Osaka Castle and the beauty of Sakura
by Ben Lindstrom-Ives.
The arrival of spring, has made its most dramatic appearance yet in the Kansai region this year. The humidity has increased in the atmosphere, and temperatures have now risen to considerably warmer/subtropical conditions. Osaka Castle also known as Osaka-Jo in Japanese, is a living testament to the classical Shogun period of Japanese history, corresponding roughly to from the 14th to 17th century periods. During these periods of history, many power struggles would take place between the different regional shogunates (fiefdoms or kingdoms) which sought to establish militaristic and political hegemony in Japan. It was during this same period of time that, Osaka-Jo was constructed under the orders of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, known as the ‘great unifier’ of Japan. Following much chaos and disorder which came about because of the countless civil wars and conflicts which took place in the previous centuries, Hideyoshi would rule Japan roughly from around 1585-1591. With his reign, Hideyoshi would bring about greater political stability to Japan, something which she had not seen for many ages.
Hideyoshi besides being remembered as the ‘great unifier’ of Japan will also be remembered for his infamous persecution and ordered executions of a group of 26 Japanese Christians in 1597 in Nagasaki, along with his construction of Osaka Castle in 1583. Osaka-Jo is remarkable both in form and feature, despite the fact that the original Osaka Castle no longer stands with us today. The castle we see today is about the fifth version of what was Hideyoshi’s original structure. Struck down by lightning strikes in the 17th century, burned to the ground during the historic Meiji Restoration of 1868, than once again destroyed by extensive bombing during the Second World War, Osaka Castle time after time has constantly risen out of the ashes, and has been reborn both in shape and structure. Nonetheless, the Azuchi-Momoyama style of Japanese castle architecture has been preserved in its presentation. With that, Osaka- Jo has easily became one of Japan’s most iconic and famous landmarks in the world today.
Walking along the gardens which surround Osaka Castle makes one think that one might be in a beautiful technicolor Hollywood film from the 1930’s or 1940’s. The Sakura trees were in full bloom around the castle, and one could see thousands of people packed onto the castle grounds enjoying their bento box lunches, basking in the sun, and spending some time with their husbands, wives, kids, families, and partners. From what I could tell, the Osaka Castle area may be the very best place in the city to fully appreciate and enjoy the view of sakura during the spring season. I found that similarly to some of the many buddhist temples which I have visited in the Kansai region, Osaka Castle is very much its own unique and wonderful world. Relatively undisturbed by some of the more modern areas of the Osaka Business Park neighborhood, Osaka Castle is without a doubt a place where one can come relax, and reflect on this testament and relic to classical Japanese architecture.
The scale of Osaka Castle is rather massive and epic in proportion. The Castle is characterized by a strong vermillion/green color which predominates the entire structure. I was rather impressed by some of the beautiful golden sculptures of the ‘Shachihoko’ a mythological half carp/dragon creature which has been popular in Japanese mythology for many ages. In contrast to Nijo-Jo in Kyoto, Osaka-Jo is an elevated, not a flatland castle. Osaka-Jo is accessible by a bridge which bisects the castle moat, which is surrounded by water and a rather massive wall designed to keep invaders out of the castle complex. The best views from the castle grounds are immediately adjacent to the Tenshu (Main Keep) area, where one can hold good views of the modern skyline of the Osaka Business park district, along with views of the surrounding walls of the castle, which encircle the moat area.
As I was on my way to the ‘Tenshu’ main keep or gate of Osaka Castle, I was pleasantly surprised to see some rock musicians performing adjacent to the Castle grounds. Despite not being able to understand all of the lyrics being sung, the electric and acoustic guitar play was truly awesome! It reminded me of some of the great hard rock guitarists whom I have listened to before such as Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, Brad Delson of Linkin Park, along with Angus Young of AC/DC. I discovered from that period onwards that, Osaka Castle and its complex is much more than just an example of Japanese castle architecture.
It is a castle, museum, park, garden, and a great performing space area for many Japanese Rock groups and bands. As a result, the Osaka Castle area seems to be a place that can offer something for everyone to enjoy. The fact that the castle is no longer one of the ‘original’ Japanese castles such as Hikone, Himeji, and Matsue Jo which retain their original tenshu’s, is rather irrelevant I find when you come here. Simply because of its rich history, strategic importance, along with its diverse offerings for the sightseer, tourist, and local, it is in every way as interesting as the other castles which may be found throughout Japan.
Osaka Castle is a nice bridge or interface between the Osaka of the past and the Osaka of today. In an urban metropolis where little survives of the city’s ancient heritage and past, Osaka Castle provides an excellent sort of example displaying how Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s complex most likely looked like, when it was originally constructed in the 16th century. Osaka after having been the capital of Japan for a short period of time in the 7th century C.E., one again briefly became the most important cultural and economic center of Japan during Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s reign in the 17th century. The castle symbolizes the economic and political importance which Osaka held for a brief period in history until Edo (today known as Tokyo) became the modern day capital of Japan.
I hope to come back to Osaka Castle at least once more for the Sakura season. It is simply an unforgettable sort of moment to experience in life.
WhyNot!? party is the biggest party for International minds in Osaka!
If you wanna make local Japanese friends, WhyNot!? party is a perfect venue!!