are over 2,000 shrines throughout the country called Sumiyoshi
- and affectionately known as "Sumiyoshi-san" - but the "Sumiyoshi-san"
in Osaka's Sumiyoshi Ward, as a grand shrine, is the head and
the originator of all its namesakes. To many, it is familiar
as a popular place to offer the first prayer of the new year
as well as for the three million people, including a large number
of Osaka residents and others, who pay their respects at the
shrine over the course of the three-day celebration each year.
The architecture of Sumiyoshi Shrine is thought to date back
to Empress Jingu, and the construction of the shrine is believed
to have been carried out in the Nara Period, though specific
details are no longer extant. Known since time immemorial as
a protective deity of ships and the sea,
prayers for the safety of Japanese envoys
to Tang-dynasty China were made at the shrine. One
of Sumiyoshi's distinctive features is that the four shrine
buildings all face the ocean. Since the Heian Period, worshipers
have considered the shrine to be the home of the _waka_ poetry
deity, and countless poems dating back to the era take
Sumiyoshi Shrine as their subject. Besides being a site
of worship and interest to many visitors, Sumiyoshi Shrine plays
an important role in regional government and business events
as well as playing host to cultural and performing arts events
throughout the year. The present-day main hall of the shrine
was reconstructed in 1810. Its vermilion paint, cypress-bark
thatch and gabled roof are characteristic of the "Sumiyoshi-zukuri"
form, one of the oldest types of shrine architecture in Japan,
which led it to become the only building designated as a National
Treasure in the city of Osaka.
The _soribashi_ (arched bridge) with
its distinctive red handrails and half-moon shape, inspiring
also the name _taikobashi_ (drum bridge), has long been known
as the symbol of Sumiyoshi Shrine. The bridge's resemblance
to the body of a drum may have led to the name _taikobashi_,
but one imagines that in an era when many people wore _geta_,
walking across the wooden panels of the bridge must have made
quite a racket. The bridge, it is said, was donated by Yodogimi
(one of Toyotomi Hideyoshi's concubines) in the Keicho era (1596-1615).
Long ago, Sumiyoshi was called Suminoe, and even in the _Kojiki_,
Japan's oldest extant chronicle dating back to the 7th century,
there is mention of Suminoe as an important port. The coastline
at that time extended up to what is now the west side of Sumiyoshi
Shrine, and the pond that the arched bridge presently spans
still retains the name Irie (or "port entrance"). The bridge
was constructed to connect the main shrine with the opposite
shore of Irie. The striking bridge piers, made of granite, are
the same ones that Yodogimi had built hundreds of years ago,
but the wooden columns and floorboards have been replaced numerous
times after falling into disrepair. The wooden bridge panels
have been donated by generation after generation of shipbuilders.
Since the current bridge, which was completed in 1981, was designed
with footholds in a staircase-like form and bronze handrails,
it has become slightly easier to cross the bridge.