The skies are clear, and the attractions are darn-near empty. What better time is there to see some of the many great sites all around Japan? Reiko and I have been itching to travel around Japan together and, now that her birthday is just around the corner, this week seemed to be the perfect time to get out and about. That said, it wasn't one of those "spur of the moment" things … Reiko's been planning this for weeks.
Our first destination: Osaka (大阪). This is a city that I've wanted to visit for a while, as everybody who goes absolutely loves the place. We decided to take the Shinkansen from Nagoya in the early morning so that we could get the most out of our visit to Osaka, and it was well worth the effort.
First stop: 大阪城 (Osaka Castle)!
Osaka Castle has a long history, and is said to have been impervious to attack. While history shows us that this was not exactly the case, the opportunity to examine for myself just how easily one could have taken the castle was a nice challenge. This was my second visit to a famous castle in Japan and, I must say, it was almost disappointing to see that the inside of the landmark had been completely updated. Luxurious elevators, spacious museum displays, hidden power and water lines, and automatic sliding doors on the top level for guests. It's almost as though the outer shell is all that remains of this testament to time. That said, it's still a great opportunity to learn more about Japan's past.
Completed in 1598, Osaka castle has a long history of being used in conflicts and later being restored. The most interesting period, however, was in the first 22 years of the castle's existence.
Hideyori died shortly before the completion of the castle, but it was passed to his son, Toyotomi Hideyori. Less than two years later, Tokugawa Ieyasu defeated Hideyori's armies at the Battle of Sekigahara, but let Hideyori remain in Osaka. Fourteen years later (now 1614), Tokugawa attacked Hideyori during the winter. Although Toyotomi's forces were outnumbered 2 to 1, they managed to fight off Hideyori's 200,000-strong army and protect the castle's outer walls. Realizing Osaka Castle's strength lied in its moats, Tokugawa began filling up the outer moat, which left the castle essentially defenseless.
This didn't stop Hideyori, though. In the summer of 1615, he issued that the moat be cleared once more. Tokugawa, outraged by this action, sent his armies to Osaka Castle once again. However, rather than simply lay seige to the castle, Tokugawa planned to eliminate the Toyotomi clan completely.
He quickly succeeded.
Five years later, the new heir to the shogunate, Tokugawa Hidetada, began to reconstruct and rearm the castle. He had an elevated main tower (five stories outside, and eight inside) built, and assigned the task of constructing new walls to the 64 individual samurai clans. The walls built 400 years ago still stand today and are made with interlocking bricks rather than mortar and other similar materials. Many of the stones were brought from quarries in the Seto Inland Sea, and bear the family crests of the people who laid them into the walls.
All that in 22 years.
Since that time, Osaka Castle has been destroyed and rebuilt several times, with the most recent renovations completed in 1997. All in all, this is one of the places in Osaka that you do not want to miss if you have the opportunity to go. There's lots to learn, lots to see, and lots to eat.
Next Stop: 大阪水族館 (Osaka Aquarium)
The next stop on our list was the ever-famous Osaka Aquarium. Situated in Osakako, this aquarium takes up a massive eight floors and has some of the largest completely enclosed water tanks I've ever seen.
Reiko and I managed to get through the whole complex in about three hours, and we were taking our time. The nice thing about this aquarium is that there's lots of windows and lots of space. That said, you wouldn't want to go on a weekend or during any of the standard Japanese holidays. These attractions are really enjoyable only if you're going while everyone else is at work or in school. Anything else will turn out to be little more than a test of patience.
The Osaka Aquarium was not quite as educational as the one in Nagoya, nor did it have any outdoor attractions (that we saw). However, to make up for this, there are an incredible number of fish and other water animals for people to enjoy. Almost every tank was two stories or more, allowing people to see how the animals interacted with the land and sea, and there was nothing blocked from view. If an otter was going to grab himself a fish from the bottom of the pool, then there was nothing stopping the crowd from seeing the animal catch its prey and devour it right in front of us.
But then … this is normal behavior at the dinner table, too.
I'll write about the food and the hotel in another post, as there was just too many food places to write about. Perhaps I'll just pick the ones that we enjoyed … that should keep the post under 2000 words. Have you been to Osaka? What places would you recommend we see on our next visit to the Food Capital of Japan?