Osaka Castle

The largest, most intimidating castle of its time, Osaka-jo was built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, one of the three great unifiers of Japan. Begun in 1583 and completed in 1597, it was the site of two great battles (Summer and Winter Sieges of Osaka) that cemented the power of the Tokugawa Shogunate, which lasted for 250 years.

The Summer Battle of Osaka (natsu no jin) in May 1615 was comprised of over 400,000 warriors and ended with the destruction of Toyotomi’s castle. It was rebuilt by Tokugawa in even more intimidating style, only to burn after lightning strikes set the powder magazine on fire in 1660 and again in 1665 due to another lightning strike. It was reconstructed, but in the conflicts of the Meiji Restoration in 1868 it was burned yet again, and was not rebuilt until Osaka’s mayor successfully raised funds in 1928 for a reconstruction in concrete which was completed in 1931. The reconstructed tower is used as a museum, and houses several important artifacts including an 8 meter painted folding screen portraying the Summer Battle.

None of the original Toyotomi structures remain. The original structures remaining at the site are the Otemon (main gate), five yagura (turrets) from the Tokugawa period, the moats, several arsenals and a well house. I have taken images of four of the turrets and several images of the reconstructed tenshu, part of the Otemon and some of the grounds.


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Osaka Castle

Built from 1583 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi and completed just before he died in 1598,
Osaka Castle was modeled after Azuchi Castle, the primary castle of Oda Nobunaga.
Oda Nobunaga built Azuchi Castle in a strategic location where he could control the routes
of transportation and communications between his greatest rivals, but he also built it to be a
lavish mansion, close enough to Kyoto to guard approach to the capital but far enough to avoid
the fires that occasionally swept the city. Azuchi Castle was built primarily of stone fitted without
the use of mortar, and was one of the first castles with a tower keep, which allowed far greater
visibility for the use of guns, which had recently been introduced by the Portuguese traders.
It also had irregularly formed inner walls, allowing many defensive positions in an attack.

Toyotomi surpassed Azuchi Castle in every respect. He built a five story tower with
three underground stories, and covered the tower with gold leaf to impress his visitors.
After the tower was completed in 1585, he extended the defenses and expanded the castle.
The castle design worked remarkably well when Hideyori (Toyotomi’s son) fought off Tokugawa
Ieyasu during the Siege of Osaka in the winter of 1614 with half of Tokugawa’s strength, but when
he tried to dig out the outer moat that Tokugawa had filled the next summer, Tokugawa sent his
army back to Osaka, routed the Toyotomi clan inside the outer walls, and Osaka castle fell.


Osaka Castle 8924
1500 x 1065 (556 KB)

(Shot from the Japanese Garden (Hojoen) just inside the Sakuramon gate).

Tokugawa’s son Hidetada reconstructed Osaka Castle in 1620, with a new tower,
and assigned building of the new walls to various samurai clans. These walls, built of
interlocking granite boulders fitted without mortar still stand today, and are inscribed with
family crests of the clans which brought the stones and were responsible for setting them.

The largest foundation stone is a massive 130 ton
monolith with a surface area of 59 square meters.

In 1660 lightning exploded the gunpowder magazine and burned several castle buildings.
In 1665 another lightning strike burned down the main tower. It was repaired in 1843, only to be
destroyed again in the civil conflicts of the Meiji Restoration. It was then converted to Army barracks.

Rebuilt in 1928-31, Osaka Castle is now a concrete reproduction housing a museum.


Osaka Castle Sengan and Tamon Yaguras 8895
1500 x 1065 (350 KB)

The Sengan Yagura (center) and Ote-mon (gate) from across the moat.
Constructed in 1620 by Kobori Enshu, this and the Inui keep are the oldest
structures in the Castle (dates confirmed by notes found during restoration).

Tamon Yagura are long, narrow structures with a single story (as opposed to
Sumi Yagura which are two or three story turrets or keeps attached to a corner
(Sumi means corner), with stone drops for defense of the corner against attackers).
Tamon Yagura are covered corridors with windows for arrows and guns. This Tamon
Yagura-mon is facing primarily perpendicular to the moat wall to protect the gate under it.
The Tamon gate (the Kurogane Gate) is referred to as Ote-mon (the Great Gate).


Osaka Castle Sengan Yagura 8896
760 x 1200 (279 KB)


Sleepless in Osaka 8897
960 x 1200 (345 KB)

(My apologies to Tom Hanks for the title).

An itinerant gentleman catches a nap in the
heavily reinforced structure of the Otemon gate.

