A Brief History of Osaka Castle

While Osaka is home to many castles, one castle in particular is especially dear to the Osaka people, and that is Osaka Castle itself. Located in the very heart of Osaka City, the castle  welcomes people from all over the world every year. Osaka Castle is so big and there are so many things to see, so naturally it would be too lengthy if we tried to cover every single thing at once. In this particular article we will be focus primarily on the history of the castle.

Osaka Castle, from Nishinomaru Garden.

 Next time, we will give our special guide Osaka Castle, it’s main tower and all the things you need to keep you eyes opened for. Finally, we’ll cover the castle grounds as well the numerous famous and historic things around the castle.

Be sure to check out the rest of our Osaka Castle series:

A Local’s Guide to Osaka Castle
Osaka Castle: Castle Garden and Iconic Spots

 

The History of Osaka Castle

 Toyotomi Hideyoshi built the first Osaka Castle after he successfully conquered Japan in 1583.That same year Hideyoshi chose to build his castle atop one of the highest points, the Uemachi Plateau. Hideyoshi’s decision to build on the Uemachi Plateau is hardly a surprise because it is the most militarily sound location in the city. In addition to the plateau’s elevation, it is surrounded by several rivers, make any attempt to ambush someone’s stronghold difficult. In fact, these natural fortifications have made this site a favorite choice of a number of powerful people namely, emperors Kotoku and Nintoku, as well as the infamous militarized Ishiyama Honganji monks.

Artistic rendering of Hideyoshi’s castle. One of the most iconic feature of Hideyoshi’s castle were its stunning black walls with gold fixtures.

However, after Hideyoshi’s death, Tokugawa Ieyasu quickly gained power and fought against Hideyoshi’s only biological son, Hideyori, who also lived in Osaka Castle. Even though Hideyori had formidable retainers, such as Sanada Yukimura [真田幸村], they were ultimately defeated and Hideyori, along with his mother, killed themselves as Tokugawa’s soldiers set the castle ablaze, burning everything to the ground.

Tokugawa’s Castle

After Tokugawa Ieyasu became Shogun, he gave his son Tokugawa Hidetada the task of rebuilding Osaka Castle. The first thing Tokugawa did was eradicate all traces of Hideyoshi by ordering them to bury anything remaining of the previous Hideyoshi’s castle. Once the smoke cleared, Tokugawa started construction of Osaka Castle on top of the ashes of Hideyoshi’s once grand castle. After 10 years, Tokugawa completed his version of Osaka Castle in 1629.

However, in 1660, there was a huge explosion when lightning struck the gun powder storage room. The massive explosion blew most of the castle tower to pieces and burned down many of the structures in Honmaru.

Reconstructed Gun Powder Storage room outside of Nishinomaru Garden. This granite version has remained intact since 1685.
Inside of storage room. The storage room is opened to the public for a few days in the spring.

After the explosion, the castle’s main tower was not rebuilt for nearly 300 years. Instead, a large government services building called Honmaru Goten [本丸御殿] was built near where the castle tower originally stood.

Tokugawa version of Osaka Castle. No castle tower is present. Honmaru Goten iconic black roof is visible in the inner most circle of the castle grounds.

 

The Destruction of Osaka Castle…Again

By the end of the Edo Period, things were looking grim for the Tokugawa Government. The arrival of Perry in 1853 plunged Japan into political turmoil. After years of strife and political conflict the last shogun of the Tokugawa Government, Yoshinobu [徳川慶喜] dissolve the shogunate. In doing so, the Imperial court seized everything that had once belong to those who served Tokugawa. Naturally, Tokugawa loyalists became unhappy, starting the Boshin War [戊辰戦争] between Imperial forces and remaining Tokugawa forces.

Bakufu destruction of Osaka Castle.

Yoshinobu and his armed forces set up camp in Osaka Castle, since it was close to Kyoto. Unfortunately, Yoshinobu’s forces lost to Imperial troops just south of Kyoto. After learning of their defeat, Yoshinobu quickly and secretly fled back to Edo. Unknowingly abandoned by their leader, Yoshinobu’s forces continued to occupy Osaka Castle. Defeat was inevitable as Imperial soldiers made their way to Osaka Castle. Rather than be slaughtered, or worse, the remaining Tokugawa forces set fire to Osaka Castle. The fire destroyed many of the castle’s buildings, including Honmaru Goten.

Memorial for Tokugawa loyalists who died in Osaka Castle.  Located next to Peace Osaka Museum.

*Disclaimer: The events at the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate were really complex. We have outlined an extremely abridged version of this period, but we’ll cover it at a later date.

Military Occupation of Osaka Castle

After the Meiji Era, Osaka Castle became the property of the Japanese military. The castle eventually came to house what was probably the largest weapons factory in East Asia. The factory produced everything from guns to cannons and was the principle reason Osaka became a target during WWII.

One of the few buildings left from the military’s time at Osaka Castle is the chemical testing center found in Sanomaru.

Remains of chemical testing center. The building never produced means of chemical warfare.
Remains of chemical storage unit.

 

The People’s Castle

The Dai Osaka Jidai

In 1921, a big earthquake hit Tokyo resulting in many casualties and displacing many more. In search of a new place to call home, the survivors of the earthquake moved from Tokyo to Osaka. By 1925, Osaka City had expanded dramatically and even outnumbered Tokyo in population, making it the biggest city in Japan. This was the start of the brief Dai Osaka Jidai, the “Big Osaka Period”.

The Heart of Osaka

The Dai Osaka Jidai was lead by one of Osaka’s most famous mayors, Seki Hajime [関一] . Seki was ambitious and ordered construction of the city’s subway system, Midosuji Street, and many more. Most of Osaka’s iconic Western-style buildings were also constructed around this time as well.
Seki also planned to rebuild the castle for the city’s residences, but since he had already authorized so many other projects, there wasn’t enough money to build a castle. Amazingly, the people of Osaka poured money into the reconstruction effort. When the castle was completed in 1931 the funding had almost entirely come from donations made by the city’s residence.

The main building for the Japanese military used a considerable amount of the donation money.

This version of Osaka Castle sought to combine the two previous castles by building a replica of Hideyoshi’s palace on top of the stone wall left from the Tokugawa Period. However, the Osaka Fire Bombings of WWII destroyed much of the city  and brought the reconstruction to a halt. Despite the air raids, the main tower somehow survived and still stands to this day.

Osaka Castle, Osaka Japan

It is clear to see that Osaka Castle dear to the hearts of the people of Osaka for many reasons. For centuries, the castle has been a symbol of the the city’s grandeur, power, and resilience. Though the castle will probably never again be a source of political influence, today it serves the equally important role of connecting and sharing Osaka’s past with the city’s residence and with numerous visitors from all over the world. 

Don’t load up on souvenirs just yet! There is even more to explore.

Coming next time,
A Guide to Osaka Castle 

The adventure continues…

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