Since time immemorial, Osaka has been a place where people from regions near and far come together. It sits on the Seto Inland Sea, a heavily traveled water area, and faces Osaka Bay at a place where rivers flowing from inland converge. In ancient times, when transit by car or train was still an impossible dream, Osaka had developed as an economic center and as a gateway to receive merchants and travelers from all over Asia. Osaka’s origins date back to the 5th century.
Today, the area prospered as the economic and political heart of Japan in ancient times. Believed to be located somewhere near present-day Chuo-ku city in Osaka City, Naniwa-zu was at that time a newly developed port used as a gateway to Japan from Korea, China, and other Asian countries. Visitors coming to Osaka from other parts of Asia are said to have brought a lot to the area: cutting-edge technology for creating new and novel crafts and ceramics, forging techniques, and the newest methods and knowledge. It is around this time that Buddhism began to spread in Japan, a nation that had not yet received the sutras. All these techniques and learnings were introduced to other regions of Japan with truly shocking speed.
Buddhism also spread throughout the nation, and in 593 Prince Shotoku erected the Shitenno-ji Temple in modern Tennoji-ku. With these developments, Osaka was transformed into an international metropolis engaged in exchange with other Asian nations. When 645 arrived, Emperor Kotoku moved the capital from Nara to Osaka. Today, in the city, you can take a tour of the palace that Emperor Kotoku built, in the remains of the Naniwa-no-Miya Palace Park. It is considered the oldest imperial palace in Japan. However, the capital would move again and again: first to Nagaoka-kyo (Kyoto), then to Heijo-kyo (Nara), Heian-kyo (Kyoto), Kamakura (south of Tokyo) and finally to Edo (modern- Tokyo day). Even after the capital was relocated, Osaka continued to develop as Japan’s second city: in particular, it became the face that the nation showed to the rest of Asia, playing an important role as a place of commercial and cultural exchange.
In 794, the capital was in Heian-kyo. The period that follows is called the Heian period (794–1185). During this time countless Buddhist temples were established in Osaka and Kyoto. It was also around this time that women’s culture flourished, from arts and crafts to literary works such as Murasaki Shikibu’s “Genji’s Tale” from the 11th century. However, in the second half of the 12th century, factions emerged working to overthrow the ruling Taira clan, with the Minamoto clan emerging as the victors. Minamoto no Yoritomo seized power and established the Kamakura shogunate. From this period, conflicts emerged more and more as the country progressed into the Sengoku (or Warring States) period, which lasted from the mid-15th century to the early 17th century.
Around the time of the 14th century, Osaka and much of the area around it was devastated by war. In 1496, the monk Rennyo began building the Ishiyama Gobo on the Uemachi Plateau, which runs north to south from Osaka Castle to Tenmabashi in central Osaka. Ishiyama Gobo was a temple and a monastery and has been called the Ishiyama Hongan-ji Temple. However, to stem the tide of war, it was also built as a fortress.
In the second half of the Muromachi period (1336-1573), Oda Nobunaga decided to test his superlative military might against Ishiyama Gobo on the Uemachi Plateau of Osaka. As can be clearly seen even now in modern Osaka, the plateau gently rises from the surrounding area, providing a great location overlooking the region. Furthermore, the moment Osaka Bay came close to the western edge of the plateau, so that even if a strike force invaded, the layout of the land made it a literal and figurative uphill struggle. Another point in its favor was that it was sandwiched between the Yodogawa and Yamatogawa rivers at a time when waterways were the main commercial and transportation arteries. As there was also a large amount of trade coming from the Seto Inland Sea, the area could also dominate economically as a commercial center. On top of everything, the terrain presented no easy target for invasion. Oda Nobunaga was confident that he could take down Ishiyama Gobo and take control of not only Osaka, but also Japan and neighboring nations beyond.
He spent more than a decade in a continuous war against the fortress temple until it was nearly burned to the ground – Osaka was under Nobunaga’s control at last. After that, Nobunaga’s successor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who used Osaka as his base of operations, began his rule of Japan. During 1583 in the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1574–1600), Hideyoshi built Osaka Castle. A moat was dug around the castle during a large-scale construction project: the waterways around Osaka were widened and the area developed as a transportation hub connected to the sea. However, the Winter Campaign of the Siege of Osaka in 1614 and the Summer Campaign in 1615 destroyed the castle along with the surrounding city and also led to the downfall and ruin of the Toyotomi clan.
When the Tokugawa clan took control of the nation, the political center was transferred to Edo (present-day Tokyo). With this, the country also entered the sakoku (“chained nation”) period, during which entry or exit from Japan was strictly prohibited. Osaka, although almost razed, quickly rose from the ashes thanks to the temperament of the Osaka people and once again became an economic metropolis. At this time, the city that came to be called “tenka no daitokoro” (“kitchen of the nation”) was Osaka itself, many hundreds of kilometers away from Edo. This was because the buying and selling of important goods, including rice and other foods, was frequently done in this region. The rice was shipped all over Japan from Osaka, providing food for the nation. In time, it would also become a major exporter of goods abroad.
These economic advances caused Osaka to develop its own unique culture. Breaking away from traditional practices, there was also a growth in arts and popular culture that the masses could enjoy. These included a type of puppet theater called jorurui (believed to be the origin of bunraku puppet theater), noh theater, and a unique Osakan version of kabuki.
Osaka also made contributions to education: the schools established in the city produced many academics who would have a profound influence on Japan at the time. An example of this was Tekijuku, founded in 1838 for the study of Western science and medicine. In the middle of the 19th century, Japan would end its isolation and enter modernity, and among the graduates of Tekijuku were those who would contribute to opening the country to the world and reforming the nation’s government. Later, Tekijuku would become Osaka University.
The Meiji Reformation, which began in 1868 after the fall of the Tokugawa clan, was the largest restructuring in Japanese history. The capital, now called “Tokyo”, became a new economic center: Osaka, a city of commerce, began to stagnate. It is around this time that Osaka experimented with becoming an industrial city. Thick clouds of smoke billowed from the chimneys of industrial factories, and in the late 19th century Osaka was derisively called “the city of smoke.” The nickname that followed was “Manchester of the East.”
In 1889, Osaka was formally incorporated as a municipality. Very shortly after being officially recognized as a Japanese city, it hosted the 5th Domestic Industrial Exhibition (1903) in the Tennoji area. Bringing together high-quality industrial products and techniques, the event attracted the elite of the industrial world eager to acquire cutting-edge technologies from all over Japan. In the same year, Osaka became the first city in the country to operate a municipal tram system. Until 1925, Osaka was the most populous city in Japan and the sixth largest in the world.
During World War II, a third of Osaka was destroyed due to American bombing. Many commercial and industrial areas were targeted by these air attacks. However, post-war reconstruction planning and Osaka’s natural optimism came together to restore the city to its prewar vitality. Even now, there are a variety of companies and entrepreneurs active in Osaka. These numerous companies (and entrepreneurs) contribute to the economic strength of the city, and now, as in the past, Osaka is the central metropolis of western Japan.
For example, in 1970 Osaka was chosen as the host city for the first Asia World Expo. Since then, the city has hosted all kinds of events, from international exhibitions and shows to world fairs and meetings. He even organized an APEC summit in 1995.
There is everything you can imagine Osaka: conference and meeting facilities such as the Osaka International Convention Center to welcome guests from all over the world, first-class hotels, delicious cuisine, unique history and culture, and countless entertainment options and leisure. A world-class metropolis with great influence in modern Asia, Osaka holds its head high on the international stage.