Tennoji Ward: Where City and Nature Come Together

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There are plenty of stories of urban renewal playing out all across Osaka these days.

However, few places have seen as meteoric a rise in status over the last few years as Tennoji Ward.

Located in the south west of the city, along with Umeda and Namba, Tennoji serves as one of Osaka’s main transport hubs. The massive JR Tennoji Station is the main intersection from which most travelers coming into the city from Kansai airport will alight, and conversely it is the connecting point for most travelers heading out to either the airport or to the onsen baths and rugged coastline of neighboring Wakayama Prefecture.

As such, Tennoji has blossomed into a large commercial hub in recent times too, with all manner of department stores, restaurants and bars lining the streets around Tennoji Station.

The name Tennoji actually comes from the ward’s Shitennoji Temple. Meaning “temple of the four kings of heaven” this temple dates from 593 AD and is believed to be the first Buddhist temple to be established in Japan. According to historical texts, the legendary Prince Shotoku is said to have overseen the construction himself, along with three Korean carpenters in one of the earliest examples of cross border cooperation between these two regional rivals.

Indeed one of those who helped build the temple later went on to found his own company, Kongo Gumi, which built almost all of the major temples across Japan for the next few centuries, with Shitennoji as the template.

Shitennoji: One of the oldest temples in Japan

The business endured for 1400 years, becoming the world’s longest running independent company before sadly succumbing finally to liquidation in 2006.

The centerpiece of the temple is its five storey pagoda in the middle of the main courtyard. This is a must see for any Japanese history enthusiasts, or culture lovers.

Tennoji has that great charm, so common in many busy Japanese city centers of balancing nature with urban sprawl. Nowhere is this better characterized than in Tennoji Park, which despite sitting just across the road from the eternally hectic JR Tennoji Station, is one of the entire city’s most sedate and expansive green spaces.

The park plays host to a number of events throughout the year. I especially recommend the German Beer festival “Ocktoberfest”, which despite the name is, for some inexplicable reason, held in May!

Events aside, Tennoji Park is a great place to visit anytime. Amidst the greenery you can find a series of cafes, bars, restaurants, an organic supermarket, and even soccer pitches if you’re feeling sporty.

In summertime, a zip-line course also comes to the park, creating great thrill-seeking fun for kids and adults alike.

If you’re feeling in an especially sensuous mood, perhaps you and your partner may also like to try one of the numerous couples’ hotels to the west of the park. The one modelled on Osaka Castle is especially alluring.

At the opposite end of Tennoji Park from JR Tennoji Station, you will come to the rear of Tennoji Zoo. Although relatively small in size, Tennoji Zoo is not without its charms.

Amid the usual assortment of lions, tigers and bears (oh my!), you will also find adorable little creatures such as koalas, seals, and everyone’s favorite soft drink mascots, the polar bears!

Huge behemoths also abound in the zoo, with elephants, rhinos and hippos also coming to play.

Tennoji Park, with the famous Tsutenkaku tower in the background

If you have kids with you, or perhaps a young lady who you want to impress, then a visit to the zoo’s “Fureai Hiroba” (friendship square) is a must. Seeing animals is one thing, but having the chance to actually touch them directly lends a whole new level of authenticity to the experience. The square gives visitors the chance to get up close with rabbits, sheep, horses, alpacas and a host of other adorable animals. The only thing more adorable than the animals themselves is the look of sheer joy on kids’ faces when they see them.

Of course no trip to Tennoji is complete without some shopping, and the Mio department store, on the upper levels of Tennoji Station has it all. Amidst the various departments of the department store itself there are also various other outlets where one can check out the latest fashion trends and maybe even bag a bargain or two.

I would especially recommend the small store called Three Coins. As the name suggests, all items in the shop cost just 300 yen, or 3 silver coins. It is, essentially, a slightly more upscale variation on the popular “100 yen shop”. They do have some really nice stuff. I once got my girlfriend a couple of extra Christmas presents in there (but don’t tell her that!).

Whatever you are looking for, whether it’s a stroll in the park, I chance to talk with the animals, or even some shopping followed by a night of hotel romance, Tennoji has a little bit of something for everyone.

To get to Tennoji from Osaka Station, take either the Loop Line or the Yamatoji Rapid line.

The Loop line will reach Tennoji in about 30 minutes, the Yamatoji Line will take about 20 minutes.

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