The Osaka Tenjin Matsuri is one of Japan’s three major festivals. It’s a month-long celebration of ritual Shinto events held every year from late June onwards, culminating in an exciting climax on July 24 and 25.

A fireworks display is held on the final day, July 25, in honor of the gods. Around 1.3 million people flock to see this event annually. Today we’re going to tell you all about the key things to see and do at the Tenjin Matsuri on July 24 and 25!

The Osaka Tenjin Matsuri dates back over 1000 years!

The Tenjin Matsuri is the collective name for various festivals held around July 25th at Tenmangu shrines throughout the country (shrines dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane, the Shinto god of learning). The festival celebrates the anniversary of Michizane’s death. The most famous of these events is the Tenjin Matsuri held at Osaka’s Tenmangu shrine annually from late June up until July 25. Its history dates right back to ancient times. The festival is said to originate from the Hokonagashi Shinji (now celebrated on July 24), which was first held in 951, a year after Osaka Tenmangu was founded.

▲Osaka Tenmangu Shrine was founded after Sugawara no Michizane, the god of the festival, stopped off here on his way to Dazaifu in Kyushu to pray for a safe journey. (Photo courtesy of Osaka Tenmangu Shrine)

The Tenjin Matsuri reaches its climax over a two day period on July 24th (known as Yomiya) and July 25th (Honmiya). The most popular events of the festival are the honohanabi (display of 5,000 celebratory fireworks) and the procession of a fleet of 100 boats on the Okawa River which flows through the heart of the city. The fireworks vividly lighting up the night sky and the reflections of fires on the boats flickering on the surface of the water make for an impressive sight.

▲Every year around there is a fireworks display in front of the boats on the river (around 5,000 fireworks in total) (Photo courtesy of Osaka Tenmangu Shrine).

Osaka Tenjin Matsuri’s origins in the ritual events of Yomiya (July 24)

On Yomiya (July 24th) you’ll see shishimai and moyoshidaiko roaming the streets. The highlight of the day is the Hokonagashi Shinji, which is said to be the origin of the Tenjin Matsuri. On the morning of the 24th around 9:00 AM at the Hokonagashi Bridge near the Osaka Central Public Hall the shrine maidens’ minadzukiharae ritual is performed. After this, there is a ceremony in which three people (the shindo (wonder child), shinshoku (Shinto priest) and gakujin (musician)) go out on the Okawa River on a small boat. They throw a sacred plain wood kamihoko (halberd or spear), around 75cm long, into the river.

▲The so-called “wonder child” in the sacred boat (known as ikitsubune) throws the halberd into the water to pray for peace and safety and to protect the city from evil (© Osaka Convention & Tourism Bureau)

Originally, the place where the halberd washed up was deemed to be a holy resting place, called the otabisho.The ceremony of escorting Michizane’s divine spirit to the otabisho by boat is said to be how the Tenjin Matsuri started. Now this tradition is carried on in the festival boat procession, known as funatogyo.

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