MIYAKOJIMA WARD OSAKA: Palace of Cherry Blossom

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Miyakojima hand drawn map

Introduction

Miyakojima ward locates at the north east side of Osaka city. It’s a beautiful riverside-town, the scenery is especially stunning in Kema Sakuranomiya Park in the west side of the ward. It is Osaka’s number one spot for cherry blossom viewing. Sakuranomiya literally means “palace of cherry blossom”. MIYAKOJIMA WARD OSAKA

Kema Sakuranomiya Park in full bloom of cherry blossom. You can see a grand view of Osaka Castle in the center.

Lively restaurants, bars, hotels and variety of entertainments are found around Kyobashi station (JR Loop Line and Keihan Line) in the south. Though Kyobashi is the third busiest station in JR Loop Line after Osaka and Tennoji, price ranges of those restaurants are fairly reasonable, so you can fully enjoy good foods and drinks there without worrying about your budgets.

The north and east parts of the ward are immensely popular residential area. An elementary school in Tomobuchi district is one of the largest schools in Osaka. Local residents love Miyakojima because of its surprisingly quiet and green-rich environment despite having great access to working or shopping in central Osaka.

Fujita Tei Ato Park (Garden of Baron Fujita’s Residence)

Not only the current local citizens, but an old emperor and many great artists in the past also loved Miyakojima. Miyakojima is rich in historical and cultural heritages. This article will show you the famous demon buster story (Shuten Doji), Haiku, Kabuki, Ningyo Joruri and more, all related to Miyakojima!!

Watanabe no Tsuna Koma Tsunagi no Kusu, thousand-year worships

Shinboku-God tree

Before learning about what is “Watanabe no Tsuna Koma Tsunagi no Kusu”, first you need to know about Shinboku (more politely, “Goshinboku”).

Since ancient times, Japanese people spiritually feel and see nature gods in trees, especially giant trees. Those trees are called “Shinboku” <“Shin”= “God” and “boku”= “Tree”>.

The top 10 giant trees in Japan are dominated by camphor trees. You may have seen one in Japanese shrines or temples. Dynamic branches and huge trunk of camphor trees symbolize sacred power and eternity.

Camphor trees are often worshipped in Japanese shrine. This one is in Oyamazumi Shrine, Ehime Prefecture.

The first Natural Heritage in Osaka Prefecture

Now, you may be surprised to know that in Miyokojima, there is a revered camphor tree long after it completely withered. The tree even has its own name, “Watanabe no Tsuna Koma Tsunagi no Kusu” which literally means “camphor tree to which Watanabe no Tsuna tied the rope of his horse”.

“Watanabe no Tsuna Koma Tsunagi no Kusu”. Locals still greatly worship and care about the withered tree.

This camphor tree was honorably selected as the first Osaka natural treasures in 1937. It grew to 12 meters in diameter and 30 meters height before being destroyed by the bombing of Osaka during the war.

A wooden board reading “This tree is called “Watanabe no Tsuna Koma Tsunagi no Kusu”. It still remains Osaka’s giant tree regardless of the recent damages and is now designated as a natural heritage of Osaka Prefecture”.

Demon busters, the old “Shutendoji” story

According to old lores, WATANABE no Tsuna (953-1025) always tied a rope to his horse on this tree when he visited a nearby shrine built by his boss MINAMOTO Yorimitsu (948-1021). Yorimitsu is considered as one of the most courageous and popular Samurais in the Japanese history.

Ukiyoe by ADACHI Ginko. WATANABE no Tsuna slashing the celebrated great sword to cut the arm of Oni (demon).

Yorimitsu and WATANABE no Tsuna (and other three warriors) are particularly famous for their demon extermination story described in “Oeyama Shutendoji Emaki”, a legendary picture scroll. This demon buster story provides the basis for many Ukiyoe artists, therefore you can enjoy a variety of versions telling their brave fight.

