Osaka Brand Committee
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Tracing the History of Horie from and around Amida Pond
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Promoting Environmental Protection from Holistic and Global Perspectives--International Cosmos Prize
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#4 Tracing the History of Horie from and around Amida Pond

Horie was first developed 300 years ago when a canal was built and opened as a new transportation route. The district flourished during the Edo period as the entertainment center after Wako-ji Temple was established in the area and became a place of religion and recreation for people of old Osaka, where a variety of entertainment shows and events were held. While the landscape of Horie has dramatically changed with the times, the temple, or "Amida-ike-san," has been cherished by the locals and is still standing today as a witness of the transition of the community. As we trace the history of Horie we can see how life was spent around the temple's symbolic pond and we find a new and important perspective from which we may reconstruct the multi-layered image of this unique community.
Temple as a center of a variety of entertainments

“Naniwa no nagame”(A view of old-time Osaka), Wako-ji Temple

Originally, Horie was the least developed swampy area in old Osaka. Bordered by the waters of the Nagahori Canal to its north, the Nishiyokobori Canal to its east, the Dotonbori Canal to its south, and the Kizu River to its west, the roots of the district first occurred in the very early Edo period. The development was concentrated on the riverside and the inland area was left untouched for a while until Kawamura Zuiken built the Horie Canal that runs through the center and Wako-ji Temple was established in 1698(Genroku11) in a newly developed quarter named Horie Shinchi (new land). Amida-ike(Amida Pond) is located in the spacious grounds of the temple.

“Dozo Amida-sanzon Ryuzou” (standing bronze statues of Amida-sanzon),
Wako-ji Temple

The name of the pond is derived from a legend of an ancient statue of Amida (Amitabha) Buddha, which is believed to have been brought to Japan from Baekje (ancient Korea) in the 6th century. The statue was once disposed of in the pond during the anti-Buddhism movement but was recovered by a man named Honda Yoshimitsu, who took the statue back to his home in Shinano (today's Nagano Prefecture) and later dedicated it to local Zenko-ji Temple. Based on this legend, a Buddhist monk, Chizen, regarded Horie as a holy place and established Wako-ji Temple. The image of the temple's deity, which is Amida Buddha, is housed in a hall that floats on the pond. The temple has been affectionately called "amida-ike-san" by local people and has been a place of worship for them since.

To collect funds for investment in the development of Horie, the Edo Shogunate gave a variety of priorities to the district to encourage local businesses, by permitting shipping licenses and allowing the opening of markets, for example. The district evolved as the lumber industry flourished on the riverside of the Nagahori Canal, which became known as Zaimokuhama and served as the nation's trading center of lumber. By the end of the Edo period, related manufacturing industries of furniture, Buddhist articles, and ranma (wooden decorative transom) were also established.
During the Edo period, making a visit to a temple was one of the few leisure activities available to the common people. Unlike today, in which a variety of entertainment and amusements are available, people of those days had only limited recreational choice and visiting temples therefore was a rare and important occasion for them to satisfy their spiritual needs, enjoy a break, and relieve themselves from daily stresses. Temples at that time were not only the place of worship but also the destination for leisure.
Temples also tried to attract more visitors in various ways. At Wako-ji Temple, both inside and outside of its grounds were filled with entertainment stages, game arcades, show tents, and street vendors. Its lottery and plant fair also became popular. It was as if parks, theaters, and museums were all located within the temple. Wako-ji Temple gradually became the local center of entertainment.
Entertainment born in Horie --Osaka Zumo--

“Kinryusan Sensoji hogaku shukuzu (the 12th yokozuna Jinmaku Kyugoro)”, Nihon Sumo Kyokai Sumo Museum

 Horie is also known as the origin of Osaka zumo. Although Sumo became a popular entertainment during the Edo period, the Tokugawa government prohibited its promotion as business because of frequent disturbances and fights among the audiences. Instead, it was allowed only to be held as kanjin zumo, or a fund-raising event for temples and shrines. While the word kanjin originally means to encourage people to follow the Buddha's teaching towards good deeds, it was commonly understood as an encouragement of donation to help temples build a new statue or repair old buildings. Because of its popularity, sumo became a good source of revenue for the temples to cover various expenses.

Osaka zumo started as a promotional event for the development of Horie Shinchi. While the Edo government led the development of the district, it divided the land and assigned lots to private developers via bidding. In order to attract new people to the area and to ensure the district prospered, local merchants of Horie asked the government for permission to operate sumo tournaments. The first sumo tournament in Osaka was held in 1702 (Genroku 15) near the present Minamihorie Park.

