Osaka: Exploring Osaka Castle (大阪城)
One of the most famous landmarks of any major Japanese city is their historic pre-Meiji-era castle. Being in Osaka, we wasted no time visiting is its own castle, the Osaka Castle (大阪城, Osaka-jo).
We made our trip quite early, at about 8 in the morning. The castle complex is so large that it took us almost thirty minutes to walk from the bus stop to the main keep. The castle grounds cover approximately 60,000 square meters and contained thirteen structures designated as cultural assets by the Japanese government. Like other Japanese castles, the Osaka Castle is also surrounded by a moat, and another moat surrounds the inner ward.
The recommended entrance to the Osaka Castle grounds is through the Otemon or the Main gate. It is one of the few original structures still standing and is one of the Cultural Assets of the Japanese government.
Immediately upon entrance, at the right side used to be a turret called the Ichitamon turret. It was so called because merchants used to enter the Otemon gate on a regular basis, “ichi” in Japanese means “market”. The turret was burned down during the Meiji restoration and only its base remains today.
At the southern part of the castle grounds is the Shudokan. We stopped here for a while to rest. This structure is used for training Japanese martial arts such as karate.
After a short rest, we continued walking. At last, we reached the Sakuramon (Sakura Gate) – this is the entrance to the inner ward where the main keep is located.
Upon entrance, there is a large building at the right-hand side which used to house the Osaka City museum. The building, built in a “Western” style, was originally constructed as an Army headquarters and one of the buildings that survived the heavy bombing of the Second World War. The building is currently closed and there’s no public access inside the building.
THE MAIN KEEP
This is not the first time to visit the Osaka Castle. During our first visit, we went to the site quite late that we just had a quick visit, and we missed entering the main keep.
When we were given another opportunity to visit Osaka, we swore that we will be staying much longer and that we will be visiting the Main Keep. During this visit to the Osaka Castle, the place is crowded with tourists. Among them are tourist groups, such as school children doing a field trip and a couple of Chinese tourist groups. The queue line to the Main Keep is so long, and having no tent nor trees serving as a shade, we have to endure queuing up under the summer sun. While the entrance to the castle ground itself is free, you have to pay 300 yen to enter the Main Keep.
The original Main Keep was burned down during the Siege of Osaka Castle in 1868, during the Meiji restoration, in which the Imperial forces captured the castle from the Shogunate. After the siege, the castle is to be converted later into army barracks and arsenal which kept in use until the Second World War.
The current structure is a replica of the wooden original, having been built using iron and concrete, similar to how modern buildings are typically made. The reconstruction was initiated by the Osaka mayor in 1928.
During the Second World War, the castle was severely damaged by air raids. In 1995, the government decided to restore the castle to its Edo-era splendor and was completed two years later. While the outer structure looks like the original, the interiors are all modern, including elevators and air-conditioning, and is turned into a museum.
Among those exhibited in the museum are artifacts, scrolls, and paintings depicting the life during the Edo period. Among the artifacts are various swords and war gear worn by the samurai.
Also displayed are details of the original Osaka castle, its plans and the intricacies of how the original wooden structure is built.
The museum also has a couple of dioramas and scale models, some depicting some of the most famous battles in the history of Osaka. There is also a scale model of the Castle Town, or the Osaka Castle grounds during the Edo period. One of which awed me and became my favorite is the diorama depicting the Summer War of Osaka where the forces of Yukimura Sanada and Tadanao Matsudaira battled. The diorama was meticulously arranged from the Japanese scroll painting depicting the battle, whose replica served as its backdrop.
During our visit, there had been a donation box for other Japanese castles, including one for the Kumamoto Castle which was damaged by an earthquake that April.
Visitors can also visit the upper floor, which offers a great 360-degree view of the Osaka Castle and the Osaka City if they are not obstructed by taller buildings. A safety wire; mesh fence is installed, with one foot horizontal spacing for an unobstructed view, which is most probably to deter anyone from jumping down especially in a country where suicide is quite common.
- 600 yen – Main Keep
- 200 yen – Nishomaru Garden
The recommended approach to Osaka Castle is through Otemon Gate at the park’s southwestern corner. The closest station is Tanimachi 4-chrome Station along the Tanimachi Subway Line and Chuo Subway Line.
The closest JR station to Osaka Castle is Osakajokoen Station on the JR Loop Line, a 10 minute, 160 yen ride from JR Osaka Station.