Friday, August 6, 2010

Osaka See: Osaka Castle - The Old New Castle

The castle is open to the public 9.00am to 5.00pm, and is easily accessible from Osakajōkōen Station on the JR West Osaka Loop Line.
Admission Price (Osaka Castle Museum): 600 Yen for adults

The History Bit

Osaka Castle is one of Japan's most famous castles. Begun by Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536/37-1598) in 1583, it was completed in 1597. Hideyoshi was one of the three unifiers of Japan in the sixteenth century, the other two being Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582) and the future founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616). Hideyoshi had been one of Nobunaga's retainers and rose to prominence after Nobunaga's assassination. Having unified the country by 1590, Hideyoshi set about consolidating his legacy. When he died in 1598, he left behind his five-year old son Hideyori as his heir. The regency he established before his death was soon split between those who supported the Toyotomi clan and others who supported the Tokugawa. At the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, forces allied with the Tokugawa defeated those supporting the Toyotomi cause. This paved the way for Ieyasu to establish a new Shogunate at Edo (present-day Tokyo) in 1603. 11 years later, the Tokugawa besieged Osaka Castle and the castle capitulated in 1615. Hideyori and his mother committed suicide in the face of defeat, bringing an end to the Toyotomi clan. With the destruction of the Toyotomi clan, the Tokugawa were to rule Japan for the next 250 years.

Present Day
You get a sense of unbridled anticipation as the castle comes into view, like a kid in a candy store. For a diehard fan of strategy games such as Nobunaga's Ambition, visiting Osaka Castle is like the closest one could get to the action. Ubiquitous in the Land of the Rising Sun, one needs to buy tickets at the vending machine to visit the castle.

You get a view of the castle's imposing surroundings at the top of the structure. The main tower is eight storeys high but for those who are less intrepid, there are elevators (yes it is very modern inside - for why see below). Be prepared for a fair bit of walking, but it is worth it. My better half though complained that there were too many steps to climb so a trip up to the top necessitated the use of modern technology.

The current structure is actually a reconstruction from the twentieth century after fires destroyed much of the original building in the centuries after its completion. Reconstruction to the main tower began in the late 1920s and was completed in the late 1990s. The interior of the castle looks nothing like what one would associate with the castles of old, but it is still worth the entrance fee. I loved the museum in the floors beneath the viewing deck which contains exhibits from the Sengoku era (Warring States period) of Japanese history (16th century), with its requisite swords, lances, armour and firearms. Definitely a must see for all history buffs. It was one thing playing Nobunaga's Ambition on the computer, but another coming up close to the artefacts used by the characters you have come to know from the game.

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