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OB Stories Special Edition: President Toshio HIRANO Vol. 1

Sumiyoshi – The Town and the Shrine

When we got off the train at Sumiyoshi-taisha station on the Nankai Main Line, we were greeted immediately by the Sumiyoshi Taisha, a major shrine in Osaka. About 400 meters from the torii at the entrance, right at the intersection of National Route 26, a takadoro lighthouse towers over us. In the past, with the ocean sprawling out as far as the eye could see, this lighthouse served as a landmark for the harbor that Nintoku Tenno, the grandson of Empress Jingu, built. This stretch of beautiful white sand lined with pine trees was often written as the main subject, or utamakura, in Japanese poetry.

HIRANO:  According to the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, the Sumiyoshi Taisha was built by Empress Jingu in the year 211, which would make it one of the oldest shrines in Japan, with a history of over 1800 years. The 1400-year history of Japan-China exchange was said to have started from this very place when Prince Shotoku dispatched ONO no Imoko to the Sui Dynasty in China in the year 607. It became essential to Japan-China exchange when the Sui Dynasty ended and changed hands to the Tang in 618. These missions to the Sui and Tang Dynasties that were started by Prince Shotoku began in Suminoe-no-tsu, and it’s said that the people of that time prayed for the safety of these journeys at the Sumiyoshi Taisha. I suppose that, in this way, the Sumiyoshi Taisha has been an entrance to the world since ancient times.

While listening to President Hirano’s guide on our way to Sumiyoshi Park, President Hirano caught sight of some children playing in the park.

HIRANO:  I played at this sandbox a lot when I was a kid. We only lived about a 15 minute walk away, so my dad used to bring me on Sundays when I was little. (While looking at the relief monument) The pine forests continued endlessly on the ancient coastline. You can even see some of the remaining forest today. (As if a memory was triggered by the pine forest) I used to go to the Hamadera Swimming Academy during the summers, too. The pine trees in Sumiyoshi were famous as utamakura in the Manyoshu collection of poems, and the home of an authority on the Manyoshu and a late professor emeritus of Osaka University was located nearby.

The Rich History of the Otaue Rice Planting Festival and the Kangetsusai Moon Viewing Festival

Once we went through the torii gates, a famous arched bridge showed up right in front of us. We proceeded to climb up this symbol of the Sumiyoshi Taisha, with its semicircle shape and steep steps.

HIRANO: Nowadays it’s become easier to walk on, but in the past, there were gaps in between the planks of wood, which was quite frightening as a child. During Kangetsusai, there was a subtle yet profound emotion when watching the performers at the Kangetsusai on the arched bridge during a harvest moon.

We continued walking around while taking a look at the ishibutai rock monument, the onda, a rice paddy where a rice planting ritual takes place in June, as well as a monument for the birthplace of Issun-boshi, a Japanese fairy-tale character. Walking along this course seemed to melt away the stress and fatigue that comes from working as a University President. This place is famous for being one where you can be surrounded by the "green" of nature, which Osaka is well-known for having very little of. We then passed Obunko, which is said to be the origin of libraries in Japan, and noticed that it was established in 1723.

HIRANO: “Nearly the same time as Kaitokudo, wow. (Kaitokudo was established in 1724) You can really feel the history in this spot.”

Thinking About the Ships used in the Sui and Tang Dynasty Missions

Soon afterward, we were greeted by Chief Priest Michihiro TAKAI, with whom we had a chat in the shrine office. The love for Osaka and Sumiyoshi shared between the two had them hitting it off right away. Said Chief Priest TAKAI, “I’m so honored that you think so highly of this shrine. And it makes me proud to say that the President of Osaka University came from Sumiyoshi.” He continued, “In the period of the Manyo, the kanji that make up the name “Sumiyoshi” were actually read as “Suminoe.” It was around the Heian period that we began reading it as ‘Sumiyoshi.’” Even now, Suminoe is still right next to Sumiyoshi. It’s also said that the four main shrines of the Sumiyoshi Taisha were composed this way due to the four boats that were dispatched on missions to Tang China.

HIRANO: I always questioned when the kanji for Sumiyoshi changed to their current reading, but Chief Priest Takai’s explanation has convinced me. The missionaries to Tang China that left through the port opened by Nintoku Tenno after visiting the Sumiyoshi Taisha were aiming for the world. The Sumiyoshi Taisha is a treasure of Osaka, and at the same time, you can even say it serves as a guide for Osaka University as it aims to inherit the spirit of Tekijuku in its endeavor to become a World Tekijuku.

President Hirano went on to talk about how he went to see the entrance procession of the sumo wrestlers for the March Grand Sumo Tournament in front of the main shrine with his two grandchildren, as well as reminisce on how “the mikoshi floats being pulled right outside my door during the parades were quite thrilling to watch,” making for lively conversation.

*You can read the rest of this article in the NewsLetter 2014 Special Issue (Coming August 2014)

About Toshio HIRANO

Born in 1947 in Anryu, Sumiyoshi-ku, Osaka (now Suminoe-ku), President Toshio HIRANO attended Anryu Elementary School and Sumiyoshi Junior High School before moving on to Osaka Prefectural Tennoji Senior High School. After graduating high school, President Hirano entered the Osaka University School of Medicine in 1966. In junior high school, he often went stargazing, and in high school, he played the violin, all while participating in the hiking club at school. He joined the Alpine Club at the School of Medicine after entering Osaka University. He has climbed all of the mountains of over 3000 meters in Japan, save for Mt. Fuji. He also enjoys swimming in his free time. His hobbies include listening to music and reading. He also enjoys taking his Audi TT out for a drive from time to time. Unfortunately, because of his position as President of Osaka University, he doesn’t have too much free time.

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