thirsty).

Osu Kannon Temple sits like an anchor at the west end of the shopping district.  The current structure is ferro-concrete, built in 1970 to replace earlier wooden buildings.  The main temple is up a wide flight of stairs, as it sits atop the Shinpukuji Library, famous for housing 15,000 historical volumes from both China and Japan, including the oldest extant copy of the Kojiki, an early 8th century chronicle of the history of Japan, or some would say Japan’s origin myths.

The temple is also known for its great red paper lantern, hanging above the entrance to the main temple.  The lantern’s stabilizing cables are a popular spot for people to tie the fortunes they have purchased at the temple–this practice ensures that any bad luck in the fortune cannot follow the purchaser.

The temple grounds feature a large gateway, a belfry, and some other small buildings.  Apparently there was once a five-storied pagoda, which burned during the latter half of the 19th century.  The grounds are host to a flea market on the 18th and 28th of each month.

IMG_8479Osu Kannon Temple is a true community center, with regular religious observances and other events.  Its summer festival was actually this weekend (August 3-4).  The next special event is August 9, known as Kyuman Kyusen Kotoku-bi.  Worshipping the Kannon on this day gives one the same merit as if one had worshipped on 99,000 days–that’s a lot of merit!

Situated between the temple and the shopping district is a small brown wooden hut that contains a very fine example of karakuri, mechanical wooden puppets Nagoya is rightly famous for.  Karakuri puppets were developed in the 17th century.  Although different versions can be found across Japan, Nagoya’s are considered to be the finest.  This particular installation of karakuri is dedicated to Tokugawa Muneharu (1696-1764), a flamboyant Nagoya daimyo.  The central puppet is Muneharu, riding a white cow.  There is a story about Muneharu, that he rode a white cow to visit ancestral graves (I have yet to figure out why he would do that, but apparently he did).  The puppets perform for about 6 minutes daily at 11:00, 13:00, 15:00, 17:00 and 18:30; plenty of chances to enjoy them.

In and around the shopping area are a number of other interesting and historical shrines and temples, providing a bit of additional sightseeing when one tires of shopping.

Osu Kannon Temple is just a minute’s walk from Osu Kannon station on the Tsurumai subway line.  Kamimaezu station on the Tsurumai line and the Meijo line is at the other side of the Osu shopping district area.  The area is only a few minutes’ walk south of Shirakawa Park, home of the Nagoya City Science Museum and Nagoya City Art Museum, for those looking for more sightseeing opportunities.

© 2019 Jigsaw-japan.com and Vicki L. Beyer
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