Tenjin Matsuri, July, Sumiyoshitaisha Shrine, Osaka-shi, Osaka
Having a history of more than 1,000 years, the Tenjin Matsuri, which is one of the three greatest festivals of Japan, is also the world's greatest boat festival. It is a summer festival held at the Tenman Shrine dedicated to Sugawara-no-Michizane (845-903), who is deified as Tenman Tenjin, the patron god of learning and art. On the days of the festival, traditional Japanese performing arts such as kagura music, which is performed when paying homage to gods, and bunraku theatrical performances using puppets are performed in all parts of the city, and the entire city becomes filled with a festive mood.
One of the highlights of the festival is the land procession, which is a parade of some 3,000 people dressed in the imperial-court style of the 8th-12th Centuries marching beside portable shrines. The other highlight is the boat procession, when the same 3,000 people board some 100 boats from the approach of the Tenmabashi Bridge and sail upstream.
At dusk, the boats lit up with fires which are ignited to illuminate the surroundings for patrolling or fishing are reflected on the river surface, creating an exquisite view. And on the riverbanks where pavilions are set up, the citizens and tourists enjoy the cool evening air as they cheer at the Tenjin Matsuri Hono Hanabi fireworks display taking place at the same time.
The Osaka-style handclapping for closing a ceremony performed when the crowd of 3,000 returns to the Tenman Shrine is well worth seeing, too. The rhythmical handclaps and shouts evoke an air of the ideal Osaka iki (stylish and charming) lifestyle held by the townspeople in the Edo Period; which is quite distinct from Tokyo-style iki. This festival is just the place to visit if you want to get to know more about Osaka.