Osaka Castle has been holding many small events over the last year and will continue to do so until next year. Signs and flags seem to mark some sort of 400 year anniversary, but what is going on? Is it the anniversary of the castle being built, or is it the anniversary of something else?
It turns out to be the 400th anniversary of the siege of the castle and the fall of its feudal lord. In order to understand the importance of this event, you would need to know a bit more about the history of Japan.
Our story starts with the Sengoku period. Don’t let the period part confuse you, as the Sengoku period coincides with two other historical periods: the Muromachi period and the Azuchi-Momoyama period. To add to the confusion, it shares its nickname, the Warring States period, with a completely unrelated ancient Chinese period. To clear up any confusion, let’s talk about this time period using some world history points for perspective.
The Sengoku jidai is a period in Japanese history marked by social upheaval, political intrigue and near-constant military conflict
In 1467, the newly formed Ottoman Empire was trying to expand into Eastern Europe. Meanwhile, Christopher Columbus was in his late teens and not yet an apprentice business agent. The “New World” he would eventually stumble onto was still controlled by indigenous civilizations. At the same time, 15-year-old Leonardo da Vinci just started his apprenticeship to his master, Verrochio, the year before. Using these historic references to get our bearing, let’s now travel to the other side of the world, replacing our knights with samurai.
Japan was at war with itself. Economic instability and power struggles lead to fighting between the local warlords, called daimyo (大名). There was an emperor and a shogunate, but neither had the power to unite the many warring factions. It was like a free-for-all brawl at a pub, with the bartender and waitress watching helplessly behind the counter.
One warlord, named Oda Nobunaga, was particularly powerful, and nearly succeeded in uniting the entire country under his rule. He didn’t tend to use diplomacy. He unified central Japan through conquest, conquering about a third of the country before dying in a coup in 1582. His loyal generals Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu were next in line to try to unify Japan.
Though born a peasant, Toyotomi Hideyoshi succeeded where his liege lord had failed. He united Japan through careful strategy and negotiations. In 1583, Hideyoshi started to build his castle at Osaka, built on the site of a Buddhist temple destroyed by Nobunaga. Though never achieving the title of shogan, Hideyoshi claimed the royal title of kampaku, or chief regent of the emperor. After brief fighting, Hideyoshi’s former compatriot and rival, Tokugawa Ieyasu, agreed to be Hideyoshi’s vassal.
While Hideyoshi maintained his power in life, he knew his death would create a power vacuum. With his health failing, he created the Council of Five Elders to rule until his son, Hideyori, came of age. However, shortly after Hideyoshi’s death in 1598, the council divided into factions based on who supported, or did not support, the council’s strongest member, Tokugawa Ieyasu.
In Japan, there is a famous saying, “Oda pounds the mochi, Hashiba (another name for Toyotomi) kneads it, and in the end, Tokugawa eats it (織田がつき羽柴がこねし天下餅すわりしままに食うは徳川).” Indeed, Tokugawa took control of Japan. The 400 year anniversary of the start of his unopposed rule, which was the start of the Edo period, is what is being remembered at Osaka castle.
By 1614, Tokugawa had already decimated his competition, most notably at the battle of Sekigahara in 1600. However, Toyotomi Hideyori, now a young man, was still a threat to Tokugawa’s unification of Japan. In the November of 1614, Tokugawa started the siege of Osaka Castle, the last of the Toyotomi strongholds. He wanted to completely wipe out his competition.
The siege lasted until January of 1615, and after a brief break, resumed in May. In June, Osaka Castle fell to the Tokugawa clan, and the destruction of the Toyotomi clan solidified the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate. The Tokugawa shogunate lasted until the Meiji Restoration in 1860 and paved the way for modern Japan.
From now until the end of December, you can enjoy live performances of Sengoku tales and other activities at various points within the Castle Park. Starting in December and continuing until March 1st, there will also be a 3D mapping show and illuminations. Last year, I celebrated New Years at the castle and can say that the 3D mapping show at that time was quite amazing. They burned the castle down and rebuilt it while the announcer explained the history. The illuminations were quite impressive as well.
There will also be a summer siege event, though the details have not yet been released. For more information: https://osakanojin400.com/en/