Once Japan's mightiest fortress, Osaka Castle served twice as a stronghold for religious extremists from the late 15th to the early 17th century.
The first fortress, known as Ishiyama Honganji, was built in 1496 by the Ikkō-ikki, a rebellious Buddhist organisation composed of warrior-monks and peasants of the True Pure Land sect (=> see Honganji for more details). Constructed on a monumental scale and deemed impregnable, the fortress was nevertheless taken in 1580 by Oda Nobunaga, following the longest siege in Japan's history.
Nobunaga's successor as ruler of Japan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi started building Osaka Castle on the same spot in 1583. The gigantic fortifications stretched over 15 km (9 mi.) and were protected by two deep moats surrounded by 40-metre-high walls made of massive granite blocks. Massive drawbridges with iron-plated gates were protected by bulwarks with embrasures for archers. Inside the walls were not just the keep, but a small town of its own right, with elaborated pleasure gardens to distract its occupants. 100,000 men toiled for 3 years to complete the new castle. The result was one of the greatest military fortress ever seen on Earth. After Hideyoshi's death in 1598, Osaka Castle became the residence of his 5-year-old son and designated successor, Hideyori. The stronger of the five regents, Tokugawa Ieyasu, won a decisive battle at Sekigahara in 1600, near Nagoya, and became sole ruler of Japan.
A new religious forced was becoming problematic for the new shogun. Portuguese missionaries had been preaching the Catholic faith since 1550. There were close to 300,000 Christian converts in Japan, including some feudal lords and courtiers. When it became clear that their religious allegiance was often placed above shogunal authority, Ieyasu issued the Christian Expulsion Edict, in January 1614. Japanese Christians and Portuguese missionaries rallied around Hideyori and sought refuge in Osaka Castle, with an army of 130,000 men. Tokugawa Ieyasu only managed to take the fortress through cunning and scheming. After assieging Osaka for two and a half months in the winter 1614-5, Ieyasu signed a peace treaty with Hideyori, and ordered the castle moats to be filled and its walls dismantled. Worried by Ieyasu's motives, Hideyori started repairing the fortifications. This prompted Ieyasu to declare war again, and assault the weakened fortress with 180,000 troops. This time the castle fell and was set ablaze. Hideyori and his mother committed seppuku, while his 8-year-old son, Kunimatsu, was beheaded, leaving the Tokugawa clan as the unchallenged rulers of Japan for the next 250 years.
Osaka castle was rebuilt shortly afterwards, in 1620 under the Tokugawa Hidetada. In 1867, the Meiji Restoration put and end to the Tokugawa shogunate. Troops loyal to the Bakufu tried to regroup under Tokugawa Yoshinobu at Osaka Castle. In February 1868, the castle fell to the pro-Imperial "Kangun" forces, and was destroyed once again.
In 1928, the mayor of Osaka undertook a highly successful fund-raising campaign to restore the the main keep. The present building was completed in 1930. Further renovations took place from 1995 to 1997. The indestructible moat and granite walls are of course the original stuff. Yet, the castle grounds, covering a mere 6 hectares (15 acres) today, are but a pale shadow of ts former grandeur.
Admission to the castle grounds and park is free. You will be charged ￥600 to visit the museum inside (9:00 am to 5:00 pm). You can get to the castle by metro/subway to Tanimachi-Yonchōme station (Chūō or Tanimachi line) or by JR train to Osaka-jō-kōen. Check the official website for more information about the castle's history.
Between the castle park and Tanimachi-Yonchōme station, you will find the very sizeable Osaka Museum of History (大阪歴史博物館), with exhibits spreading on 8 floors in a modern glass tower.
Opening Hours & Admission
Osaka Castle and Nishinomaru Garden are both open everyday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm (until 16:30 from November through February). The last entrance to the castle is 4.30 pm. Admission is ¥600 to the castle and ¥200 to the garden. During the cherry blossom season the garden is open utnil 8.00 pm but admission is raised to ¥500.
How to get there
Osaka Castle can easily be reached from Osaka station using the JR Osaka Loop Line until Osakajokoen Station (10 min). It will take you an additional 15 minutes walk (1.5 km) to get to the center of the park until the castle itself.