You can’t miss Osaka Castle when sightseeing around Osaka! This article introduces some of the highlights of Osaka Castle and the surrounding Osaka Castle Park.
What is Osaka Castle?
Osaka Castle is one of Osaka’s most well-known tourist destinations. It has a lot to offer, including the castle itself, the surrounding park, and Naniwanomiya-ato Park. By the order of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a man who took power during the latter half of the Azuchi-Momoyama (1573 - 1603) period, this castle was built in 1583 on the site where Ishiyama Hongan-ji Temple used to stand. The original castle, as well as Hideyoshi himself, were lost to fire during the Summer Campaign of the Siege of Osaka. Later, the Edo Shogunate (1603 - 1868) built an embankment that was several meters high and reconstructed the castle. The castle that can be seen today was built during and after the Edo period.
Hours: 9:00 am - 5:00 pm (extended during the cherry blossom period, Golden Week, and summer vacation)
Closed: December 28 - January 1
Entrance fee: 600 JPY
Why Should You Visit?
Unusually for Japan, Osaka Castle stands in the middle of a large city. In the large portion of the castle’s land that has been made into a park, you can stroll around and view gates and walls that have remained the same over the years. There are various ways to enjoy the area: plum blossoms in March, the beautiful cherry blossoms of Nishinomaru Garden in April, the beautiful fall foliage in November that make for great pictures together with the castle, and illuminations in the winter. An area for eating and shopping recently opened up within the park, further adding to its appeal.
1. Ote Gate
Today, many people visit Osaka Castle from JR Osakajokoen Station, but historically, people used to enter through Ote Gate, which is on the other side. Covered in black metal plates, this impressive gate that’s 5.5m wide and 7.1m tall still remains the same as when it was built in 1628. Pass through and look at it from the other side. At the bottom of the left wooden pillar in the second photograph below, there’s an area that used to suffer from rot before being fixed. The technique used to fix it makes the repair so undetectable that even modern technology can’t spot it. Just think about all the know-how that’s been lost to history!
Built in 1620, this building is one of the oldest remaining structures in Osaka Castle. It is a watchtower that was strategically placed to attack enemies heading towards Ote Gate. If you enter it, you’ll soon figure out that its location was perfect for targeting incoming enemies. Interested in learning about the perspective of the warriors back then? Since 2016, the public has been allowed to enter the watchtower from spring until fall. This is a rare opportunity to see the inside of an important watchtower that’s designated as an Important Cultural Property of Japan, so don't miss out!
Open season (weekends and national holidays only): March 3, 2018 - November 25, 2018
Special summer period (open except on Mondays): July 21, 2018 - August 31, 2018
3. Nishinomaru Garden
Though it is most famous for its cherry blossoms, this garden is a great place to view beautiful scenery in any season. It has a fantastic view of Osaka Castle’s Tenshukaku (main keep), as well as several other highlights: Senganyagura (a famous turret), Inuiyagura (another famous turret), Enshogura (where gunpowder was stored), and Osaka Geihinkan (reception hall).
4. Sakura Gate and the Large Stones in the Sealstone Plaza
One of the defining characteristics of Osaka Castle is that huge rocks are used in various spots in its stone walls.
Sakura Gate, which is the entrance to the inner bailey of the castle, has a large Dragon Stone (right) and Tiger Stone (left) on both sides. There are particularly large stones in the Engraved Sealstone Plaza (a square plaza designed to prevent the progress of attacking enemies), including the Tako-ishi (photo left), which is the largest stone on the grounds, and Furisode-ishi (photo right) - the third largest stone.
This is the large stone at Sakura Gate.
5. MIRAIZA OSAKA-JO
Located in the inner bailey, this building almost looks like an old European castle. It was built at the same time that the Tenshukaku was rebuilt in 1931 as a police station and museum. However, in 2017, it was renovated into MIRAIZA OSAKA-JO - an awesome multipurpose complex with restaurants and cafes. There are casual cafes and shops on the first floor, as well as restaurants serving international cuisine, such as Italian and French, on the second, third, and top floors. The BLUE BIRDS ROOF TOP TERRACE on the top floor actually faces Tenshukaku! You can also experience what it’s like to be a ninja by registering for the “class” in the basement (reservations are given priority).
6. Osaka Castle Tenshukaku
Built in 1629, the gorgeous Tenshukaku was burned down several times before being left decimated in 1665. Early in the 1900s, strong support and donations by the people of Osaka allowed the Tenshukaku to be rebuilt (using remaining documents on the original Tenshukaku) in 1931. The area surrounding the castle also became a park. The interior is like a museum, with dioramas and mini replicas of the past, a detailed explanation of the summer campaign of the siege of Osaka, and a museum shop. There is also a fantastic view from the observatory, which is 50m above ground!
7. Gokuraku Bridge
This 54m bridge goes over the inner moat of Osaka Castle. It was originally made out of wood when built in 1626, but it was burned down during the Boshin War (Japanese civil war between the imperial and shogunate forces). The current bridge was built in 1965. This beautiful and gently curved bridge is a popular spot for photographs that include both the bridge and Tenshukaku. Why not take a shot of your own?
8. Osaka Castle Gozabune
This golden sightseeing boat can be found on the inner moat of Osaka Castle. “Gozabune” refers to luxury boats that were originally for aristocrats, such as the emperor and shogun (military leader). This boat is not just gold in color - approximately 3,000 gold leaves are used for each boat! Feel like a shogun by enjoying the approximately 20-minute ride, from which you’ll be able to gaze at the castle’s tall stone walls and Tenshukaku.
Operates every day (10:00 am - 4:50 pm)
Fares: 1,500 JPY/adult, 750 JPY/elementary and junior high school student
*All prices include tax
9. JO-TERRACE OSAKA
Connected to Osakajokoen Station, this facility contains an information center, restaurants, and shops. It is divided into areas A to F by building, and the largest - F Terrace - is the one that’s connected to the station. It has an information center, coin-operated lockers, and a wide variety of shops, including sandwich and takoyaki (octopus dumplings) takeout places, as well as sit-in okonomiyaki (Japanese savory pancakes) restaurants. D Terrace also has a shop where staff will dress you up in kimono or ninja costumes that you can wear while exploring the area.
10. Hokoku Shrine
Built in 1599 in front of Osaka Castle’s Sakura Gate, this is a Shinto shrine dedicated to Toyotomi Hideyoshi. It is a famous "power spot" in Osaka that is said to help bring about success in careers. The Japanese garden on its grounds, Shusekitei, has a fantastic dry landscape garden, so be sure to visit!
Near Osaka Castle, there’s an area called “Naniwanomiya-ato” that used to be home to an ancient palace. Here, you’ll find the ruins of Naniwa Nagara Toyosaki no Miya, which was built in 650 and is referred to as the “early Naniwanomiya”. The ruins of the “later Naniwanomiya”, which was built under the orders of Emperor Shomu in 726, also lie here. Although these are just ruins of what used to be magnificent palaces, this site is still worth visiting for history fanatics.
There’s a lot more to see in Osaka Castle than the Tenshukaku. Take your time and enjoy every aspect of it!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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