The Osaka Castle was built in 1496 as a temple complex, named Ishiyama Hongan-ji. In addition to the monk's quarters and temple, the entire complex was fortified to protect the inhabitants from the efforts of the warlord Hideyoshi Toyotomi to consolidate his hold on the region. Hideyoshi succeeded in driving out the main priest, Kennyo, after an 11 year struggle, and began construction of the main tower, shown in the picture to the left, in 1583. As you can tell from the diagram at the right, Osaka Castle itself was a large, sprawling fortress, surrounded by a wide moat and guarded by a series of defensive walls. With a main gate that afforded only limited access up a walled approach and its own source of water, the Osaka complex designed by the monks and further fortified by Hideyoshi was intended to withstand the sieges that often marked the struggles between Shoguns for land and supremacy. Indeed, Hideyoshi Toyotomi's rule, which began in 1583, was to last a relatively short time; after successfully fending off a siege by the rival Tokugawa Shogun in the winter of 1614, the rule of Hideyoshi Toyotomi came to end in the Summer Battle of 1615. The Osaka Castle grew in size and fortification under the Tokugawa Shogunate (1620-1868). Following a decline at the end of the Tokugawa rule, Osaka Castle underwent major renovations in 1931 and 1935.
Tours of the castle begin
at the only point of access across the inner system of moats, the Sakura-mon
Gate (left), which leads to the inner bailey, or courtyard. Much
narrower than the entrances to many of the Edo Period Castles, the
entrance opens onto a relatively narrow pass that is lined on both
sides by stone walls. The walls themselves turn at right angles, and
this would limit the speed and movement of anyone who successfully
breached the Ote-mon (outer) Gate. The photo to the right
gives one some idea of the scale of the outer protective wall.
Our tour of the Osaka Castle complex centered around the distinctive Main Tower, which is also a museum. The tower sits at the far end of the inner bailey, and is accessed via two sets of stairs. On the landing between the flights of stairs sits the Kinmeisui Well, shown in the photo to the left. The well casing and housing date from the Toyotomi reconstruction and served as the central water source for the castle. One more flight up is the entrance to the Main Tower, flanked on one side by the famous "marker gun," a cannon from the Tokugawa era that was fired every day to signal the noon hour. (photo to the left) The entrance to the Main Tower (below left) leads to the ground floor of the eight-story museum that now occupies this central location in Osaka Castle. The museum itself, however, is laid out in reverse fashion; the exhibit, which goes in more or less chronological order, floor by floor, starts at the 8th floor and finishes on the second. The first floor contains a small theater (right), a gift shop and information area.
The 8th floor contains an outdoor observation deck, as well as a series of Nishikie (multi-colored woodblock prints) that offer a view of the Port of Naniwa, as it appeared around the time of the Shoguns. The photo to the left shows a shachi (roof tile in the form of a mythical ocean fish) that is found at the peak of the roof. This view from the observation deck overlooks the Osaka Municipal Building. The photo to the right shows the Nishikie block prints that line the 8th floor walls, as well as the television monitors that also show scenes from the port while explaining the growth of Osaka during its early years.
The 7th floor focuses upon the history of Osaka Castle and its environs during the reign of its first shogun, Hideyoshi Toyotomi. The photo to the left shows the large screen panel that traces the lineage of the Shogun and his family. Around the walls of this floor are a number of monitors that display holographic images of the Shogun at key points in his life. (photo to the right) The narratives lead up to the two fateful sieges, the winter siege of 1614 and the summer siege of 1615, that led to the downfall of the Toyotomi family and the rise of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Also contained on the 7th floor is another panel that describes the history of the Osaka Castle and the changes introduced during the reign of Hideyoshi Toyotomi. (photo at bottom left)
The 5th and 6th Floors are devoted to the transition period between the fall of the Toyotomi Shogunate and the rise of the final Japanese Shogunate, the Tokugawa. The main subject of this transitional era is, of course, the monumental struggle between the two families for supremacy. In 1603, Ieyasu Tokugawa who increased in power after Hideyoshi's death, established the Shogunate in Edo (Tokyo) and held ruling power. However, there remained a tense relationship between the Toyotomi family and the Tokugawas even after the Tokugawa Shogunate was founded. In 1614, Ieyasu Tokugawa accused Hideyoshi Toyotomi falsely, which triggered off the Winter Siege of Osaka. For about one month, the Toyotomi Forces, consisting of about 100,000 soldiers, held Osaka Castle and defended the castle from the attack of the Tokugawa Forces, consisting of 200,000 soldiers. But the Tokugawa Forces did not succeed in capturing the sogamae (outer citadel). After concluding peace, however, the outer moats of Osaka Castle were filled up and the castle became defenseless, in which the only Honmaru (Inner Bailey) remained. The Toyotomi family began restoration of Osaka Castle by digging up the outer moats which had been filled up after the family had concluded peace with the Tokugawa family in the Winter Siege of Osaka. The Tokugawas, however, regarded the work as rearmament, which triggered off the Summer War of Osaka. It was five months after the end of the Winter Siege. The Toyotomi Forces struck the Tokugawas first outside the castle, but they had to retreat to Osaka Castle which was almost defenseless. As a result of the War, the city was in utter confusion. Osaka Castle finally fell and the Toyotomi family was ruined. The photo to the left shows miniatures of the two families as they appeared during the summer war, while the photo to the right is a wall sized video telling the story of the Summer War of Osaka.
The 3rd and 4th floors are dedicated to the historical materials gathered from the reign of Hideyoshi Toyotomi, as well as scale models of the Osaka Castle complex as it appeared during both the Toyotomi and Tokugawa periods. The photo to the left shows some of the 8,000 artifacts on display. These are wall scrolls depicting the life and times of Hideyoshi Toyotomi. A larger image of one of the scrolls is visible in the photo to the right. In addition to the wall scrolls and models, this section of the exhibition also tells the story of the clash between the mighty shoguns on a series of exquisitely painted wall screens. The photoat the bottom left tells the story of the Summer Battle as the Toyotomi army, outnumbered 3 to 1, suffered a crushing defeat on the plains outside of Osaka Castle. The Castle itself was largely destroyed and then rebuilt during the reign of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Restored first in 1933 and then again in 1995, the Castle is now a public park, featuring restoration of many of the original buildings and fortifications. It is now also home to one of Japan's largest entertainment venues, a huge Osaka stadium located within the Castle walls. Freed from its feudal past, Osaka Castle today is a popular spot for tourists and locals alike, especially in the spring time, when the path from the Ote-mon gate is lined with cherry trees in full bloom.
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