Ukiyoe by UTAGAWA Yoshitsuya. MINAMOTO Yorimitsu and his brave followers including WATANABE no Tsuna fighting against violent Oni (ogre, demon)

Omikuji-Fortune slip

Another highlight at this spot is Omikuji, a fortune-telling slip. Omikuji (おみくじ) is a very honorific word expressing “god’s lot”.

Omikuji machine at the side of the tree

You can insert 100 yen into the hole at the top right corner and get a slip telling your fortune. The long worshiped tree and the brave Samurai who defeated fierce demons definitely promise you good health!

Ever-lasting love for mother, Bo-onji Temple

Go-Shirakawa, the last supreme monarch before Samurai rulers

From ancient times, Okawa riverside has attracted people to its scenic landscape. In 12th century, Emperor Go-Shiarakawa (1127-1192), de facto of the last supreme monarch before the Samurai rulers, often passed by the area on his way to Kumano Pilgrimage in the Wakayama Prefecture. The serene beauty of the riverside is one of his favourite spots.

Go-Shirakawa who had great power in the end of Heian period, an aristocratic era, later became monk. He spent a dramatic life full of social ups and downs facing the rise of Samurai power.

Eternal love for mother, Bo-onji

He later built a temple called Bo-onji (母恩寺) meaning “gratitude toward beloved mother” to worship his great mother forever. Bo-onji is a nunnery that once encompassed a large territory with twelve cathedrals. The roles of chief priests were served by imperial princesses. Unfortunately, the temple almost dilapidated after repeated floods, wars and social turmoil.

Bo-onji Temple

Currently, regular temple duties are provided by some nuns from Kyoto. Some local ladies take daily care of the halls and gardens.

Bo-onji has very important treasures of Go-Shirakawa. In the morning, a nun opens the entrance of the hall.

Inside Bo-onji

Usually, visitors cannot enter the temple. However, if you are as lucky enough such as the author in this visit, the temple may allow you to see the inside.

Put off your shoes to enter the hall. Please make sure to line them up neatly.

The hall has tatami and wooden floor where no person except the priests can step in. In the altar, Amida Nyorai, the principal image of Bo-onji, gently smiles at you.

Inside of the main hall decorated for an annual ceremony.

Wataboushi, the proof of innocence

In the past, nuns of Bo-onji once made Wataboushi (綿帽子, cotton headdress) as a part of their service. Wataboushis were worn by high-ranking females in those days. Wataboushi made by Bo-onji nuns had a great reputation for its noble beauty and was called “Kasugae no Wataboushi” (“Kasugae” was the old name for the area).

Pure white Wataboushi symbolizes pure innocence. Even now, you can see a Japanese bride in all-white Kimono with Wataboushi in a classic Japanese wedding.

A bride wearing Wataboushi in a traditional Japanese style wedding

Fear turned into worship, Nue Zuka

Nue, a Yokai with monkey head, tiger legs, dog body and shake tail

After fascinated by the charming bride, the next story is about Nue. Nue is a legendary cryptid (Yokai) that has the head of a monkey, the legs of a tiger, the body of a dog and the front half of a snake for a tail.

Ukiyoe by Kuniyoshi Utagawa, Nue, Japanese folk monster (Yokai)

Eerie cries echoing in the pitch dark night

According to old tale, in the era of Emperor Konoe (reign 1139-1155), the eerie yokai, Nue repeatedly emerged from the sky above the palace and was extremely horrifying to the people with its creepy cries echoing in the dark night and its intense black smoke covering over the entire sky. The frightened palace people regarded it as ominous curses and asked MINAMOTO Yorimitsu to attack Nue.

MINAMOTO Yorimasa’s Nue shooting

Yorimitsu, a well-known strong samurai, shot a big arrow toward Nue in the sky and his subordinate, I no Hayata, stabbed it to death.

