There is so much to see in Kyoto that I must admit myself sceptical that we should also venture all the way to Osaka on a day trip. The city has more than 2.5 million inhabitants and is the third largest in Japan. To see it in a day seemed daunting when we could simply spend the day temple crawling in Kyoto.
But my boyfriend convinced me to go and I do not regret it. Osaka is a city full of life, a metropolis not unlike how I imagine Tokyo to be. With large skyscrapers and massive commercial signs and screens. Osaka’s Running Man being the most adored in the city scape of Osaka.
But before we made it to the hub of Osaka’s commercial district we’d spent hours traversing the sights of the city.
We began at the ever present Ōsaka-jō, Osaka’s most famous sight.
What we did not know, as we ventured into the long line of tourists waiting to visit the castle, is that it is a reproduction made out of concrete and with elevators moving people around rather than the narrow stairs which we’d become accustomed to in Matsumoto.
The main tower of the castle was razed to the ground during the Meiji restoration in 1868 and reconstructed in 1931. With the end of WW2 the castle, which at the time housed a large arsenal, was bombed by American air raids. In the 1990’s it was renovated and an elevator was introduced inside, making it more handicap friendly but less authentic.
However, the fact that it has been rebuild to claim the glory of the Edo period is a wonderful thing and it is truly a majestic building from outside.
Osaka Castle was completed in 1586 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi after he had unified Japan in the wake of the Sengoku. The Sengoku, which means the Warring States Period, is a period in Japanese history which began with the Ōnin War in 1467 to 1477 and the collapse of the Ashikaga Shogunate.
Though the Shogunate never ceased to exist, the period was a constant struggle amongst the Japanese warlords which ended with the rise of three subsequent warlords, known as the unifiers of Japan: Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu.
As a powerful daimyō (feudal lord) Oda Nobunaga had managed to gain control of most of Honshu, when he was killed in 1582. It was his retainer Toyotomi Hideyoshi who saw the completion of a unified Japan. This he did with Osaka as his capital and the castle as his show of power.
But after his death in 1598 it became impossible for his five year old son and heir to keep his fathers position. Toyotomi had established a go-tairō (Council of Five Regents) to rule in the place of his son Toyotomi Hideyori, but in particular one of them had further ambitions.
As the most powerful daimyō in the Council of Five Regents, it did not take Tokugawa Ieyasu long to gain power. In 1600 at the Battle of Sekigahara, he won a decisive victory over the other Regents and by 1603, Emperor Go-Yōzei awarded him the title and rule as Shogun.
However, young Toyotomi Hideyori was still a threat to the newly appointed Shogun and the future of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
The Siege of Osaka
We’ve already seen Tokugawa Ieyasu’s castle in Nagoya which he had built in 1610 after the end of the Sengoku and his rise as Shogun as well as Nijo-jō, which he had built and used as the Tokugawa residence in the imperial city of Kyoto.
We also visited Matsumoto-jō which relates in its own way to the strife between the Tokugawa and Toyotomi clans, but for all intents and purposes Osaka-jō plays the most central role in Tokugawa Ieyasu’s rise to power and his defeat of the Toyotomi clan.
Through the winter of 1614 and the summer of 1615 Tokugawa led a siege on Osaka, which ultimately ended the Toyotomi and introduced the Tokugawa Shogunate, which would rule the country for the following 250 years and move the seat of power to Edo which today is better known as Tokyo.
Tenjinbashisuji Shopping Street
After a walk through the Castle Park we took the subway to Tenjinbashisuji Shopping Street. According to Osaka-info it is the longest straight shopping street in all of Japan expanding from north to south 2.6km. There are approximately 600 shops with address under the roof of the shopping street.
In Japan shopping streets are commonly covered, which makes it a delight to shop in some of the many different shops in the humid summer climate.
Walking through Tenjinbashisuji, we found a small place selling Takoyaki. Takoyaki which are ball shaped baked batter the size of golf balls. It is the number one thing to try out in Osaka and so many foodies on the web put this down as culinary heaven.
Well, I was not overly pleased and while I love so much of the food we are having these days, Takoyaki is not on my list of things to miss. The taste was just wrong.
