History Sightseeing

Osaka Castle

The keep from the outer bailey’s plum orchard.

Osaka Castle is one of the most impressive places I’ve ever seen. It consists of an inner bailey containing the keep, an outer bailey, and sits just south of the intersection of the O, Neya, and Daini Neya rivers providing a tertiary moat on one side. Its massive footprint was once filled with military buildings, but has been converted into a public park and the only fee is for climbing the keep.

The outer bailey currently contains a Shinto shrine, and a martial arts training hall, where I could see high school students competing in kendo.

The keep from inside the inner bailey.

The keep’s interior has been converted into a museum, and has modern decor, so I have yet to see what the inside of a Japanese keep really looks like. Although crowded, the museum was interesting.

The castle was bound up in the Warring States era, a tumultuous period of Japanese history lasting approximately from 1467 to 1615. The castle was built in 1583 as the headquarters of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a lord from humble beginnings with the ambition of unifying Japan and becoming shogun, the head of a national military government.

Despite his peasant background, Toyotomi Hideyoshi had expensive tastes. One portion of the museum was a replication of his small private tea room, in which everything was covered in gold except for the tatami mats, his tea whisk, and the paper in the sliding door.

In the sun, the keep seems to be covered in gold.

The first castle looks to have been impressive, but after Tokugawa Ieyasu was declared shogun (1603) having defeated Toyotomi in 1600, he began a major military construction program in the Kansai region to suppress any lingering threats. Between 1620 and 1629 the castle was enlarged to its current size, which still feels imposing even across the river from a modern corporate district. The keep was later burned down by lightning and rebuilt, then the castle was burned down again and restored once more as a result of the Meiji Restoration in 1868.

On that note, it’s worth pointing out just how big those embankments are. They’re huge.

I’m unclear on how these cliffs would have been topped off. In most castles, they seem to have trees growing on them. Given the watchtowers at strategic points, I strongly suspect that originally there would not have been trees, but a substantial wooden wall.

View from the shore to the inner bailey and the keep.

After exploring for a while, I had a fun conversation with a middle-aged man who spends his free time approaching tourists to practise his English. Happy to practise teaching, I obliged. He carried a globe, and showed me how useful maps can be in bridging a language gap and finding things to talk about.

View from across the Neya river. The far shore is separated from the castle again by the Daini Neya, over which there is a bridge to the outer bailey.

In case I haven’t said it enough, this place is big. To the Osaka residents of 400 years ago, it must have appeared massive. I can’t help but think that Tokugawa was making a statement of dominance by enlarging an already quite serviceable castle. The Tokugawa Shogunate governed from Edo (now Tokyo) with a regional headquarters in Kyoto’s smaller and more comfortable Nijo castle. Osaka castle was more military, a giant fortress in the middle of Tokugawa’s enemy’s former territory.