Osaka was formerly known as Naniwa. Before the Nara Period, when the capital used to be moved with the reign of each new emperor, Naniwa was once Japan’s capital city, the first one ever known. In the 16th century, Toyotomi Hideyoshi chose Osaka as the location for his castle, and the city may have become Japan’s capital if Tokugawa Ieyasu had not terminated the Toyotomi lineage after Hideyoshi’s death and moved his government to distant Edo (Tokyo).
Osaka is a designated city in the Kansai region of Japan. It is the capital city of Osaka Prefecture and the largest component of the Keihanshin Metropolitan Area, the second largest metropolitan area in Japan and among the largest in the world with over 19 million inhabitants. Situated at the mouth of the Yodo River on Osaka Bay, Osaka is the second largest city by the daytime population after Tokyo’s 23 wards and the third largest city by the nighttime population after Tokyo’s 23 special wards and Yokohama in Japan, serving as a major economic hub.
Historically a merchant city, Osaka has also been known as the “nation’s kitchen” and served as a center for the rice trade during the Edo period.
Some of the earliest signs of human habitation in the Osaka area at the Morinomiya ruins comprise shell mounds, sea oysters and buried human skeletons from the 5th–6th centuries BC. It is believed that what is today the Uehonmachi area consisted of a peninsular land with an inland sea in the east. During the Yayoi period, permanent habitation on the plains grew as rice farming became popular.Read More
The Kojiki records that during 390–430 AD there was an imperial palace located at Osumi, in what is present day Higashiyodogawa ward, but it may have been a secondary imperial residence rather than a capital. In 645, Emperor Kotoku built his Naniwa Nagara-Toyosaki Palace in what is now Osaka, making it the capital of Japan. The city now known as Osaka was at this time referred to as Naniwa, and this name and derivations of it are still in use for districts in central Osaka such as Naniwa and Namba Although the capital was moved to Asuka (in Nara Prefecture today) in 655, Naniwa was declared the capital again in 744 by order of Emperor Shomu, and remained so until 745, when the Imperial Court moved back to Heijo-kyo (now Nara). By the end of the Nara period, Naniwa’s seaport roles had been gradually taken over by neighboring areas, but it remained a lively center of river, channel, and land transportation between Heian-kyo (Kyoto today) and other destinations.
In 1496, Jodo Shinshu Buddhists established their headquarters in the heavily fortified Ishiyama Hongan-ji, located directly on the site of the old Naniwa Imperial Palace. Oda Nobunaga began a decade-long siege campaign on the temple in 1570 which ultimately resulted in the surrender of the monks and subsequent razing of the temple. Toyotomi Hideyoshi constructed Osaka Castle in its place.
Osaka grew into one of Japan’s major cities and returned to its ancient role as a lively and important port. Its popular culture was closely related to ukiyo-e depictions of life in Edo. By 1780 Osaka had cultivated a vibrant arts culture, as typified by its famous Kabuki and Bunraku theaters. In 1837 Oshio Heihachiro, a low-ranking samurai, led a peasant insurrection in response to the city’s unwillingness to support the many poor and suffering families in the area. Approximately one-quarter of the city was razed before shogunal officials put down the rebellion, after which Ōshio killed himself. Osaka was opened to foreign trade by the government of the Bakufu at the same time as Hyogo (modern Kobe) on 1 January 1868, just before the advent of the Boshin War and the Meiji Restoration.
Osaka was the industrial center most clearly defined in the development of capitalism in Japan. The rapid industrialization attracted many Korean immigrants, who set up a life apart for themselves. The political system was pluralistic, with a strong emphasis on promoting industrialization and modernization. Literacy was high and the educational system expanded rapidly, producing a middle class with a taste for literature and a willingness to support the arts.
Places Not To Miss:
- Universal Studio Japan:
Universal Studios Japan (USJ) is the first theme park under the Universal Studios brand to be built in Asia. Opened in March 2001 in the Osaka Bay Area, the theme park occupies an area of 39 hectares and is the most visited amusement park in Japan after Tokyo Disney Resort. Universal Studios Japan currently has eight sections: Hollywood, New York, San Francisco, Jurassic Park, Waterworld, Amity Village, Universal Wonderland and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. In addition to rides, the theme park offers many opportunities to take pictures with popular characters’ mascots such as Snoopy, Hello Kitty and the puppets of Sesame Street. There are also various shows put on every day, including a night parade featuring illuminated floats that are paraded through the streets.
