Discoveries, Japan

Wind, Water & Fury – Hozenji Temple

There comes an aura of mysticism and fascination when it comes to ancient rituals of offerings, chants and prayers. Imagine a temple, where fragrant swirls of incense waft past as glowing paper lanterns creak overhead. Candles pierce through the darkness from a glass case, coins tumbling into the donation box resound with sharp clinks and murmurs of prayers float through clasped hands.

This is what you’ll find at Hozen-ji Temple, buried in the very heart of one of Osaka’s most popular entertainment districts. While most visitors to Osaka are awestruck by the explosion of lights, delicious scents and exciting sights of Dotonbori, Hozen-ji Temple patiently awaits at the end of a quiet alley known as Hozen-ji Yokocho. Almost mysteriously, all the noise and hustle of Dotonbori just a few dozen steps behind you melt away, replaced by a mist of peace and quiet that wraps you up in it’s calming aura.

Hozen-ji Temple has been a key landmark since 1637, just a few decades into the Edo era of 1603-1868. This dimple in history was notable for its stability and popular enjoyment of arts and culture, and Hozen-ji watched throughout its early years as many performance theaters rose – and (most) eventually fell in preference to trendy restaurants. The heyday of the temple made it the center of the popular ritual known as the “One Thousand Days of Prayer,” granting the temple the nickname “Sen-nichi-ji,” or “one thousand-day-temple.” This is even how the local area of Namba has adopted the name of Sennichimae.

According to legend (which all good temples have), a monk by the name of Kinnun helped establish Hozen-ji into a complex that sprawled out like most temples tend to do. However, by the time World War II cast its shadow across the nation, a bombing raid left much of the temple in ruins. The only statue left standing is the god of fury, Fudo Myoo, complete with a sword and scowling face made to scare off evil, as he’s the to help us vanquish evils, affirm discipline and for grant wishes. It is said that nearly a century ago, a local woman prayed here by splashing the statue of Fudo Myoo with water. Not only did this spark the growth of moss all over the statue, but her wish also came true. Ever since then, worshippers pray by splashing Fudo Myoo using a wooden dipper to throw water from a stone vat, and the statue has become completely covered in lush green moss. It has even earned the nickname “Mizukake-Fudo,” meaning “Water Splashing Fudo.” Every evening, a number of locals can be seen slipping in and out of the temple to offer prayers, many of them office workers still in their suits and briefcases in tow. It’s quite the ritual to watch (just don’t get splashed in the process)!

The narrow alleyway of Hozenji Yokocho really takes you back in time, with its cobblestoned pathway and wooden buildings. Despite the spiritual aura of Hozen-ji however, this area has not been completely peaceful. Two major fires in 2002 and 2003 destroyed nearly half of the then-forty wooden restaurants along the lane, and even killed one resident. However, with the fiercest of compassions, the surrounding community rallied together and helped rebuild Yokocho to become even better and now houses around 60 fine establishments. Mr. Watanabe of the restaurant “Katsudon” has said, “I wasn’t aware of how many people loved our stuff before the fires. Our cooperation has become stronger, so it surely was a blessing in disguise”. You can get delicacies ranging from the ever-famous Kobe beef, sushi and Osaka’s very own okonomiyaki here among others.

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