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Historical Overview

A 5th century reconstruction of a store house

A 5th century reconstruction of a store house in Naniwa Pictures provided by the Osaka City Cultural Property Association.

The Tumulus Period ( ~ 709)

Relations with China and the Korean peninsula grew and Naniwa-zu port was developed as an entryway into ancient Japan for visitors from the Asian continent. Naniwazu served as a base for the arrival and departure of foreign envoys. Various cultures and technology such as ceramics, forging, construction, engineering, and religion were brought in by the Chinese and Koreans and their knowledge spread out all over Japan.

Huge tombs, such as Emperor Nintoku's Imperial Mausoleum, appeared in this age around the Osaka plains and were the symbol of royal authority. Various civil engineering projects were actively carried out such as the excavation of Naniwa Horie canal, so that the Yamato River would flow south to the port, and the preparation of roads to Sakai and Yamato.

Huge warehouses were constructed and Osaka became more and more important as a commercial trading city based on Naniwazu.

Shitennoji Temple

Shitennoji Temple,
Built by Prince Shotoku.

Nara and Asuka Periods (710 ~ 793)

Buddhism spread and Prince Shotoku constructed the Shitennoji Temple in A.D. 593. At that time, Naniwazu, the port from where Japanese envoys departed for the Asian continent to the courts of both the Sui and Tang Dynaties of China, became the largest base for international exchange.

In A.D. 645, Osaka was the stage for a great historical event, the “Taika-no-kaishin”. The Emperor Kotoku left Asuka, until then the traditional capital-city of Japan and moved the capital to “Naniwa Nagara Toyosaki-no-miya”, now modern-day Osaka, in order to oppose the huge pressure of the Sui and Tang Empires. He quickly consolidated power and built the first phase Palace of “Naniwa-no-miya”

. Though the capital eventually returned to Nara, the second phase Palace of “Naniwano-miya” served as a sub-capital and continued to play a role as a gateway for international exchange.

The Heian and Kamakura Periods (794 ~ 1333)

Kawachi Lake was gradually filled in and became a fertile plain in this period in history. Many faithfuls went on pilgrimages to Kumano starting from Temma Bridge and Watanabezu port on the southern shore of Kitahama.

According to the Buddhist belief that Paradise was in the west, many believers visited Shitennoji Temple to view the sun set into the sea from the western gate. The pilgrimage route from Watanabezu through Shitennoji Temple and Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine to Kumano was developed to attend to the needs of the throngs of believers traveling to and fro.



The Muromachi Period (1334 ~ 1573)

Rennyo, a high-ranking priest in the 8th century, started to construct Ishiyama Gobo, which later became Ishiyama Honganji Temple. In 1496, Osaka Castle was erected on this site. The name “Osaka” was derived from the tip of the “Uemachi Daichi”.

After that, the area encompassing Gobo prospered as a temple town and the base of present day Osaka was born. Nobunaga Oda looked upon Uemachi Daichi as an area difficult to attack and had a fine view of the surrounding region and said, "Osaka is the best place in Japan". Because this area is blessed with water from the Yamato and Yodo rivers and has a long history of international exchange, it was believed that to control Uemachi Daichi was to control the rest of Japan and the world.

Hideyoshi Toyotomi

Hideyoshi Toyotomi

The Azuchi and Momoyama Periods (1574 ~ 1600)

Kennyo, the head priest of Ishiyama Honganji Temple in the 11th century, transferred control of the temple to Nobunaga Oda in 1580. Following in the steps of Nobunaga, Hideyoshi Toyotomi unified Japan from his base in Osaka and built Osaka Castle on the site of Ishiyama Honganji Temple.

The Higashi Yokobori river, Nishi Yokobori river, Awahori river, and other rivers were excavated to make Osaka a base for marine transportation. Many merchants came to Osaka to work in the cotton, oil, medicine, and metalworking industries. Also, overseas trading was emphasized as merchants from Osaka even visited far away ports in South East Asia.

Hideyoshi's castle town of Osaka, however, was burned to the ground in the Osaka Winter and Summer Battles of 1614 and 1615.

Hideyoshi Toyotomi

Hakken-ya port in the Tempo Era
A famous part of Naniwa (drawn by Hiroshige Utagawa)
Images provided by Osaka Castle Museumi

The Edo Period (1601 ~ 1867)

Osaka was restored from the ashes of war into an economic hub and became known as the “Kitchen of Japan” during the Edo era.

Osaka became an important base for transportation where goods from all over Japan were gathered and shipped. Osaka flourished as the largest economic city in Japan connected with international trading. The price in the Dojima Rice Market was recognized as the standard price for the nation.

Popular arts were also blooming in addition to trading with cultural attractions such as the works of Saikaku Ihara, Akinari Ueda, and the Joruri Puppet shows accompanied by the narrative of Gidayu Takemoto, which was a big hit in combination with the script created by Monzaemon Chikamatsu.

Education also had great successes with the establishment of the Kaitokudo and Tekijuku schools. Nakamoto Tominaga, who studied at Kaitokudo, developed a unique school of philosophy concerning the principles of the world. He discovered many peculiar cultural patterns and had a profound effect on the world of thought at that time. Many citizen scholars, such as Banto Yamagata, who was known as a staunch rationalist, appeared one after the other on the social scene during this period.The Tekijuku, established by Koan Ogata, was a school for studying Western sciences and medicine. Its students included Keisuke Ootori and Yukichi Fukuzawa, active participants in the last days of the Tokugawa regime and the reform of the government. The Tekijuku was located near Doshomachi, the center of medical commerce in Japan, and many talented minds gathered in Osaka from all parts of the country to study sciences freely.

Many people gathered in Osaka, Japan’s kitchen, where merchandise were traded and literary arts, education, and science flourished. The arts and literature characteristic of the Edo period are alive and well today in Osaka.

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