During my first official day in exploring the key cities of Japan, my friends and I had just visited the Todai-ji Temple in Nara and we were headed to the Osaka Castle in Osaka City.
This was part of the itinerary prepared by my friend, Debbie, who lives in Japan. We were originally scheduled to visit Gion and the rest of the key tourist destinations within the Kyoto area but since my friends’ itinerary got changed, and knowing that we need all the help we could get to be familiar with getting in and out of Kyoto, we decided to tag along their trip before my friend, Wena, and I were left to explore Kyoto on our own.
Getting out of Nara and travelling to Osaka
We left the Todaiji Temple at Nara Park when it was almost noon time. I was already feeling the effect of not bringing an umbrella that morning. I guess it was around 8°C at that time and it was still drizzling. My hair and my hood were already damp. However, the warmth I’m getting from my coat was making my back sweat. If it were to speak, my back would have probably protested. I was just glad to learn that we didn’t have to walk for another 20 mins back to the Kintetsunara Station. Since my friends were in a hurry, and when we learned that there’s a bus in the area that passes the JR Nara station, we decided to hop on one, instead of hiring a taxi cab, which was the original plan.
Once we arrived at the JR Nara Station, we decided it’s best to grab lunch first. We ate at the Yayoiken Restaurant, one of the famous restaurants in Japan. Finally! I got to experience eating my first Japanese authentic dish.
What’s surprising was that we had to place our orders straight out of a vending machine, which spits tickets of the meals we ordered. The menu was written in Japanese and the small photos showing each dish didn’t help at all so I let my friend order for me. I got to try the Torikatsu for 690JPY (~300Php or 7USD). The set meal consists of 4 huge cuts of deep friend chicken, miso soup, fresh vegetable salad and bean curd. The restaurant also offers free hot tea and or ice cold water. I opted for the cold water forgetting all about the tea, which proved to be a bad choice (will let you know why later).
Once we finished our meals, we waved our JR Pass at the station clerks to get through, looked for our train platform that will take us to Osaka and waited. Once our train arrived, we hopped in and immersed ourselves in enjoying the scenic ride from Nara to Osaka.
my friends: Wena, Debbie, Mel and Kimi
It took us 50 minutes to reach Osaka Station, our 1st train stop. We had to transfer to another train to get to Osakajokoen Station, which was near the Osaka Castle. The ride only took 9 minutes.
Arriving at Osakajokoen
When we finally reached our destination, we discovered that we had to walk for roughly 20 minutes to reach the castle. We passed by the Osaka-jo Hall and the Osaka Baseball field. During holidays and weekends (I guess), I was told that this part of Osaka gets filled with locals selling food.
When we had a good view of the castle, I immediately noticed that it is surrounded by huge stone walls, gates and moats. To get to the castle grounds, you have to pass by a bridge, more known as the Aoya Gate. Don’t forget to grab the chance to take selfies in here as this is a great spot for taking photos with the castle as your background.
During our visit, there was an ongoing construction happening at the Aoya Gate entrance after passing by the bridge. The arched entrance was covered in scaffoldings and nets. I think it’s part of the restoration process to preserve and maintain the castle grounds.
A huge open space greeted us after. To the left was the Japanese Plum Grove Garden. Looking straight was an elevated road that will lead to the main castle grounds.
The Osaka Castle
The Osaka Castle is one of the famous castles in Japan. This castle dates back in 1583 when Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Japan’s second “great unifier”, ordered its construction. After his death, the castle were subjected to serious attacks where it was destroyed. Several years later, the castle had to undergo several reconstructions due to the political unrest. In 1997, the castle’s restoration was completed. It was restored to its original look and has since become a modern museum which imparts valuable information on Japan’s history.
Once we reached the entrance to the castle, all I could do was look up and stare at the massive structure in front of me. I was trying hard to keep my jaw from dropping as I admire the beauty of the castle.
The Osaka Castle is not your regular stone-wall castles that you normally see in European countries. Some parts of it are actually made of wood. You will also notice the huge stones that make up the walls and grounds of the castle’s base. That’s one of the things that I admire in this castle in Japan. I dig for those huge stones.
Looking at the photo on top, our small figures look miniscule compared to the castle’s enormous structure.
After having our group photos taken outside the castle’s main grounds, 3 of my friends bade their farewells as they needed to catch their 4pm bullet train ride from Kyoto to Hon-Atsugi. They will be spending the rest of their stay at our friend’s place in Hon-Atsugi, which is an hour away from Tokyo, while Wena and I will stay behind and spend 2 more nights in Kyoto before we re-join them.
