Despite being largely a concrete reconstruction, Ōsaka-jō can be counted a great survivor, a tangible link with the city’s illustrious past as Japan’s one-time seat of power. The castle’s roots go back to the early sixteenth century, when an influential Buddhist sect built its fortified temple headquarters Ishiyama Hongan-ji beside the confluence of the Ōgawa and Neya-gawa rivers. For a decade the monks held out against warlord Oda Nobunaga, before handing their fortress over in 1580. Nobunaga’s successor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, decided to build the grandest castle in Japan on the temple site. For three years from 1583, tens of thousands of men laboured on the enormous castle, and craftsmen were drafted in from around Japan to give the eight-storey central donjon the finest gold-leaf decoration.
Toyotomi died in 1598, and his son and heir Hideyori was immediately under threat from rival Tokugawa Ieyasu. In 1614, the would-be shogun laid siege to the castle, even though his favourite granddaughter Senhime, wife of Hideyori, was inside. A year later he breached the castle and reduced it to ruins. Hideyori and his mother committed suicide rather than surrender, but Senhime survived and went on to become mistress of Himeji-jō. When Ieyasu allowed the castle to be rebuilt in the 1620s, he made sure it was not on the same scale as his own residence in Edo. In 1665, the donjon was again burnt to the ground after being struck by lightning. It was not rebuilt until the 1840s and then only lasted another thirty years before the Tokugawa troops set fire to the castle during the civil war that briefly raged before the Meiji Restoration of 1868. Ōsaka’s citizens, however, had grown fond of their castle, so the donjon was rebuilt once more in 1931 – this time from concrete – and it has remained standing despite the heavy bombing of the city during World War II.