The ‘back entrance’ close to the Hankyu station gives access to a once flourishing and most intriguing shrine
It’s some time since I made an excursion to a new shrine, so I was intrigued to see what Hattori Tenjingu on the edge of Osaka had to offer. A surprising amount, was the answer. Packed into the small confines of the once expansive shrine are all manner of unusual features. And it has an intriguing history too.
Sugawara no Michizane, whose spirit was deified as the kami Tenjin
The shrine owes the first part of its name to the Hata clan, who are closely associated with the introduction of weaving (Hata-ori). Green Shinto has written a series about their connection with Kyoto, and one presumes this shrine was one of their stopping points in the fifth century on their route inland from the Inland Sea (Osake Jinja on the coast also has strong Hata connections).
The second part of the shrine name, Tenjin, refers to the deified name of statesman, Sugawara no Michizane (845-903). He was unfairly expelled in 901 from Kyoto to Dazaifu in northern Kyushu, and early in the journey he suffered from a leg ailment and called in at this shrine to pray to the medicine kami, Sukunahikona no mikoto. Because he was healed, the shrine acquired a reputation for its curative and protective power in terms of legs which it has kept up to the present day.
There are panels at the shrine which show it in the past, and it’s quite plain from the bustling scenes that it once occupied a huge area and that it was a popular place for pilgrimage. Now the former Sando (approach path) consists of a shopping arcade, and the shrine’s outer reach is indicated by a sacred tree which is encased within the Hattori Tenjingu station on the Hankyu line, rising splendidly skywards from out of its roof.
The first thing you see when arriving at the Hattori Tenjingu station (Hankyu line) is the sacred tree which stands on the Osaka-bound platform. Once it stood on the shrine’s grounds. Harmony of man and nature?
Kato san, head priest of the shrine for the past seventeen years, in front of the resplendent Worship Hall, repainted just three years ago
One unusual feature is a small building housing three gravestones (centre) with a spirit shelf for ancestral spirits (soreisha on the right) and one for the war dead (shoukonsha on the left). The gravestones may have acted as vehicles (yorishiro) into which spirits descended.
These three stone monuments represent notable talents of Sugawara no Michizane, of which he became a guardian deity: from left to right, poetry, painting and calligraphy. As with any Tenjin shrine, Hattori Tenjingu is associated with academic learning and students come here to pray for success in exams.
There’s an Inari subshrine, added by the present priest’s father some forty years ago, with a characteristic vermilion torii tunnel.
Inside the Inari shrine, unusually, are twelve small subshrines for each of the Chinese zodiac animals.
Taishi Kato, son of the head priest and now ‘gon-negi’ of the shrine, demonstrates how to sit in the special ‘leg protecting’ stone seat
There’s a Gamba Osaka banner supporting the local football team, who patronise the shrine in order to protect their legs
A sample of the many shoes left by worshippers in gratitude for the alleviation of leg and foot problems (there is a collection too of straw sandals dating back to Edo times).
The young priest points out the large candle and incense holder in front of the Haiden. Incense holders are typically found at Buddhist temples and a relic from the syncretic practice of former times
Tenjin shrines always feature an ox, the familiar of the kami, though this one unusually has a blackened face from the candles set before it
The present priest’s father, full of divine inspiration, carried out many ‘split spirit’ rites and created the large number of subshrines (known as ‘massha’) in the compound. This Ebisu shrine is a case in point, being a divided spirit from Nishinomiya Shrine. (Ebisu is the only indigenous kami of the Seven Lucky Deities.)
On departure, there’s time before the train comes to make a final prayer at the station’s ‘sacred tree’ (shinboku), saved from destruction through the entreaties of the local population