I had no plans of going inside the castle because an entrance fee is collected but since Wena wanted to get inside, I changed my mind and I was glad I did.
Getting inside this Japanese Castle
To get inside, you have to buy a ticket at the vending machine found at the castle’s entrance. We paid 600 yen and got this cute paper ticket which doubled as a souvenir. It shows one of the castle’s folding screens, which illustrates the colorful history of Japan’s Summer war.
This historical building has 8 floors. After the restorations made, an elevator was also installed inside the castle for easy access to senior citizens and those visiting on wheelchairs. The 6th floor is off-limits to the public.
For the general public, a set of narrow stairs is available to get to each of the castle’s floors. The elevator’s use is limited and it is also discouraged to take the elevator when going down once you are on the top floor, unless of course if you have a serious health condition. Navigating through those narrow stairs might be a challenge to some.
A photo of the aerial view of the castle
The Entrance Hall (1F)
Things to see inside the castle’s main entrance hall
- Movie Theater
- Legend and mystery of Osaka Castle
- Museum Shop
The movie theater features 5 programs showing the life of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Although the movie is shown in Japanese, there are subtitles in English, Chinese and Korean.
There’s also a section in the castle where you could rent costumes and gears for photography purposes if you are into that sort of thing.
Osaka Castle Facts and Figures (2F)
Things to see on the second floor:
- Display panels
- Osaka Castle History at a Glance: “After the Tokugawa Regime and the Meiji Period”
- Office and Curator’s Office
The display panels showcase facts and figures about the castle. There are also full scale replicas of the shachi, a legendary dolphin-shaped fish, and the fusetora or crouching tigers. The restrooms are located only on this floor too.
One of the things I enjoyed in the castle was getting to hang out at the Commemorative Stamp area, which I think is on the second floor too. There were 3 stamp designs available in there and the look of that red ink was so inviting that I got hooked at stamping my blank paper to perfection.
Hideyoshi Toyotomi and His Era (3F and 4F)
Things to see on the third and fourth floor:
- Historical artifact selections
- Full-scale replica: The Golden Tea Room
- Model of Osaka Castle in the Toyotomi Period
- Model of Osaka Castle in the Tokugawa Period
- Osaka Castle History at a Glance: “Osaka Castle in the Edo Period”
- Exhibition Catalogue Counter
- Historical artifact selections
- Osaka Castle History at a Glance: “Osaka Castle Reconstructed by the Tokugawa Shogunate”
Cameras are not allowed on the 3rd and 4th floors.
What you will see in here are historical artifacts of war costumes and gears that were used by Japanese warlords including records of the Sengoku era. There are also other interesting artifacts found in those floors.
If you are into postcards or coffee table books or catalogues, these memorabilia are sold on the 3rd floor. Postcards are sold at 200 yen a piece. The prints are photos of those artifacts that you will find within the 3rd and 4th floor.
Scenes from “The Summer War in Osaka” Folding Screen (5F)
Things to see on the fifth floor:
- Miniature: “The Summer War in Osaka”
- Panorama Vision: “The Summer War in Osaka”
- Osaka Castle History at a Glance: “Osaka Castle under Hideyoshi Toyotomi”
Those who love miniature action figures will surely love the 5th floor of the Osaka Castle. In there, you will see the war scenes as visualized by hundreds of miniature figures to depict the intense battle between Sanada and Matsudaira. The folding screen will also give you a visual idea of how wide their battle fields were.
On the other side of the 5th floor, you will see that the famous scenes of the folding screen of the Summer War in Osaka are presented in movies. It’s just too bad that the dialogue are in Japanese. It would have been wonderful to learn a thing or two about Japan’s past and what the war was all about.
The 6F is restricted to the public.
The Life of Hideyoshi Toyotomi (7F)
Things to see on the seventh floor:
- Karakuri Taiko-ki
- Osaka Castle History at a Glance: “The Period of Ishiyama Hongan-ji Temple”
On this floor, you will see the life of Hideyoshi, who was responsible for the construction of the castle and the reason for the unification of the entire nation of Japan, as presented in miniature dioramas. Again, the sad thing is that this is in Japanese. It would have been wonderful if there was an English translation or audio available for these mini movies or dioramas.
