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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
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.
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
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
Currently, regular temple duties are provided by some nuns from Kyoto. Some local ladies take daily care of the halls and gardens.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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”.
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?
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;
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.
Chanter (storyteller). In Joruri, puppets do not talk. Instead, Dayu operates all characters, both male and female.
Musician. They sit next to Dayu to provide sound support for Dayu. In Joruri, the narrative (Dayu) exceeds music.
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.
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.