According to records, the 13-day tournament series was very successful and became quite a profit-earning event for the local developers.
Since then, businessmen as well as sumo wrestlers began to sponsor and hold sumo matches and tournaments in the grounds of temples and shrines by bringing wrestlers from all over the country. Horie was the center of Japanese sumo tradition. In 1765 (Meiwa 2), after the government permitted the operation of kanjin zumo in Namba Shinchi, the tournaments were held alternatively at these two locations. Supported by the economic power of Osaka merchants, the popularity of Osaka zumo once well surpassed that of Edo zumo. By the late 18th century, however, it became an annual routine to hold winter and spring tournaments in Edo and one around summer in Osaka and Kyoto. As major wrestlers moved to Edo, Osaka zumo gradually lost its popularity by the end of the Edo period.
In addition to sumo, the Edo government encouraged Noh and Bunraku theaters as well as the operation of machiai-jaya (tea houses) to promote the development of Horie Shinchi, located on the north side of the Horie Canal. Toyotake Konotayu performed a Ningyo Joruri (Japanese puppet show) in Horie and gained popularity comparable to that of the Dotonbori theater district. The establishment of machiai-jaya led to the growth of the sex entertainment industry and attracted crowds to districts like Shinmachi, a popular red-light quarter in Osaka. The name of Horie was depicted in a number of stories of Ningyo Joruri theaters and Ukiyo Zoshi.
Transition in the landscape of Horie--from rivers to roads, ships to trains
In the northeast corner of the Horie district where the Nagahori Canal and the Nishiyokobori Canal used to cross, there were four bridges, one upstream and one downstream of each river, built to form a square shape around the crossing point. Known as Yotsuhashi, the four bridges were once a symbolic landmark in a tranquil scene of Horie 300 years ago, as it was depicted in a haiku poem by a local poet, Konishi Raizan: "Suzushisa-ni Yotsuhashi-wo Yottsu Watarikeri (as the breeze from the rivers was so comfortable that I kept walking until I crossed all four bridges and came back to where I started)."

Yotsuhashi (Meiji period): Image from Furusato Omoide Shashinshu: Meiji, Taisho, and Showa Osaka (Vol. 2) Published by Kokushokankokai

Yotsuhashi (Showa period): Image from Furusato Omoide Shashinshu: Meiji, Taisho, and Showa Osaka (Vol. 2)  Published by Kokushokankokai

Yotsuhashi (today)


At the turn of the 20th century, railroad networks started to grow as the new transportation that would soon take over from the barges on the rivers. In the Horie district, the Namboku Line along the Yotsubashi-suji Avenue and the Tozai Line along the Nagahori Canal were developed by the city government. Minatomachi Station on the Kansai Tetsudo Line and Shiomibashi Station on the Koya Tetsudo Line also opened along the Dotonbori Canal. Thanks to this convenient transportation, the Horie district continued to evolve both as a residential area and as an entertainment center where various amusement facilities were located.
Although the Horie district was completely burnt down by bombings during World War II, the community gradually recovered with local industries including lumber trade and furniture manufacturing as well as entertainment businesses in Horie Shinchi regained their strength. During the years of postwar economic growth, furniture dealing businesses along the Tachibana-dori Avenue flourished at an unprecedented pace. Meanwhile, the view of the town dramatically changed as the main traffic routes shifted from water to land. The Horie Canal was filled and made into a road in 1960 (Showa 35), followed by the Nagahori Canal in 1964 (Showa 39) and the Nishiyokobori Canal in 1971 (Showa 46). The lumber industry moved to the suburbs and the red-light quarter was closed and transformed into office buildings and car parking facilities. Furniture businesses along the Tachibana-dori Avenue waned as more people moved to the suburbs and large-scale furniture stores opened targeting the increasing suburban population.
In recent years, however, the Horie district has been gaining a refreshed vitality. Since the late 1990's, a number of cafes, galleries, and specialty stores have been opened on the Tachibana-dori Avenue. Large-scale high-class goods stores in Tokyo have also opened their branch stores in the area. Even some of the older furniture stores have changed themselves into fashionable interior decor shops targeting younger generations. Office space for small businesses and SOHOs are increasing, attracting designers and creators.

Wako-ji Temple lost its buildings, including its main hall, during the war. A temporary main hall was built in 1947 (Showa 22) and was used until the main hall was rebuilt in 1961 (Showa 36) with the support of local lumber industry and donations. Legendary Amida Pond (Amida-ike) still exists today as a historical witness of Horie, which once flourished as the water capital.
To gain a true feeling for the history of the town, you just might be able to visit Amida Pond (Amida-ike) and pick up the “vibes” of the old community even today, even as they are starting to fade into the background of what is today’s modern world.

*This article was also featured in "horie bon!”, a community magazine issued by the Horie Machizukuri Committee.

November 29, 2007
Hiroshi Yamanou, Osaka Brand Center