The Sengan Yagura from outside the walls (above left).
The Sengan Yagura (the turret of a thousand eyes) overlooks the
West Outer Moat next to the bridge that crosses to the Otemon Gate.
This yagura was impregnable due to its position. A play on the
name of the turret was used to illustrate its impregnability:

The Japanese kan was worth 3.75 kg of gold. Kan sounds like gan. Sen = 1000.
Japanese commanders would offer the troops sen kan if they would capture the turret.

Note the fan-shaped walls in the image above left. The reverse arch creates a very stable structure.
The stones are fitted without mortar, allowing them to ride out an earthquake with little damage.
The stones are fitted over a mound of earth and the cracks are filled with smaller stones in
a method which is called Burdock Piling (since it resembles the Burdock plant).


Osaka Castle Rokuban Yagura 8899
1408 x 1000 (659 KB)

(rokuban = sixth)

Rokuban yagura overlooks the Southwest corner over the South Outer Moat.
This is one of the five Tokugawa-period turrets that are in original condition.
13 key parts of the castle were designated as Important Cultural Properties.


Osaka Castle 8902
960 x 1275 (521 KB)

The Castle Tower under assault (by a flock of crows).

This image was taken from the Honmaru, just beyond the exit of the Sakuramon Masugata.
Masugata refers to the square courtyard in a new style of gate introduced at the time Osaka Castle
was built. A lightly reinforced gate (Kouraimon), easily broken by invaders, let them into the masugata,
where they were enclosed by stone walls and a heavily reinforced Yaguramon (turret gate) on their right.

The enclosure of the masugata was intended to be a killing ground, where warriors on the two walls and
in the Yagura above the Yaguramon could attack from three directions, and the press of warriors entering
would prevent those in the masugata from retreating. For more images of this efficient new gate style, see
the Imperial Palace page. Ieyasu Tokogawa was impressed with the gate design and used it for Tayasumon
and for Shimizumon, both of which still exist (images of both gates are displayed on the Imperial Palace page).

One of the foundation stones in the Sakuramon matsugada is the Takoishi (Octopus stone),
which has a surface area of 59.43 square meters, is 90 cm thick, and is estimated to weigh 130 tons.


Osaka Castle 8903
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Osaka Castle Tenshu (main tower) framed in sakura.


Osaka Castle 8908
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These three images were shot in the Honmaru (inner bailey) in front of the Shotenshudai (the stone foundation platform) on which the castle foundation is built.


Osaka Castle 8907
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The Shotenshudai (stone foundation platform on which a small tower originally stood), and on which
the Tenshudai (castle foundation) is built, is also the location of Kinmeisui Ido Yakata (well pavilion).

Below the tenshu corner can be seen an ishi-otoshi (stone drop), from which stones, hot sand
and boiling liquid could be dropped on the attackers to prevent them from climbing the walls.

The concrete reproduction is intended to display the tower exterior as it was in the Edo era.
The interior was not reproduced in original form. It is laid out as a museum, complete with elevator.


Siege of Osaka Castle (detail)
detail crop  —  no linked image

A detail crop from the “Siege of Osaka Castle” showing the Tenshu (main tower) and Shotenshu (small tower)
as they existed during the Summer Battle of Osaka in 1615, which was won by the Tokugawa forces and spelled
the end of the Toyotomi clan’s power and Osaka Castle (which was burned to the ground after the battle). Two
detail images from this 8 meter 6-panel screen painting and a large image of the full panel are further below.


Osaka Castle 8912
1500 x 1065 (291 KB)

The tenshu of Osaka Castle, with and without the squadron of attacking crows.


Osaka Castle 8911
1500 x 994 (300 KB)

Osaka Castle was the most imposing and strongest castle of its time, but after the
Summer Battle of Osaka, which was won by Tokugawa forces, it was burned to the ground.


Toyotomi Hideyoshi 8914
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The interior of the tenshu is set up as a museum, and no photography was allowed.
I must admit that I did sneak a few shots. Above is a sculpture of Toyotomi Hideyoshi,
the builder of the original Osaka Castle and one of the three great unifiers of Japan.


Toyotomi Hideyoshi 8916 M
1500 x 1450 (428 KB)

The daimyo (feudal lord) who unified Japan in 1590. Toyotomi started as
Oda Nobunaga’s sandal carrier, evolved into one of his most capable generals,
became his successor after revenging his betrayal and forced suicide by the traitorous
general Akechi, and completed Nobunaga’s plans for the unification of Japan under one rule.
By his actions, he ended the Sengoku period (the 133 year long period of the Warring States).

