Osaka is Japan’s third-largest city by population and historically the country’s commercial centre. A rapidly expanding and fast-paced metro, one can still experience the authentic culture amidst one of the most technologically advanced societies in the world. Osaka has traditionally been regarded as a city of merchants while Tokyo traditionally has had a reputation of being a city of bureaucrats and samurai. Osaka is also noted as the birthplace of traditional Japanese theatricals like Kabuki and Bunraku puppet dramas and as the site of some of Japan’s most important battles.
Osaka has plenty of attractions both modern and historical. The 16th century Osaka Castle, the famous Shinto shrine of the city, Sumiyashi Taisha are among the few historical must do’s in Osaka.
Osaka Castle – Originally called Ozakajō , Osaka Castle, a famous landmark and the symbol of Osaka, has been handed down through the dramas in history to the present day. Originally built by Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1537-1598), one of the three great warlords and unifiers of medieval Japan, it took 60,000 laborers a year and a half to complete the castle. For fifteen years, until Hideyoshi’s death in 1598, the castle kept growing and expanding, becoming ever stronger and more luxurious. But two years after Hideyoshi’s death, his forces were defeated by Ieyasu Tokugawa. Tokugawa rebuilt the Castle and 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. Five years later, in 1665, lightning struck again hitting the Main Tower, which burned down. A decade later, the castle was hit once gaian by lighting in 1783, but by that time the castle had lost much of its former splendor. In 1925, the tower was brought back to its glory when the citizens of Osaka voluntarily contributed money to turn the castle into a permanent historical monument. But in 1945 the bombings damaged the restored tower. The castle tower underwent a major renovation in 1997 by the government. The outer walls were replastered, the ornamental fixtures were restored, and gold leaf was re-applied throughout. These repairs brought back the structure’s stunning appearance of old—with pure white walls and striking accents of glittering gold.
The castle contains thirteen structures including the grand gates and turrets along the outer moat. The steep walls that rise close to 30 meters high are made of huge blocks of stone that were transported to Osaka from quarries over 100 kilometers away. The Main Tower of Osaka Castle is a museum which houses a collection of approximately 10,000 historical materials. It includes armor and weapons such as swords, folding screens illustrating the wars and battles, gorgeous furnishings and goods in makie style lacquer, and portraits and letters written by Hideyoshi Toyotomi and other war lords. The 7th floor contains 19 scenes from the life of Hideyoshi Toyotomi, karakuri Taikoki, his image shown and moved around by high technology. The miniature figures and the panoramic screens on the 5th floor show the scenes from the folding screen depicting the Summer War of Osaka. The top floor is the observation deck, from where one can enjoy the panoramic view. Also of interest are the tower’s eight roof dolphins and the ornamental roof tiles and reliefs carved in the shape of tigers, all of which are gilded with gold. Osaka Castle Park is one of Osaka’s most popular hanami (flower viewing) destinations during the cherry blossom season, which usually takes place in early April.
Sumiyoshi-Taisha Shrine – Osaka’s most famous shrine by far, Sumiyoshi Taisha is one of Japan’s oldest shrines. It enshrines three gods that have long been worshiped for protecting the nation, for protecting sea voyages and for promoting waka (31-syllable) poetry—and thus is a place of pilgrimage for sea travelers, students of the military arts, and waka poets. Said to have originated in the 3rd century Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine is the headquarters of over 2,000 Sumiyoshi-sha Shrines nationwide. Some three million people visit this shrine at the beginning of a new year. The shrine incorporates four sanctuaries, each built in the sumiyoshi-zukuri style, with straight roofs. In the precincts surrounded with woods, over 600 stone garden lanterns stand in a row, and the shrine’s symbol, the Taiko-bashi, a red arched bridge, spans over the pond. The main shrine is designed in the oldest style of shrine construction and is registered as a National Treasure. In 2013 the shrine will celebrate its 1800th anniversary.
Shi-Tennoji Temple – The oldest officially administered temple in Japan, Shitennoji was built by Prince Shotoku (574-622 A.D.). Prince Shotoku was a buddhist and devoted his efforts to the spread of Buddhism in Japan. At the age of sixteen, Prince Shotoku, successfully triumphed over the opposition and brought Buddhism in the country. The Prince wanted Japan to adopt Buddhism but the powerful Mononobe-no-Moriya supported the ancient Japanese religion. He waged a war against them and it was said, he achieved his victory by praying to the Four Heavenly Kings, the soldiers of the Buddha. As a token of his gratitude to the Four Devas (Shi-tenno), for responding to his prayer to let him overthrow Mononobe-no-Moriya, he ordered to build the shrine. Today, Shitennoji is fondly regarded as the Buddhist altar of Osaka. The temple was built not far from Osaka Bay, which played a vital role in trade and traffic. It was a strategic location which enabled a show of Japan’s power and prosperity to the world. Despite repeated reconstructions, the layout of the temple compound has remained largely unchanged from the beginning.