Sunday, October 24, 2010

Osaka-jo. The Fate of the Toyotomi and Tourists

3rd November, 2006 - With a heavy heart we set out, our last day in Japan - though we didn't know how long. After a short side trip to Yodobashi's to pick up some last minute deals (actually Sapporo was better for prices than Osaka), we arrived at the last stop on our journey. Osaka-jo. The great white shark of Japanese tourist attractions. When you come out of the subway station, it stands high above the surrounding landscape... dominating the skyline.

Yet the outer defences have a feel of quietness as compared to the main keep's brashness. In spring the cherry blossoms define the perimeter, but there were no falling blossoms to greet us this afternoon.

The castle of Osaka was constructed in on the site of Ishiyama Hongan-ji (constructed in the 11th century), next to the ruins of the former capital Naniwa-kyo. The powerful temple was surrended to Oda Nobunaga in 1580, and Toyotomi Hideyoshi started construction of the castle proper in 1583.

Rokuban yagura...

After the death of Hideyoshi in 1598, Tokugawa Ieyasu (one of Hideyoshi's chief supporters) was given responsibility to look after Hideyoshi's son, Hideyori. Following Ieyasu's success in the Battle of Sekigahara in which he established his domination over all of Japan, he was given the title of Shogun. Ieyasu had other plans that did not include the possibility of a competing Toyotomi claim on the prize of a unified Japan; and psuedo-kingship. That right would surely be better placed in a Tokugawa lineage - and that meant no room for doubt. The time had come for Ieyasu to grasp history by the throat. Hideyori, as the living embodiment to Hideyoshi's greatness, had to die. Whilst Hideyori had no desire for ruling Japan - this did not mean that his supporters would go quietly, and in the space of 15 years, Japan would once more be pushed into civil calamity. During the final chapter, in which the pro-Toyotomi forces faced off the pro-Tokugawa forces, Osaka-jo was to be the fateful backdrop.
The Main Keep

By the time that Ieyasu struck, he had already abdicated his role of Shogun to his son (in 1605), thus commencing the Tokugawa reign over Japan...The first campaign in 1614 failed to be decisive, but it lead instead to a begrudging compliance by the Hideyori's followers. As part of that cease-fire agreement, the moat of Osaka-jo was filled in - thus providing a fatal chink in it's protective armour. Yet tension once again rose in 1615 and the two armies once fired into action, culminating in the battle of Tenno-ji in which the 70,000+ strong army of Hideyori took on the 165,000 strong army of Hidetata (Ieyasu's son and current shogun). The wheel of fate turned and in the end the Tokugawa army prevailed and in the resulting retreat the castle was destroyed. Hideyori at the age of 22 commited suicide, along with his mother Yodogimi,  rather than be captured. The remaining family members were captured - and they suffered the fate often meted out to the losers... they were killed. This included Hideyori's 8 year old son, Kunimatsu, who was beheaded. His daughter was the only survivor, who went on to become an abbotess at Tōkei-ji in Kamakura.
The action of Ieyasu was to cement the power of the Tokugawa for the next 250 years.
The castle was almost completely destroyed during the 1615 siege, and then reconstructed in 1620 – only to be destroyed again in 1655 by lightning. The castle again featured in history of the demise of the Tokugawa's when it was razed rather than fall into the pro-imperial forces in 1868. It was then rebuilt in 1931... and we all know how that turned out. Not well for Osaka-jo.

What was left of the castle was destroyed in WWII and the building today is an external replica only (the interior being a small windowless bunker-of-a-museum). And a busy museum at that. The line up to enter can be long... and once your in, you realise that the line-up doesn't stop at the front door. The real queue is for the elevator that takes you direct to the observation deck. We took one look at the queue and decided to take the stairs (and enjoy the museum as we went). Unfortunately no camera's aloud inside the museum... but my honest opinion is that unless you're really into the history Osaka-jo, you might be a little disappointed. That doesn't mean that there not interesting things there - just don't have high expectations. There's little sense (at least for english speakers) of the real history that infuses the stones and timber (and now concrete) of Osaka-jo.

The view from the observation deck is quite startling however, and you can start to appreciate just how important these castles were. Not necessarily for their fortress-like protection (aka European castles)... because clearly they didn't provide much protection at all... but rather as a symbol of power and dominance. To sit perched above the rest of the domain must have been an impressive feeling. Whilst the castle stood.

Shachihoko ornament atop the observation level of the Osaka-jo
Nowawdays, this power is manifest in different ways, and by different people. Yet still we hold to the belief that height gives a commanding position over those that surround us. Now however, we build our castles out of glass.
The view from Osaka-jo
Ah - if I was shogun for a day, things would be different. Free Mister Donuts for all, and cherry blossoms all year round... and while I'm about it, how about an extra 12 months on my holidays.

There's no doubt that Osaka-jo is a must-see attraction in Osaka... but if you've seen the real thing (like Himeji-jo) you might be a little disappointed. Still, that's part of the fun of holidays - and different cultures - it's not what is disappointing, but the fun and excitement of discovering new things (good or bad). And there was a great festive atmosphere to the castle that made it an extra enjoyable experience.

As the sun sank slowly closer to the horizon, we knew that it was setting also on our holiday. With heavy hearts, bodies weary from two weeks of constant adventure, and heads full of amazing memories we made our way back to the hotel - and then on to the airport.

Osaka-jo is a strange symbol of Japan... history fused with the modern. Japan is rarely what it appears from the outside - and every time you feel you know it, and it's people, a bit better... you discover you only know a bit more of the mystery.
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  1. Brilliant article :) of my favourite castle/place in Osaka :D. So much history I didn't even have a clue about.

  2. Thnx. Osaka-jo is a nice place, and especially if it's your first time to see a large-scale Japanese castle (even if it's a replica of one). I haven't even scratched the surface on the history - but that's for another time.

    Nice to hear from you.

  3. as usual breathtaking photos, including that quirky looking shogun near the end. Hoping to be able to visit this attraction when I get to Japan

  4. Wonderful write-up and great photos. Quite frankly, I found myself disliking Osaka Castle. I enjoyed the castle grounds, but the castle itself... disappointing. Now a large part of that disappointment was. I'm sure, that I had visited Himeji just the day before....

    (Every Japanese I talked to told me I *HAD* to visit Osaka before Himeji. I should have listened)

    Having said all that, it is a beautiful castle on the outside.

  5. Yeah... as I said... most likely very disappointing if you've seen the real thing. Very bad luck to see Himeji and Osakajo together however. Having said that... it's most probably hard to say don't go and see it if you're in Osaka.... just be warned.

  6. This is my first visit to this blog. Yeah I saw both himeji castle and o-saka castle a fair while ago. I have some photos of himeji castle I took at night with the glimpse of cherry blossoms on the bottom corner.

    I found The facade of Osaka castle overtly shiny, wasn't my cup of tea. I enjoyed the museum bits inside but. Having said that, it still brings back the dear memory of my friend showing and guiding me around the place and the time I spent with her.

    Personally I have a soft spot for remnants of castles and I assume many people feel the same way. But hey, as Japanese economy the way it is we might as well make some money out of the property!

    Thanks for amazing photos and the great read. I'll check out this blog again. :)