Ukiyoe by UTAGAWA Kuniyohi. Minamoto Yorimasa shooting Nue with a big arrow
Ukiyoe by TSUKIOKA Yoshitoshi. I no Hayata, a subordinate of MINAMOTO Yorimasa stabbed Nue to death.

Nue mound, fears turned into worships

The old tale told that Yorimasa threw Nue’s dead body into the river, which consequently drifted ashore close to Bo-onji. The local people feared possible curse of Nue’s corpse and built a mound in Bo-onji to console the dead Yokai. They put their palms together for Nue. Over time, the fear and condolence gradually turned into worship. This might indicates a part of Japanese spiritual mindsets.

Nue Mound. The place is now outside Bo-onji after relocation of Bo-onji.

The mound was once at the site of Bo-onji, but it was later moved to the midst of small local houses in a very narrow street. The local people carefully maintain the mound with seasonal flowers and foods.

Local people have carefully maintained the mound for the creepy monster.

The defeated monster proudly supports Osaka Port crest

The Nue story does not end in this street mound. Now, Osaka Port uses Nue as its guardian symbol portraying the Yokai in its crest. Splendid carvings of a pair of Nues stand at the side of the mount. Two golden Nues statues proudly support the mark of Osaka Port, as if they are protecting the prosperity of the water city Osaka.

A sign board standing at the side of Nue Mound. Crest of Osaka Port portraits Nue as a symbolic cryptid.

YOSA Buson, a traveling poet

Greatest Haiku poet of all time

Miyakojima is a birthplace of one of the greatest poets in Japan. YOSA Buson (1716-1783) was born in Kema, Miyakojima. He was one of the top Haiku poets in the Edo period along side with MATSUO Basho and KOBAYASHI Issa. Notably, Buson is also famous for his paintings which are full of poetic sentiments.

Portrait of YOSA Buson, great haiku poet also famous for drawings
Ryuin Gyofu no Zu, “Fisher man under a willow tree” by Buson.
Shoka Kanshin wo Ou no Zu, “Xiao He chases Han Xin” by Buson. A folding screen based on a Chinese ancient story

Haiku, world’s most minimally narrated art

Haiku is the shortest poetry in the world. Though it contains minimal words, Haiku sparks your maximal imagination. A single Haiku consists of just 17 syllables, 5 in the first part, 7 in the middle and 5 in the last. Another requirement is the inclusion of a seasonal word called “Kigo”. One of well-known haiku by Buson is;

Harunoumi/ Hinemosu Notari/ Notari Kana
The sea in spring / waves just sway gently / all through the day

Asian calligraphy by a young artist, Toko Takami, freely expressing the world of “Haru no umi” haiku

Soft H-sounds and peaceful repeats of “Notari Notari (=relaxingly slowly)” remind you of gentle ripples all day long under the serene spring weather. The poetry mentions only about the gentle waves, nothing was said about who is or are at the beach. So you need to form your own creativity and imagination to enjoy this haiku. By closing your eyes and citing this haiku, you could hear the comforting sounds of waves at an undisturbed spring beach.

Can you hear the sound of ripples and feel the soft breeze?

Haiga, haiku + drawing

Buson’s work includes a lot of Haiga, haiku and ga (drawing). The images of bird and flower do not directly correspond to the haiku on the right. You need have a deep understanding of the background knowledge and metaphor which is beyond the scope of this article.

Hototogisu, “A little cuckoo across a hydrangea”. The wide central blank allows for your maximum imagination. Among the western arts, you rarely find such a huge vacant space in the middle.

Buson’s nostalgia, faraway home

Buson was born in Kema, a junction point of two rivers, as the son of a farmer. He spent most of his life in Edo (Tokyo) and Kyoto and traveled all over Japan, composing a lot of Haiku during trips. He never returned to Kema, even when he passed nearby areas. The reason why he did not return to his hometown is not known.

His old house was gone and a birthplace monument stands at the Yodogawa river bank to commemorate his remarkable achievement in Japanese culture.

