The Symbol of Osaka
Osaka Castle has a history of more than 400 years. It was originally built by one of the greatest warlords in the history of Japan, a man who was born the son of a humble farmer. Few on earth have risen as far and fast as he, or left such a striking monument, which now stands as the symbol of Osaka.
Hideyoshi's Grand Vision
Osaka Castle was originally built by Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1537-1598), one of the three great warlords and unifiers of medieval Japan. Construction commenced in 1583 on the former site of the Ishiyama Honganji Temple, a stronghold of warrior priests which had been lost to fire three years earlier in a war with Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582), another of the three great medieval warlords and Hideyoshi's former commander. Hideyoshi intended the castle to become the center of a new, unified Japan under his rule.
It took 60,000 laborers a year and a half to complete the castle's keep and tower. Hideyoshi, who had proclaimed himself the successor of Nobunaga Oda, modeled the castle after Nobunaga's Azuchi Castle, except on a much grander and more imposing scale, one that would allow him to flaunt his unprecedented wealth. Vast masses of stone were transported to the site from all around the Osaka area by more than a thousand vessels, the innermost palace was embellished with silver and gold, and priceless treasures were laid out and stacked up on every floor of the Main Tower.
The Great Castle Falls
For fifteen years, until Hideyoshi's death in 1598, the castle kept growing and expanding, becoming ever stronger and more luxurious. And all around it Osaka was growing and expanding too; it was becoming the very picture of the castle town of the modern age—a political, military, economic and cultural center with the mansions of powerful feudal lords clustered closely about the castle and everything else radiating out from there.
Two years after Hideyoshi's death, his forces were defeated at one of the great battles of the war that threatened to divide the country in half; the forces of Ieyasu Tokugawa (1542-1616) were victorious. Ieyasu was the third of the great medieval warlords and one who, like Hideyoshi before him, succeeded in unifying the entire country under his rule, establishing the Tokugawa Shogunate, based in Edo, that would last for 260 years. In 1615, Tokugawa's troops came down from Edo, attacked and destroyed Osaka Castle, and terminated the Toyotomi lineage.
Repeated Rebuilding in the Edo Period
Osaka Castle was subsequently rebuilt by the Tokugawa Shogunate, which ordered that the walls be "twice as tall" as before, and that the moats be "twice as deep." But in 1660, less than forty years after its reconstruction, the castle was largely destroyed when lightning struck one of its explosives warehouses. And five years later, in 1665, lightning struck again, this time hitting the Main Tower, which burned down. A little over a hundred years after that, in 1783, lightning struck yet once again. But by that time the castle had lost much of its former splendor.
In the mid-nineteenth century the Tokugawa Shogunate, by forced subscription, collected sufficient funds from the people of Osaka and neighboring cities to renovate all the buildings of the castle with the exception of the Main Tower. That was not restored until the twentieth century—until the late 1920's, when the citizens of Osaka voluntarily and enthusiastically contributed enough money to turn the castle into a permanent historical monument. The Main Tower, the third one in the castle's history, was completed on November 7, 1931. It rises to a height of 55 meters from the ground.
Return to Former Glory
During World War II, the castle keep was damaged, though it weathered many of the bombing raids that destroyed other old buildings surrounding it. Moreover, in 1950, it was battered by a powerful typhoon that hit the area. The keep survived, but over the years there had been steady deterioration in many parts of the structure. So in 1995 a major renovation of the castle was undertaken. The idea was to restore it to its original appearance, to bring it back in all its glory, to make it a fitting, and even breathtaking symbol of Osaka.
The work required very high technology and very close accuracy. It also required great patience: more than 50,000 individual copper roof tiles were removed, and before they were re-installed, 80% of them were cleaned and repaired. All the gold-leaf edge tiles of the eaves were also removed, cleaned and repaired. Intensive waterproofing measures were taken in many inaccessible places. All the outer walls were replastered, the ornamental fixtures were restored, and gold leaf was re-applied throughout. These repairs have brought back the castle's stunning appearance of old—with pure white walls and striking accents of glittering gold. Osaka Castle lives. It will stand forever.