He completed construction of Osaka Castle before his death in 1598.
He never saw the destruction of the castle he worked so long to build.
That occurred in 1615, at the Summer Battle of Osaka (natsu no jin),
afterwards his wife Yodo-dono and his son Hideyori committed seppuku
and his eight year old grandson (Kunimatsu) was captured and beheaded.
This ended the Toyotomi clan’s power and cemented the power of Tokugawa.


Summer Battle of Osaka Castle
Kuroda Nagamasa detail 1
(1676 x 1268, 929 KB)

Two detail crops from the “Siege of Osaka Castle”, an eight meter six-panel screen painting in the Castle museum. The reconstruction of the castle was based on this screen.


Summer Battle of Osaka Castle
Kuroda Nagamasa detail 2
(1320 x 1295, 821 KB)


Summer Battle of Osaka Castle Kuroda Nagamasa
(8 meter long 6-panel screen, depiction of battle on May 7, 1615)
(4009 x 1758, 4.2 MB)

Kuroda Nagamasa was one of the commanders of Tokugawa’s Eastern Army in the Battle of Sekigahara
in 1600, which was the decisive battle against the Western Daimyo (feudal lords) that finally placed Tokugawa
in complete control over Japan and set him up for the Shogunate. Kuroda was rewarded by Ieyasu Tokugawa after
the battle with a 523,000 koku domain (one koku = 180 liters of rice, 150 kg, enough to feed one person for a year).
Kuroda Nagamasa built Fukuoka Castle in Fukuzaki (starting in 1601) as his home castle in the domain he was given,
and personally oversaw the construction of Ieyasu’s new tenshu at Edo Castle. His father helped build Osaka Castle.

When Kuroda Nagamasa was tasked with his part of the Summer Battle of Osaka, he engaged the services of
a team of painters to document the scene. 5071 people are depicted in the screen, and 21 generals. Kuroda
took the painters with him to the battle, thus the screen was painted from actual visual experience on site.

400,000 samurai and other warriors took part in the Summer Battle of Osaka (natsu no jin).


Osaka Castle Sengan Yagura 8928
1359 x 900 (655 KB)

The Sengan Yagura (turret of a thousand eyes) from the inside of the castle.
The Sengan Yagura stands on a corner of the wall overlooking the Otemon gate
and the bridge leading to Otemon across the West Outer Moat. It was impregnable.


Osaka Castle Sengan and Tamon Yaguras 8932
1500 x 1065 (422 KB)

Sengan Yagura (Turret of a Thousand Eyes) and Tamon Yagura over the Otemon Gate.

This image and the next compare the Sengan and Inui Yagura (turrets), the oldest
parts of the original Castle. The Sengan Yagura above was built using a newer style.
Similar to the style used in the construction of the tenshu (the castle tower), the upper
story is smaller than the lower floor. Note in the image below of the Inui Yagura that the
two stories are the same size. Also, notice the Chinese gable on the Sengan Yagura
above the dormer gable on the lower story that is facing us (and towards the moat).


Osaka Castle Inui Yagura 8933
1500 x 1065 (399 KB)

Turret on the Northwest corner of the outer moat wall (the Inui direction).

The Inui Yagura is also from the hands of Kobori Enshu, famed artist, tea master,
designer and aristocrat during the reign of Tokugawa Ieyasu. He was responsible
for the design of gardens for the Sento Imperial Palace and Katsura Imperial Villa
and the Sunpu, Nagoya, Matsuyama, Fushima, Nijo and Osaka Castle architecture.
He was also responsible for the construction of the Ninomaru Garden at Nijo Castle.

The Tokugawa-built stone walls and outer moats are the greatest stone walls in Japan.
 The moats are 70 to 90 meters in width and the walls are more than 20 meters in height.
The total length of the granite walls is 12 kilometers and use 500,000-1,000,000 stones.


Osaka Museum of History NHK 8930
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A view across the corner of the South Outer Moat
of the Osaka History Museum and NHK Television.


Osaka Museum of History 8936
782 x 1200 (310 KB)

I just had to go over there for the dramatic low-angle shot.


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Images in this section are in a number of different Galleries on the Photoshelter website.
The Banner below leads to the Japan Collections page where a Gallery can be selected.


There are 21 Galleries in the Photoshelter Japan Collection
— Castles are in the following Gallery (Direct Link) —

Photoshelter Castles of Japan Collection


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