One of the reasons I love to travel is that new sights and experiences always spark the imagination and widen the mind. So this month I’m going to catch you all up on my trip to Japan last December. I hope my adventures there inspire you to write new stories or give you ideas for your own vacation.
December 3, 2012 – Osaka Castle, Osaka
The day after I landed in Japan, Maiko took me to Osaka Castle. The train ride from Hirakata City lasted about 20 minutes, and from the Osakajo Koen Station, the castle was another 15 minutes walk.
A massive stone wall and a great moat surrounding the 15 acre castle grounds was the first thing I saw.
Osaka Castle’s Main Tower peeking over the stone walls
There were other structures within the castle grounds, but we only had time to visit the central castle building.
A little History:
The Osaka castle is a major landmark in Osaka, and a symbol of power of Japan’s most influential rulers. Toyotomi Hideyoshi was born a peasant, but rose up in ranks by serving Oda Nobunaga, a feudal lord who initiated the unification of Japan under the shogunate.
Hideyoshi’s sharp mind, combined with his ambition and determination made him a valuable asset to Nobunaga. After Nobunaga’s assassination, Hideyoshi took it upon himself to avenge his master, thus expanding his own power and influence within the region.
Hideyoshi built Osaka Castle in 1583, establishing it as his stronghold in his work to unify Japan.
Osaka Castle’s Main Tower
The present day structure is a third reincarnation of the original castle, however. After Hideyoshi died, his chief retainer Ieyasu Tokugawa established the shogunate (government) in Edo (now known as Tokyo). In the 1615 Summer War of Osaka, Tokugawa launched another attack on the castle, once and for all destroying the Toyotomi family’s legacy.
Tokugawa later on rebuilt the castle and his family kept it under their control until the shogunate lost its the Meiji New Government army laid siege to the castle in 1868. Then shogun Yoshinobu Tokugawa escaped, but the castle caught fire and almost all the buildings were burnt to ash.
In 1931, the government with the help of funds raised by citizens, took on the reconstruction of Osaka Castle’s Main Tower.
Osaka Castle’s Main Tower behind me
The castle’s main tower is home to the museum, which contains 8 floors of historical artifacts and exhibits. The entrance fee of 600Yen (roughly about $6 ), was definitely worth paying as I got to learn a whole lot of interesting things.
Steps leading up to the main tower
Upon entering the main tower, we were encouraged to take the elevator up to the 8th floor to start our tour from there.
My acrophobia didn’t stop me from enjoying the awesome panoramic view of Osaka City. It helped that a wire fence surrounded the entire 8th floor balcony.
View of Osaka City from the 8th Floor
Around the 7th Floor, we followed tiny dioramas which explained the Life of Hideyoshi Toyotomi.
On the 5th floor, we discovered a large folding screen which showed famous scenes from the Summer War in Osaka, along with miniature wax figures replicating the intense battle between Sanada and Matsudaira during the same period.
Wax figures depicting a battle during the Summer War of Osaka
Artifacts and records of the Sengoku era, or the age of provincial wars, were on display in the 4th and 3rd Floors. I particularly loved seeing the battle gear worn by Japanese warriors in that period, along with the weapons they used. We also saw a full scale replica of Toyotomi’s famous Golden Tea Room, and models of the Osaka Castle during the Toyotomi Period and the Tokugawa Period
Folding screen with scenes from the Summer War of Osaka
A full scale replica of the golden dolphin shaped fish (Shachi) and crouching tigers (fusetora) was on display at the center of the 2nd Floor. For 300Y ($3), you could don one of the period costumes and have your picture taken with the golden statues.
Tourists posing with costumes beside the Shachi and the Fusetora
We ignored the photo op, and like the nerds we were, Maiko and I opted instead to check out more facts and figures about Osaka Castle.
We finally found ourselves back at the first floor. I spent some time perusing the various items at the Museum shop, and even bought some souvenirs to bring back home.
The food stalls and small shops around the castle grounds were already closing by the time we got out of the museum at 5:30pm. Maiko and I contented ourselves by exploring a little bit of the area before the skies completely darkened.
Although it was winter, a lot of the trees around the castle still hadn’t shed their fall colors. The beautiful red leaves of the Momiji or Japanese Maple trees added a splash of color to the grey skies.
Momiji/Japanese Maple trees around the castle grounds
I’m always fascinated by phone booths — thanks to Doctor Who, I’m always hoping that I might one day step into a time travel machine disguised as a phone booth.
We didn’t have time to explore the other buildings around the main tower, but I was quite happy with what I’d seen. As we stepped outside the main gates of the Osaka Castle grounds, Maiko pointed in the distance to a building with a round saucer on its roof. She said this building was one of the big NHK TV stations in Japan.
NHK TV Station building outside the castle
All the walking we did today made us hungry so we made our way back to the train station, where we discussed all the wonderful sights we’d seen over a plate of Takoyaki balls (Octopus dipped in batter).
* Special Thanks to Maiko for taking me around, and for taking the pictures
**Next Friday: Japan: Kyoto Day 1 – Kiyamizudera Temple
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