Osaka is located on the main island of Honshu, roughly in the center of Japan. Osaka City, which was incorporated in 1889, has a population of 2.5 million and an area of 221 square kilometers. Osaka Prefecture, which includes Osaka City (its capital) and 42 other municipalities, has a population of 8.7 million and a total land mass of about 1,905 square kilometers. Although Osaka is Japan's second smallest prefecture by size, its population represents 7% of the entire nation, making it the second most populous prefecture after Tokyo. Furthermore, 10% of all non-Japanese residents live in Osaka.
1400 Years of Tradition
Since ancient times, Osaka has been a gathering place. Located at the confluence of a vast web of busy river and sea routes, it naturally grew into a flourishing economic center and became the gateway to Japan for travelers and traders from all over Asia.
Osaka's Origins Go Back to the 5th Century
In the 5th century, Osaka began to flourish as the political and economic center of Japan. Naniwazu Port, the predecessor to the modern port of Osaka, became a gateway into ancient Japan for visitors from Korea, China and the Asian continent. These visitors brought with them knowledge and artifacts of advanced culture, and new technologies in ceramics, forging, construction, and engineering. They also brought with them a new religion, Buddhism, which very quickly began to spread to the rest of the country.
As Buddhism spread, Prince Shotoku constructed Shitennoji Temple in Osaka in 593 A.D., and the city became a base for international exchange with the Asian continent. In 645 A.D., the Emperor Kotoku moved the capital from Asuka (Nara) to Osaka. He built the Naniwanomiya Palace, which is considered to be the oldest palace in Japan. Even though the national government later moved to Nagaoka-kyo (Kyoto), then Heijo-kyo (the city of Nara), then Heian-kyo (Kyoto), then Kamakura, and finally to Edo (Tokyo), Osaka has continued to serve as a sub-capital, and to play a crucial role as a major gateway for foreign culture and trade.
Hideyoshi's Castle Town
In 794, the capital of Japan was moved to Heian-kyo (Kyoto). The period that followed, called the Heian Period, saw the construction of numerous fine temples around the Kyoto and Osaka areas, while arts, crafts and women's literature (such as A Tale of Genji) flourished. But by the late 1100s, as the nation entered the Kamakura Period, powerful warlords gained hegemony over the land, and the capital was moved to Kamakura. Thus began more than two centuries of civil war.
During the 14th century, Osaka was largely devastated by a series of wars. Then in 1496, Rennyo, a high-ranking priest, began construction of Ishiyama Gobo, a temple and monk's quarters on Osaka's Uemachi Daichi heights. This temple later came to be called Ishiyama Honganji Temple, and the area around it as Osaka. Thereafter, Ishiyama Hongan-ji functioned as an impregnable fort to defend against attack by warlords.
During the late Muromachi Period (1336-1573), Nobunaga Oda, a powerful warlord, took a liking to Uemachi Daichi in Osaka, because it was difficult to attack and commanded a fine view of the surrounding region. It was believed that to control this territory, which was blessed with water from the Yamatogawa and Yodogawa rivers and had a long history of international exchange, was to control the rest of Japan and the world.
A decade-long conflict ensued, and much of the temple was destroyed. After that the temple was transferred to the control of Nobunaga Oda. His successor, Hideyoshi Toyotomi, another famous warlord, unified Japan from his base in Osaka and built Osaka Castle in 1583 during the Azuchi and Momoyama Periods (1574-1600). Rivers were excavated to expand Osaka's capabilities as a base for marine transportation. However, in battles that raged between the winter of 1614 and the summer of 1615 the castle town of Osaka was burnt to the ground.