But I loved the little worse for wear shop and the bare nothing sitting area in the back. This was definitely not catering to the tourist crowds.
After window shopping in Japan’s longest straight shopping street, we took the train to Shitennōji Temple, the Head Temple of Washu Buddhism and the oldest official Buddhist temple in Japan.
It was founded by the legendary Prince Shōtoku in 593 after his victory over the Mononobe Clan. The Prince wanted to adopt the new and progressive religion Buddhism, while the Mononobe Clan supported the traditional Shinto religion of Japan. As such, the temple is crucial in understanding the religious history of Japan.
The temple buildings, though beautiful, are far from as old as the temple history. The entire temple was rebuilt in 1963, but from the design 1300 years prior. It is a magnificent complex with a beautiful pagoda, which made me wonder if I should have made a count of the number of pagodas we have seen so far.
What I liked the most about the temple were the beautiful paper lanterns.
Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine
After nearly two weeks of walking around in Japan and an intense schedule of temple crawling in Kyoto the last couple of days, I could feel my feet starting to give way. I was far from pleased with my boyfriends enthusiasm and plan to visit the large Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine. Most of all I just wanted to sit down and not move for a week and I was almost stomping my feet like a five year old until I realised how little energy they had for such endeavours.
But I’ve come to know through my travels that a little pain in the feet is nothing compared to the regret you feel if you didn’t see all there was to see. So off we went from the Buddhist temple to the Shinto Shrine, once again by train.
And now that I have rested my feet I am off course very happy that we went.
Sumiyoshi is the ancient entrance way to Japan and it is believed that in ancient times, Suminoe no Tsu (Suminoe Port) was situated only a short way south of Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine. This makes sense since the three Shinto gods who are referred to as the Sumiyoshi sanjin are gods of the sea and sailing. In ancient times this was the port that lead into the world, to the T’ang Dynasty in China and as Japan’s entrance to the Silk Road.
Since the shrine predates the arrival of Buddhism, it is a much older place of worship than the Shintennōji Temple. It is also an example of the architecture style sumiyoshi zukuri, which is without influences from mainland Asia.
The grounds are beautiful, but what fascinated me the most were a group of ducks wondering around. Three ducks following each other religiously and a fourth that was constantly left out.
Evening in Denden Town and Dotonbori
Returning from Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine, we made our way towards Nipponbashi, which has sprung up and become known as Denki Machi, meaning Electric Town. Often nicknamed Denden Town this is one of Osaka’s main shopping streets offering cheap electronics from massive discount stores as well as stores catering to the Otaku.
However, as it was getting late many of the shops were about to close as we made our way through the area and most of our shopping was confined to window shopping. At this point however my feet were killing me and I was getting hungry. It was past eight pm and most restaurants would soon be closing down if our previous experience in Takayama was any indication.
And there it was! Ichimizen – the smallest restaurant I’ve come across that wasn’t an outdoor food vendor. Yet, with some of the largest portions of tempura donburi (tempura rice bowls) you can imagine. While my feet got a well deserved rest, we placed ourselves firmly in the seats at the counter of this small but welcoming place.
The very idea that such a wonderful restaurant can function in such a small place is heartening and I think that we can learn a lot from Japan in how even the smallest of places can come alive and become charming additions to a city scape.
Ichimizen is nothing more than a counter and glass front which open up. In the day time you can sit outside and I imagine they open up as a type of street kitchen, but in the evening they close up and from the counter to the glass wall you will find no more than a meter worth of space – if even.
And then they serve the best tempura I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. This in itself would have been enough for me to find our trip to Osaka a success. But we were far from done for the day and my feet were a long way from getting back to Kyoto.
We spent the next couple of hours walking through the Sennichimae Doguyasuji Shopping Street alongside Osaka’s youth before reaching Dotonbori and the running man. The entire area is lit with commercials and neon lights and to someone like me who only ever really saw Picadelly Circus as any form of comparison this seemed a magical land.
Surrounded by the neon lights and massive commercials in Osaka’s Dotonbori, I can only come to the conclusion that Japan’s third largest city has been worth every minute we spent here and I would have loved to have more time exploring this metropolis.