But “Syunpubateikyoku”, a poetry compilation by him at the age of 62, includes a haiku indicating his nostalgia towards his old house and the long-extending riverbank.

Syunpuya Tsutumi Nagoushite Ietooshi
Feeling spring breeze / on the long riverbank / faraway home

A monument depicting the landscape at the time of Buson’s childhood days.

As always with haiku, an art of minimalism, this one explain nothing about feeling or emotion, so we just have to imagine with a calm and quiet mind and create an image of Buson far away from home thinking of his old riverside house that now exists only in his memory.

Current overview of the bank at Kema, the front bridge leads to Kema Water Lock Gate.

Daichoji Temple, timeless inspiration of double suicides

Shinjyu, double suicides in Daichoji Temple

In Daichoji Temple in Miyakojima ward, there are double graves for a couple, Jihei and Koharu, who had a forbidden love affair and chose to die together at the site of the temple in 1720. Hiyoku Zuka (literally meaning double wing mound) is a grave for those lovers who committed double suicides called “Shinju”.

Hiyoku Zuka for Jihei and Koharu in Daichoji Temple

Jihei, an established merchant who had a wife and children in Tenma area, and Koharu, a popular prostitute, desperately loved each other and finally decided to do Shinjyu in Daichoji Temple.

Shinjyu drama written by genius

The heartbreaking deaths of the beautiful couple shocked people and caused a huge uproar. A genius playwright CHIKAMATSU Monzaemon turned this real incident into a Ningyo Joruri (alternatively called “Bunraku”), a puppet theater play. CHIKAMATSU was credited with his excellence in depicting complexity and sensitivity of human emotion and love/hate relationships, so the play became an instant hit.

What is Joruri?

A doll used in Joruri drama. You can see her at JR Shin Osaka Station.

The CHIKAMATSU Joruri was a tremendous success, but what is “Joruri” in the first place? A puppet play? Was it for kids? No way! Love affairs and suicides are never suited for children.

Then, you must learn about Joruri. It is a traditional puppet play established in Osaka in the early 1700s and designated as UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage. Three types of performers are involve in a single play;

Nigyotsukai
Puppet operators. There are usually three performers taking part in this role together. As they all wear black from head to toe, they are called Kuroko “black individual”. As kurokos are supposed to be invisible to audience, therefore this is the most important promise when you watch a Joruri or Kabuki.


Dayu
Chanter (storyteller). In Joruri, puppets do not talk. Instead, Dayu operates all characters, both male and female.


Shamisen
Musician. They sit next to Dayu to provide sound support for Dayu. In Joruri, the narrative (Dayu) exceeds music.

The head parts of Joruri puppet, taken at Osaka Museum of History
How to operate puppet, taken at Osaka Museum of History

Successful role of Ganjiro’s Jihei in Kabuki play

The Chikamatsu play was later adopted in Kabuki. The kabuki version also has good reputation. In particular, the Jihei role played by the good-looking NAKAMURA Ganjiro the First (1860-1935) became legendarily popular. The scene called Nagori no Hashi Zukushi (“last memorial bridge-crossings”) in which determined Jihei and Koharu crossed many bridges reflecting their tragic life, moved many audience to tears.

A kabuki actor, NAKAMURA Ganjiro the first in his signature “Jihei” costume, taken at Osaka Museum of History
Osaka people loved Ganjiro’s Jihei very much, taken at Osaka Museum of History

Modern transformation, movie and contemporary play

Even in this modern world, some people see Japanese romantism in their deaths. A film director, SHINODA Masahiro, made a very creative and stylish transformation of the tale (English subtitles are available). In 2016, even a contemporary play by an English director David Leveaux came about featuring a famous Kabuki actor. The theme of double suicides as the ultimate culmination of love still inspires many creators. The love of the couple who ended their life in Miyakojima still survives in modern minds.

Daichoji Temple, it was relocated from the site where Jihei and Koharu killed themselves.

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