Observation Deck (8F)
Things to see on the eight floor:
- Stereoscope: “Famous views of Naniwa” Three-dimensional landscapes of “Old Osaka”
- Museum Shop
Finally! We reached the last floor of the Osaka Castle. A souvenir shop is also found on this floor. Although it’s smaller compared to the shop on the first floor, tourists who are keen to buying keepsakes will enjoy the collection of souvenir items sold here. I bought a small Osaka Castle ref magnet for 320 yen here.
The eight floor is my favorite floor because of the view deck. For first-timers in Japan, entering the castle and going all the way up to the Observation Deck will offer you a 360o view of Osaka’s skyline.
Although it was 6 degrees (Celsius) on this late afternoon, stepping out in the view deck was so refreshing. We were immediately greeted by the gush of cold wind as it kissed our bare faces adding more to the chilling environment.
But with a sight that greeted us as we looked down and traced back where we came from, the coldness was temporarily forgotten.
The Aoya Gate bridge suddenly looked small.
There weren’t that many sky rise buildings in Osaka yet. Although you’ll see buildings everywhere, only a few stands tall while the rest looked comfortable where they are.
This one looked like a helipad. I was silently hoping a helicopter would land to prove my theory.
On one side of the viewing deck, I was trying hard to adjust my camera’s settings. I couldn’t understand why my photo of the trees looked faded. It was only when we reached that side of the castle grounds did I realize what I was photographing.
The faded tree colors were actually among a thousand plum trees that were blooming early and I’m so happy I got to see them.
The Plum Grove Garden and the Nishinomaru Cherry Blossoms Garden shouldn’t be missed when you visit Osaka Castle in Japan. The latter has an entrance fee though.
The castle grounds has a wide area ideal for locals and tourists to hang out. There are stores on one side that sell food and souvenir items. At the farther area of the grounds, there are carts set up where takoyaki and crepes are sold. I bet there are more carts selling food items on holidays and weekends.
Seeing that there was a store that sells green tea ice cream, we decided to have a go for it to try out how green tea ice cream tastes in Japan. After paying 300 yen and tasting the green looking stuff, I decided that green tea flavored ice cream is not for me.
I guess anyone who saw us eating the ice cream while hanging out on one of those benches would have thought Wena and I were crazy. If you want to know how to freeze to death in Osaka in March, eat green tea ice cream!!!
I learned an invaluable lesson the hard way too. Remember when I mentioned at the start of this article how drinking the cold water from the restaurant was a bad choice? With my whole system getting confused with the cold weather in Japan + getting slightly soaked in the rain that morning because I refused to carry an umbrella + drinking cold water at the resto during lunch + eating ice cream while freezing to death late in the afternoon, by the end of the day, my throat got me worried. I could strongly sense that my tonsils were getting inflamed. I couldn’t afford for that to happen as it would ruin our trip. Good thing I brought emergency meds with me and overdosed on Ibuprofen and Phenylephrine; and doubled my dose of Vitamin C to prevent a health disaster from happening.
If you are planning to visit Osaka Castle, make sure you are properly dressed for the season. When we visited the place in March, the temperature was around 6 degrees. Since Japan is an expensive place to travel, you may not forgive yourself if you fell ill while on your trip to Japan. So make sure you take care of your body. Don’t be too stubborn. Don’t abuse it so that you can enjoy the rest of your stay in this beautiful country.
If you want to catch the cherry blossoms and the plum grove in full bloom, it would be best to visit at the last week of March or early April. It’s also recommended to visit Japan in Autumn too.
How to Get to Osaka from Nara
Since I was in the company of friends who had unlimited wifi access, they helped us navigate through the busy train stations of Kyoto, Nara and Osaka. Following the useful information found in Hyperdia, we rode the train from Nara to Osaka for 50 minutes. We had to transfer to another train to get to Osakajokoen, the nearest JR station when going Osaka Castle. The train ride was only 9 minutes.
The image below shows the timetable of the train we rode when going to Osaka Castle.
After our short visit in Osaka City, we went back to Kyoto following this train schedule. To get back to Kyoto from Osakajokoen, we had to transfer to another train at the Osaka Station. Total travel time only takes 44 minutes for the 2 train rides.
Since we rode JR trains, we didn’t have to spend anything for the train fare. We simply waved our JR Pass to the train station clerks and went on our way.
To reach the castle, one could also take the subway and city buses. Before planning your trip, be sure to know if the castle is open and check beforehand how you will get to the castle.
Osaka Castle Hours of Operation and Fees
Osaka Castle Tower
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (last admission is 16:30)
The time schedule varies according to season, various holidays and special exhibitions
Food and Drinks are not allowed inside the castle
Entrance Fee: 600 yen