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Osaka Castle is a prominent symbol of Osaka City, originally constructed in 1583 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi on the site of the Ishiyama Hongan-ji temple-fortress, which had been the scene of a violent uprising by warrior monks and peasants in the late 16th century. Modeled on Oda Nobunaga’s Azuchi Castle, the original Osaka Castle tenshu (tower keep) featured five visible floors, six interior floors, and two underground basements. The exterior was lacquered black and adorned with gold decorations, including large peony flowers, tigers, birds, and various crests.

The lavish use of gold on Osaka Castle’s exterior surpassed even the grandeur of Azuchi Castle. The shachihoko-gawara (roof decorations with a tiger’s head and a scaly fish’s body), other roofing tiles, and rounded eave edge tiles were all finished in gold leaf. Inside, pillars were lacquered red or black, and walls were beautifully decorated with gold leaf and paintings by leading artists of the time. Hideyoshi often conducted tours of the luxurious keep to enhance his power and authority.

After Hideyoshi’s death in 1598, construction of the castle continued until the entire structure, including the San-no-Maru and all the defensive elements like earthen walls, water moats, and dry moats, was completed. During the Winter Siege of Osaka in 1614, Sanada Yukimura built the Sanada-Maru, a vast defensive structure that greatly strengthened the southern end of Osaka.

Following Hideyoshi’s death, his five-year-old son, Hideyori, inherited the castle. However, the peace achieved by Hideyoshi was disrupted when Tokugawa Ieyasu, the leader of the Council of Regents established to assist Hideyori, made moves to seize power. This led to the nation being divided between the Tokugawa-led East and the Toyotomi-loyal West, culminating in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. Although the Tokugawa won, many daimyo remained loyal to the Toyotomi, prompting Ieyasu to launch the Winter Siege of Osaka in 1614. Despite being outnumbered, the Toyotomi forces held off the attack. However, in 1615, Ieyasu raised 150,000 samurai and laid siege to Osaka Castle again, eventually destroying it with artillery and fire, killing thousands of Toyotomi loyalists and ending the Toyotomi clan.

In 1620, the Tokugawa clan rebuilt Osaka Castle to erase any trace of the Toyotomi fortress. The moats were widened and deepened, and the stone walls were reconfigured to reach 30 meters in height. The tenshu was rebuilt about 45 meters west of the original keep, and a three-story watchtower was added. This new castle was partially destroyed in 1660 by an explosion and fire caused by lightning striking a gunpowder warehouse. The main donjon was destroyed by another lightning strike in 1665. Finally, the castle was attacked and burned during the Meiji Restoration in 1868.

The current ferro-concrete tower, reconstructed in 1931, blends old and new elements from different clans and periods. It was based on the shape of the Toyotomi castle but built in the white-walled, green-roofed style preferred by the Tokugawa clan, atop the remaining stone base from the 1620s. Thirteen original Tokugawa period structures remain and are designated as Important Cultural Assets. Notably, the stone walls of Osaka Castle have survived demolition, war, and earthquakes since their construction in the 1620s.

 


See also

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    Ueda Castle in Nagano Prefecture once stood prominently on a cliff overlooking the Saigawa River. Also known as Amagafuchi-Jo, Isesaki-Jo, Matsuo-Jo, and Sanada-Jo, it was built around 1583 by its first master, Sanada Masayuki. This sturdy yet small fortress cleverly utilized the surrounding natural defenses, including the river, steep rocky cliffs, the layout of the town below, and the strategically designed waterways to hinder attackers. Ueda Castle was fortified with seven defensive yagura (watchtowers) atop robust stone walls and had two large gates with watchtowers above them.

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  • Tsuyama Castle

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    Tsuyama Castle, located in Tsuyama City, Okayama Prefecture, is celebrated as one of Japan's top three major hilltop (Hirayama) castles, alongside Himeji and Matsuyama Castles. Originally, Tsuyama Castle comprised 77 structures, including the main keep, various yagura (watchtowers), gates, palaces, and living quarters. For comparison, Hiroshima Castle had 76 structures, and Himeji had 61. The first castle on this site was built in 1441 but was soon abandoned. The large-scale construction that we recognize today began in 1603 under the orders of Mori Tadamasa. The castle served as the administrative base for the Tsuyama Han daimyo, the Mori clan from 1603 to 1697, and the Matsudaira clan from 1698 to 1871.

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  • Tsu Castle

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    Tsu Castle, located in Tsu City, Mie Prefecture, was originally built by Hosono Fujiatsu in 1558 and was known as Anotsu Castle, named after the old region. The site was strategically chosen at the confluence of the Ano and Iwata Rivers, which naturally formed a moat around the castle, while the nearby port served as a vital trade route.

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  • Sasayama Castle

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    Tamba Sasayama Castle, also known as Sasayama or Kirigajo (Mist Castle), is a flatland castle (hira-jiro) situated on a gentle rise in the Tamba region of Hyogo Prefecture. It was constructed in 1608 as part of Tokugawa Ieyasu's strategy to prepare for an attack on Osaka, aiming to bring an end to the Toyotomi clan. Ieyasu ordered the castle's construction using the Tenka Bushin system, engaging 20 former enemy daimyo and their forces to complete the complex within six months. This system kept the former enemies close and preoccupied, financially straining them and limiting their capacity for further conflict. The stones used in Sasayama Castle feature engravings called kokumon, indicating who made each part of the walls and preventing theft by other lords' men.

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  • Sadowara Castle

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    Sadowara Castle in Miyazaki Prefecture was a mountaintop yamajiro castle, initially built by the Tajima clan during the Nanboku-Cho period (1334-1394). As was typical of castles from that era, Mt. Kakusho, the chosen mountain, was terraced to create various baileys, or kuruwa. While defensive structures were constructed at the top and around the mountain, the lord's main living quarters and administrative offices were situated at the mountain's base.

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  • Okazaki Castle

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    The Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, was born in Okazaki Castle in 1542 during a period of significant civil unrest. At that time, the Tokugawa, then known as the Matsudaira, controlled the rice-rich Mikawa plains of what is now eastern Aichi Prefecture. This fertile region was highly coveted by surrounding warlords. Ieyasu, a shrewd leader and brilliant tactician, managed to maintain and expand his territories. Following in the footsteps of other national unifiers, Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Ieyasu emerged victorious at the decisive Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. In 1603, he was invested as Shogun, a title he made hereditary, enabling the Tokugawa family to rule Japan for the next 250 years.

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  • Ogaki Castle

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    Ogaki Castle, located in Ogaki City, Gifu Prefecture, was originally built around 1500 by Miyakawa Yasusada and named Ushiya Castle due to the Ushiya River serving as a natural moat. The castle was also known as Bi Castle and Kyoroku Castle. The Ogaki region held strategic importance as a transit point between Mino and Omi Provinces, a fact recognized by Saito Dosan, the Viper of Mino. When Oda Nobunaga captured Gifu Castle in 1567, Ogaki Castle came under Oda rule. Both Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi understood the strategic significance of the castle. In 1595, Hideyoshi ordered Ito Sukemori to expand the castle and construct the Tenshu keep.

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  • Nobeoka Castle

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    One of Nobeoka Castle’s most impressive features is the 22-meter-high stone wall around the central Hon-Maru citadel. Legend has it that if the castle were ever attacked and a specific keystone was moved, the wall would collapse, killing 1,000 invaders!

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