- Osaka Castle:
In 1583 Toyotomi Hideyoshi commenced construction on the site of the Ikkō-ikki temple of Ishiyama Hongan-ji. The basic plan was modeled after Azuchi Castle, the headquarters of Oda Nobunaga. Toyotomi wanted to build a castle that mirrored Oda’s, but surpassed it in every way: the plan featured a five-story main tower, with three extra stories underground, and gold leaf on the sides of the tower to impress visitors.
In 1597 construction was completed and Hideyoshi died. Osaka Castle passed to his son. However, a few years after Hideyoshi’s death, Tokugawa troops attacked and destroyed the castle and the Toyotomi clan perished. In 1620, the new heir to the shogunate, Tokugawa Hidetada, began to reconstruct and re-arm Osaka Castle. He built a new elevated main tower, five stories on the outside and eight stories on the inside, and assigned the task of constructing new walls to individual samurai clans. The walls built in the 1620s still stand today, and are made out of interlocked granite boulders without mortar. Many of the stones were brought from rock quarries near the Seto Inland Sea, and bear inscribed crests of the various families who contributed them.
In 1665, lightning struck and burnt down the main tower. In 1843, after decades of neglect, the castle got much-needed repairs when the bakufu collected money from the people of the region to rebuild several of the turrets. During World War II, the arsenal became one of the largest military armories, employing 60,000 workers. Bombing raids targeting the arsenal damaged the reconstructed main castle tower and, on August 14, 1945, destroyed 90% of the arsenal and killed 382 people working there.
In 1995, Osaka’s government approved yet another restoration project, with the intent of restoring the main tower to its Edo-era splendor. In 1997, restoration was completed. The castle is a concrete reproduction of the original and the interior is intended as a modern, functioning museum.
Osaka’s Sumiyoshi Taisha is one of Japan’s oldest shrines. Founded in the 3rd century before the introduction of Buddhism, it displays a unique style of shrine architecture, called Sumiyoshi-zukuri, that is free of influence from the Asian mainland. Only two other shrine architecture styles are also considered purely Japanese: Shinmei-zukuri as seen at theIse Shrines and Taisha-zukuri as seen at Izumo Taisha.
Sumiyoshi taisha enshrines the Sumiyoshi tanjin—Sokotsutsu no Onomikoto, Nakatsutsu no Onomikoto, and Uwatsutsu no Onomikoto—and Okinagatarashihime no Mikoto (Empress Jingu), and they are collectively known as the “Sumiyoshi Ōkami”, the great gods of Sumiyoshi. Another term is “Sumiyoshi no Ōgami no Miya”. Although Sumiyoshi taisha is currently completely landlocked, until the Edo period, the shrine riding grounds faced the sea and were considered the representative of the beautiful “hakushaseishou” (white sand and green pines) landscape. So much so that this type of scenery in designs and art is known as the Sumiyoshi design.
Osaka Museum Of History:Read
The Osaka Museum of History opened in 2003 in a tall building next to NHK Osaka and just across the street from Osaka Castle. The building offers excellent views of the castle from its top floors. Each of the other floors introduces a different Period in Osaka’s past, using exhibit models and going from ancient days to more recent times as you move down. The museum is designed to give visitors a multi-dimensional experience of the 1,400-year history of Osaka, with life-size reconstructions, scale models, and key photographs and movies.
National Bunraku Theater:Read
Osaka has been the capital for bunraku, traditional Japanese puppet theater, for many centuries. The popularity of the theater form had grown in the city during the Edo Period when bunraku was a rare kind of art entertainment for the common public rather than the nobility. The theatre has two halls. The Large Theatre has a capacity of around 700 seats depending on stage setup, and is primarily used for performances of bunraku, as well as Buyo and stage plays. In the Small Hall are performed other type of traditional arts such as, rakugo, manzai and Japanese music.