How do I know that it’s summer in Japan? Well, for starters, the heat and humidity have definitely cranked up. While I am fairly diligent in my efforts to practice setsuden (energy saving), I must admit to having the air conditioner on all last week! Two, the seasonal monsoons season has arrived. While not nearly as tropical in nature as the rains I experienced in Okinawa, June certainly can be wet wet month in Japan. Perhaps the most enjoyable sign of summer, however, is the annual planting of rice seedlings in their paddies. While in Osaka over the weekend, I was lucky enough to catch one of Japan’s most famous rice planting festivals, the Otaue Rice Festival at Sumiyoshi Shrine.
Rice seedlings can be transferred to flooded paddies anytime between late April and late June but it seems this Osaka festival heralds the true start of rice season in the Kansai (central Honshu) region. Why was the festival held at Sumiyoshi Shrine, one of Osaka’s oldest and most important shrines? Centuries before, most Japanese believed that appealing to the gods would have an effect on the quality of their rice and the quantity of the harvest. Therefore, while farmers would plant the fields surrounding the shrine with seedlings, priests would perform dances and incantations, appealing to the shrine deities to bless the harvest and allow it to prosper.
Today, priests are still involved in the ritual, though now they are joined by young girls in formal kimono and makeup, kagura (traditional dance) performers, and men of all ages who demonstrate ancient combat techniques. Amongst all of the music and dance, groups of traditionally-clad men and women (ostensibly representing farmers, I presume, though I am unsure of their actual occupation) carefully inserted bundles of flourescent green rice into the flooded paddy. In general, rice is harvested in the fall, and I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for a similar festival taking place here around that time.
Sumiyoshi Shrine is not difficult to get to, especially if you are already in the main shopping and dining district of Namba in downtown Osaka. Simply take a Nankai Main Line train (LOCAL only) from Namba Nankai station to Sumiyoshi Station. The ride takes around 10 minutes and costs ¥200. When you exit the station, the shrine entrance is a three minute walk away. Even if a festival is not on, Sumiyoshi Shrine is absolutely worth checking out.