The Fiery History of Ōsaka

In World War II, Ōsaka suffered heavily from the air raids it experienced. But truth be told, this wasn’t the only time the great city with origins back to the 5th century suffered from fire.

Although Osaka was never officially recognized as Japan's capital, the city's Naniwanomiya Palace functioned as the country's governmental seat before capitals were established in Kyoto and Nara. Today only the foundations of what was the center of Japan's government in the 7th century remain, but the palace has been re-created in all its magnificence in the nearby Osaka Museum of History.  (Courtesy Osaka-info.jp)
Although Osaka was never officially recognized as Japan’s capital, the city’s Naniwanomiya Palace functioned as the country’s governmental seat before capitals were established in Kyoto and Nara. Today only the foundations of what was the center of Japan’s government in the 7th century remain, but the palace has been re-created in all its magnificence in the nearby Osaka Museum of History. (Courtesy Osaka-info.jp)

In the 14th Century Ōsaka was “…largely devastated by a series of wars.” Late in the 15th century the Uemachi Daichi heights area, site of the old Naniwa Imperial Palace, was developed by the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist sect into the Ishiyama Hongan-ji temple and a strongly fortified position.

Ishiyama Hongan-ji temple and fortifications built atop the heights of Osaka.  (Courtesy of Travelneu.com)
Ishiyama Hongan-ji temple and fortifications built atop the heights of Osaka. (Courtesy of Travelneu.com)

This location, difficult to attack, commanding the area which had a favorable location with rivers and commerce, was too good for the powerful warlord Oda Nobunaga, who was then in a long campaign to try and unify Japan. In 1570, he began a decade long campaign against the monks atop the Uemachi Daichi Heights, who ultimately surrendered. The temple was then razed.

When Oda died in 1582, his successor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who unified Japan by 1590 from his base in Ōsaka, built Ōsaka Castle in the place of the Ishiyama Hongan-ji temple.

Cross-section of the reconstructed Osaka castle showing the Tokugawa shogunate's efforts to erase the Toyotomi-era castle.  (Courtesy Archaeology.jp)
Cross-section of the reconstructed Osaka castle showing the Tokugawa shogunate’s efforts to erase the Toyotomi-era castle. (Courtesy Archaeology.jp)

But rival for power Tokugawa Ieyasu came to rise in power and in between the winter of 1814 and the summer of 1615; the castle was destroyed and the town burnt to the ground.

Osaka castle burns and marks the end of Sengoku era.  Screen capture from the 45th NHK Taiga Drama, "Komyo ga Tsuji."  (Courtesy Surasplace.com)
Osaka castle burns and marks the end of Sengoku era. Screen capture from the 45th NHK Taiga Drama, “Komyo ga Tsuji.” (Courtesy Surasplace.com)

Fast forward to a hard time in the Edo era, when the Tokugawa Shogunate ruled Japan. In 1837 a peasant insurrection against the city began due to its unwillingness to help the poor and destitute. It was led by low-ranking samurai Oshio Heihachiro, and by the time the Shogunate put down the rebellion, about 25 percent of the city was burned down.

The peasant revolt of 1837 in Osaka led by Oshio Heihachiro was crushed by the Tokugawa shogunate.  About a quarter of the city was burned down.  (Courtesy Zolachao.wordpress.com)
The peasant revolt of 1837 in Osaka led by Oshio Heihachiro was crushed by the Tokugawa shogunate. About a quarter of the city was burned down. (Courtesy Zolachao.wordpress.com)

Of note, it was the great Kanto earthquake of 1922 that resulted in Ōsaka’s first noted preparations against the specter of aerial attack.

Metropolitan Police Office burning at Maruno-uchi, near Hibiya Park, in Tokyo, Japan, September 1923.  (Courtesy Wikipedia)
Metropolitan Police Office burning at Maruno-uchi, near Hibiya Park, in Tokyo, Japan, September 1923. (Courtesy Wikipedia)

The tremendous destruction by earthquake and widespread fires of the Tokyo and Yokohama metropolitan areas, which resulted in more dead than the 10 March 1945 B-29 incendiary raid on Tokyo, caused the authorities in Japan to review their disaster preparedness capabilities.

View of the destruction from the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, as seen from the Kotobuki Junior School in Yokohama, Japan.  (Courtesy Wikipedia)
View of the destruction from the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, as seen from the Kotobuki Junior School in Yokohama, Japan. (Courtesy Wikipedia)

From 5-7 July 1928, the first large-scale air raid drill in Japan was carried out in Ōsaka. It was a significant event involving both the Imperial Army and Navy aircraft which carried out day and night simulated attacks, dropping fake bombs near fixed explosions on the ground. Even poison gas was simulated with smoke released from canisters.

On the ground, the metropolitan government worked with military officials, neighborhood associations, youth groups, retired servicemen associations, young men’s associations, etc., to mobilize some 139,764 officials to direct the response of the citizenry to these mock attacks.

A Japan Times article of 6 July 1928 “…covered such items as photographs of children and nurses in gas masks, a descriptive analysis of blackout regulations and first-aid drills, an Army critique of the drills and an expression of strong official support for an extensive civilian air-defense program. The weakness of Japan’s civilian air defense was not due to the lack of an early start.” (USSBS Report)

Although the population was perhaps lacking enthusiasm in the era of disarmament, this was an important step for what was to come in the future as Imperial Japan embarked upon a war of aggression which resulted in the Pacific War, and what would develop into the devastating American aerial response.

References

“Historical Overview of Ōsaka,” at: http://www.Ōsaka-info.jp/en/discover/learn/historical_overview.html

“Ōsaka,” Wikipedia entry, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ōsaka

“Oda Nobunaga,” Wikipedia entry, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oda_Nobunaga

“Oshio Heihachiro,” Wikipedia entry, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C5%8Cshio_Heihachir%C5%8D

Schencking, J. Charles, “The Great Kanto Earthquake and the Chimera of National Reconstruction in Japan,” Columbia University Press, New York, 2013

“1923 Great Kanto Earthquake,” Wikipedia entry, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1923_Great_Kant%C5%8D_earthquake

Final Report Covering Air-Raid Protection and Allied Subjects in Japan, The United States Strategic Bombing Survey, 1 Oct 1945 – 1 Dec 1945, at: http://archive.org/stream/finalreportcover00unit/finalreportcover00unit_djvu.txt
Images not in references above

Remains of Naniwa Palace, at: http://www.Ōsaka-info.jp/en/facilities/cat7/post_150.html

Ishiyama Hongan-ji temple, at: http://travelneu.com/tourism/japan/ishiyama-hongan-ji

Cross-section of the reconstructed Ōsaka castle, at: Rebellion of Oshio Heihachiro, at: http://archaeology.jp/sites/2011/ishikiri.htm

Burning of Ōsaka Castle, at: http://www.surasplace.com/index.php/drama/27-culture-thoughts/160-komyo-ga-tsuji.html?showall=&start=5

Oshio Heihachiro Rebellion, at:
https://zolachao.wordpress.com/2014/05/04/%E5%A4%A7%E9%B9%BD%E5%B9%B3%E5%85%AB%E9%83%8E%E8%B5%B7%E7%BE%A9-oshio-heihachiro-uprising-1837/

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