Japan has many castles. Some of them are very ancient, indeed the original structures. Osaka Castle is not one of those, having in fact been rebuilt in 1931 and greatly refurbished in 1997.
The first known structure on this site was built in 1496, when the priest Rennyo of the Jodo-Shinshu Buddhist sect built monks’ quarters that grew into a large temple called Osaka Hongan-ji (Ishiyama Hongan-ji). This temple exerted great influence throughout the country during its period of civil wars.
In 1580, however, Osaka Hongan-ji fell to Nobunaga Oda, who was then rising in power. After Nobunaga’s suicide just two years later, Hideyoshi Toyotomi succeeded him in the campaign to unite the entire country and seized control of Osaka. In 1583, Hideyoshi began building a large-scale castle at the site of Hongan-ji, and the result was the magnificent Osaka Castle, unprecedented in its excellence.
During the Summer War of 1615, some 17 years after Hideyoshi's death, Osaka Castle was completely destroyed by fire. Shogun Hidetaka Tokugawa, who now took control of Osaka, began to rebuild Osaka Castle in 1620; this construction was completed in 1629.
Just 36 years later, the Main Tower was struck by lightning and was lost in fire, not to be reconstructed during the Edo period. In the final days of the Tokugawa regime, funds raised by the townspeople of Osaka and neighboring areas made possible large-scale projects such as reconstruction of the Tamon turret (located at the Ote-mon gate), but many other castle structures were later destroyed by fire during the turbulent transition to Imperial Restoration.
In 1931, the Main Tower was rebuilt in accordance with the wishes of the citizens of Osaka. Made of steel-framed reinforced concrete and 55 meters tall, the reconstructed Main Tower was exposed to intense bombing raids during World War II (as there were many military installations in the vicinity), but even though most other castle structures were lost, the Main Tower fortunately escaped damage.
After the war, Osaka Castle in 1948 began a new era as a “historic site park.” The Main Tower was reopened to the public, repair work on the remaining building was undertaken, and a new museum was established. More recently, such unique structures as Osaka-jo Hall and Osaka Castle Band Shell have contributed to the development of a truly grand-scale international park featuring important historical remains (see map).
In its role as one of Osaka’s most significant historical and cultural properties, Osaka Castle has maintained a close relationship with local citizens as well as visitors. It has been a popular tourist spot for more than 60 years. Large-scale repairs were completed in 1997. The beautiful appearance of the original castle, which was embellished with white walls and glittering gold, has been revived by replastering the outer walls, restoring ornamental fixtures, and reapplying gold leaf. The Main Tower has been reinforced to withstand an earthquake of 7 magnitude on the seismic scale. Further, the elevator has been extended to allow wheelchair access to the Observation Deck. The interior of the Main Tower has also been enhanced to serve as a history museum with a theater room, dioramas, models, many educational displays, and museum shops.
The museum’s official Web site offers a wealth of information about the castle, including floor-by-floor guides to its contents.
As can be seen from the map of Osaka Castle Park, the large park includes the structures mentioned above as well as a baseball field and other buildings. Our tour bus conveyed us through this outlying area and dropped us off just east of the path leading to the Sakura Gate, or Sakura-mon, which is the main entrance to the Honmaru, or Inner Bailey. The name of the gate, which is from the Toyotomi period, was derived from the row of beautiful cherry trees (“sakura”) standing along this site.
Inside the gate, in Sakura-mon Masugata (Square), we saw the immense Tako-ishi or “Octopus Stone,” the largest single block of stone in the castle, with a surface area of about 60 square meters and a weight of 130 tons. To its left is Furisode-ishi, or “Kimono Sleeve Stone,” the third-largest single block of stone, with a surface area of 54 square meters and a weight of 120 tons.
Proceeding through the Inner Bailey, we saw the former site of the Osaka City Museum, which was established as part of the program to commemorate the 70th anniversary of municipalization in 1960. The building, however, was built in 1931, funded by donations from Osaka citizens and used as the headquarters of the former Japanese Army’s Fourth Division. After World War II, the building was used as the headquarters of the Osaka Municipal Police and Osaka Prefectural Police. In 1958, Osaka City became the owner of the building. The museum, now located in a new building outside Osaka Castle Park, holds permanent exhibitions on the history and culture of Osaka and also holds special exhibitions and displays and collects reference materials associated with Osaka, provides citizens with education, and conducts research activities.
Photography was not permitted inside the Main Tower museum, and there would have been no time for pictures, anyway. We spent most of our allotted time climbing the stairs to the Observation Deck, walking around, taking a few pictures from there, and then descending the stairs again. Although we had been provided with English brochures about the castle and museum, almost all the signage inside was in Japanese, as was the narration of the intriguing holographic displays. Given more time, we might have been able to glean some history, but there was no time.
We did enjoy the view from the top, overlooking the Inner Bailey to the south. Looking toward the northeast, we could see Osaka Business Park in the distance and, in the middle ground, the bus parking lot and the bridge we had to cross to get to it.
This bridge over the Inner Moat (we crossed the Outer Moat by bus) was Gokuraku-bashi, which Kyoko told us meant Paradise Bridge or Bridge to Paradise. Like the Paradise Gate (Gokuraku-mon) at Shitennoji, it was envisioned as a passage to the Buddhist Paradise (“Extreme Pleasure” is the literal meaning of Gokuraku).
Just before we crossed the bridge we were charmed by the music of a man playing the Chinese Yang Ch’in, a cousin of the hammered dulcimer.