Casey Hawkins

Journey under an ornate timber gate, through a stone wall maze and across two wide moats to reach the inner gardens surrounding Osaka Castle. Once upon a time, these historical structures safe-housed Japan’s most powerful warlord. Now days the site is teaming with tourists looking to get a glimpse into the 16th century monument and symbol of Osaka.

The 5-storey castle is built on the foundation of 40,000 man-laid stones and looks like something you’d only see on a cinema screen. Despite being the real deal, it has become a popular backdrop for movies and featured in the popular Hollywood movie “Godzilla”.

The castle was first constructed in 1583 under the order of a powerful emperor who ruled the area. However, it wasn’t long before an opposing warlord succeeding in having it destroyed by his military. Not long after its rebuild in 1615, was it struck by lightning and burnt to the ground. The site remained in ruins for over three centuries before being built once more. The structure which stands today survived the air raids during the war, but received major renovations back in 1997. It’s modern interior and museum displays of weaponry and armour feature on seven of its eight floors. The restorations have been securitised by much of the public, with visitors leaving comments on forums complaining about the lack of authenticity. Many people argue the addition of elevators has spoilt the experience, despite still having the option to climb the long set of stairs.

The layout of the castle was intended to confuse enemies seeking to attack those inside. From the outside it appears to have five levels, but on the inside consists of eight, making it difficult to determine where to aim fire. I took the stairs to the top level of the castle to gain a panoramic view as far as the eye could see. On a clear day, the lookout alone is worth the 600 yen entry fee.

Even if you choose not to enter inside the castle, strolling through the expansive gardens and reading about the various structural elements is enjoyable. If you’re coming from Namba (the most ‘happening’ part of town), the train trip takes around 40-minutes. The site is situated in a metropolitan area, so one minute you’re walking along a major road and the next you’re surrounded by luscious green grass and old trees with giant canopies. It doesn’t matter which side of the block you enter from, as each have dirt pathways and bridges leading to the inner section where the castle is situated. The rock walls surrounding the castle reach around 30-metres high, some single stones spanning the entire height. The “Octopus Stone” is the largest visible stone, with a surface area of 59 square metres and a thickness of 90cm. Tourists gather around to take photos and contemplate how workers were able to transport and position the stone without modern day machinery. 

Once inside, there’s over 100 hectares of grass to relax and take in the spectacular view. Many people visit the area during the cherry blossom season, as there are hundreds of cherry trees dotted throughout and an ornamental tea house which provides a stunning backdrop for photos. When the cherry blossoms bloom, people gather under the trees and celebrate with alcoholic beverages and snacks. This cultural practice known as Hanami encourages local food stalls to set up around popular viewing areas. Due to the popularity of the site, summer and spring festivals are frequently held on the grounds surrounding the castle. 

There is an old wooden gymnasium situated on the site which is used by schools and sport groups to hold competitions. When I was visiting, I was lucky enough to watch high school students compete in Kendo. Kendo is a fast moving material art which looks similar to fencing, requiring participants to strike each other with sticks whilst wearing protective gear. It was so fascinating to watch, I’d highly recommend you check to see what’s happening inside the building while you’re there.

The castle’s exterior is illuminated at night, attracting visitors to the area when the gates are closed. Even from a great distance, gold embellished carvings of animals such as tigers and dolphins can be seen on the upper section of the castle. There is a river close by and plenty of restaurants in surrounding streets. I recommend visiting the castle in the afternoon followed by a boat ride and dinner at dusk. One of Osaka’s speciality dishes is called Okonomiyaki, which is a bit like a savoury pancake.

Top tips:

  1. Waterways wind around the city of Osaka, just on the outskirts of the castle grounds. For a reasonable price you can take a one-hour boat cruise which passes under bridges and provides a different perspective of the city.
  2. There are no laws against drinking alcohol in public in Japan. To celebrate the transformation of the cherry blossom, locals meet in the surrounding gardens to share drinks and purchase snacks from stall holders.
  3. The best photos of the castle’s exterior can be made from the south-west corner of the inner wall. You’ll notice most people trying to take photos close to the front entrance, making it impossible to get a clear shot. 

Casey Hawkins grew up immersed in Australia’s sea, sun and surf culture. She first became a teacher because she was passionate about sharing ideas and experiences. Teaching has led her to explore some unique, remote locations and make friends with people from all walks of life. She is most passionate about learning and sharing their stories with others. Website: Nan’s Lucky Duck

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the Policy Documents available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.

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