Osaka’s Other Castle

Take a walk into Osaka’s medieval past

By Richard Trombly

Osaka is steeped in history and is fortunate to have a beautiful restored castle centered in the heart of the city. It is surrounded by beautiful parkland open year-round 24 hours a day and features the Osaka Castle Museum.

There is, however, another castle that played an important role in Osaka’s history and makes for a great moderately challenging day hike. The Iimoriyama Castle ruins are about 15 km northwest of Osaka Castle in Shijonawate, Osaka. It is easily reached by the JR Gakkentoshi Line at Kyobashi Station.

The castle is a 3 km and 250m elevation hike from the Shijonawate station. There are many shops and restaurants in Shijonawate to prepare for the hike. I walked along the winding stream flowing from the mountains but if you have extra time, the Shijonawate Shrine is a worthwhile detour.

Iimoriyama Mountain extends from the Kawachi Ridge connecting to Mount Ikoma to the south and descends to a low pass in the ridge to the North. Climbing the northern face is a challenging scramble but the trail does have steps and in some cases hand ropes so hikers of all levels can handle this trip.

Hikers on the steep climb on Iimori’s northern trail. Photo credit Richard Trombly

After walking about 20 minutes from the station, the trail head ascends into the woods with a shady, densely forested climb. It quickly becomes steep with double-height steps and there is commonly some erosion from heavy rains.

Trail map to Iimoriyama courtesy of © OpenStreetMap contributors

For interactive trail map click here

The climb will soon offer a vista to the north looking towards Kyoto. The main road from Kyoto passed below. The strategic value of this location is evident and even before the castle was constructed here around 1520, there were military forts commanding this spot.

The northern view across Hirakata to Kyoto. Photo credit Richard Trombly

This hike is especially popular for foliage in the fall but offers a great short hike year-round so close to Osaka city and is rarely crowded. After passing a side trail to Shijonawate Shrine, there is a final press to the castle.

Statue of Masatsura Kusunoki. Photo Credit Richard Trombly

At the top of the climb, there is a viewing deck and a statue to Masatsura Kusunoki, the hero of the Battle of Shijonawate in 1348, well before the construction of the castle.

Masatsura’s enduring fame is not for winning the battle but rather trying to avenge his father’s death, he fought his way into the opposing camp and came to within meters of meeting his foe when it was clear he would be taken, so he took his life with his own sword. His acts are held as a model of filial piety and honor.

Because of its powerful defensive nature and strategic location, the castle was torn down around 1570. All that remains today are the rock walls lining earthen defense structures.

Stone defensive walls are all that remains of the castle. Photo credit Richard Trombly

Enjoy your time at the castle grounds and explore the ruins. This was one of the larger Japanese castles with a huge footprint of 800 by 400 meters. It had been defended by a dry moat and other constructions. Shijonawate was connected to the Yodogawa River, another reason for the location of this fortress to command the Osaka plains.

Looking to the southwest with Osaka’s skyline in the distance. Photo credit Richard Trombly

On your way down you can ponder the history of the castle and its role in the region. At the height of a warring states period under a weak empire, it was captured by Nagayoshi Miyoshi (1522-1564) and he moved his base there in 1559. The Miyoshi clan held stable control of the economic center in Sakai to the southwest. This allowed Nagayoshi to concentrate on keeping the Shogun in Kyoto at bay.

As the Shogunate was weak at this time, some historians ponder that Nagayoshi could have made bold moves and taken Kyoto as his own. Perhaps he was too cautious but maybe he was simply overcome by the peacefulness of the views. Whatever the reason, Nagayoshi and his lord Harumoto Hosokawa were killed in the battle of Taiheiji in 1564 marking the end of the castle’s prominence and its eventual destruction.

The climb down offers its own challenging sections and a few nice vistas. Before descending into the village of Nozaki you can view the Buddhist Jigenji Temple also known as Nozaki Kannon which can be accessed by crossing a short scenic bridge. The temple in coordination with Daito City Mountain Federation offer a downloadable detailed map (in Japanese only.)

Now you are in the village of Nozaki and it is a short trip to the JR station back to Osaka.

Osaka ain’t no party, It ain’t no disco, It ain’t no foolin’ around

By Richard Trombly

Osaka, 13 October 2019 – I was strolling through Nishinari Ward near DoubutsenMae (the zoo area), my neighborhood in Osaka, tonight enjoying the autumn scent encroaching into the air mixed with the rich smells coming from the many small restaurants in the close-packed store fronts. Admittedly, this is the low budget end of town despite being just blocks from the tallest building in Japan and the brand malls and boutiques of the prosperous Tennoji area, it is home to a notorious area of prostitution and dubious karaoke bars where 100 yen (USD $1) gets you one song and a bar maiden to be your audience, as well as homeless elderly folks camped under the eaves of a warehouse across from the Shin Imamiya railway station. So amidst the din of mealtime conversation spilling from these restaurants and the alcohol-fueled warbling rising out of these KTV, I came across and incredible, yet very common, find. It was a concert hall of about 12 square meters with a jamming guitar playing acoustic solo and heart-felt lyrics being belted out in a rich voice, gravelly with too many cigarettes and lost hopes. The lyrics of “Life During Wartime” by The Talking Heads came to mind.

This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco,
This ain’t no fooling around
This ain’t no Mudd Club, or C. B. G. B.,
I ain’t got time for that now.”

Earth Music Cafe in Nishinari, Osaka

Osaka actually does have time for that, though, I thought. It really runs at a different pace than other places, especially compared to fast-paced Shanghai, where I have spend most of my past two decades, or Tokyo. As the second-largest city in the island nation, it is the very antithesis of the capital. There is very little outdoor advertising here because people here are hard to market to. They seem to have little use for status symbols of consumerism. And there is an underground culture and art movement here that is quiet yet pervasive.

A concert hall? Not really, but it is a music cafe called EARTH that barely functions as a business. It is a gathering point for the proprietor, Daichi Terakawa’s friends, for music makers, and perhaps a dozen music lovers at a time. But that does not matter, because it is a place to perform. Here, art matters. It reminded me of that club CBGB in the Bowery, a rather impoverished area of New York City, or at least it was back in the day that bands like The Talking Heads,The Ramones, Patti Smith, The Police, and other bands got a chance to be heard in an ever-narrowing music industry.

CBGB was a pioneering music club in the Bowery, New York City

I am not saying that this bar is going to launch stars like Hilly Kristol did, but CBGB was created for performance, not for fame. This hole-in-the-wall is just that, a performance space. It is a place free of the studio-perfect meter and pitch and recorded perfection that destroys the very sense of the concert experience today, as most bands perform to a pre-canned music track and just do a stage performance, perfectly choreographed to death of any art.

It is so much more rewarding to see an earnest artist perform an imperfect and beautifully raw and flawed performance in a venue like this, or the famed Iron Horse performance space in the old stomping grounds of my youth in the western end of Massachusetts. The experience to see bands in a venue where you are one of less than 100 people packed into a venue is priceless. The performance there is genuine and the energy of the performers is powerful.

traditional Rakugo performers are “sit-down comedians”

Osaka is rich with this sort of art sensibility. Currently the city ward is in the midst of the Shin Imamiya Festival featuring traditional folk drama in non-traditional venues, concerts on the street, and even Rakugo, (literally “fallen words”), but it means a “sit-down” comedian, performing folk comic routines dressed in traditional attire. Osaka just hosted a citywide vibrant month-long celebration of this art that pushes the edge with the Fringe Festival https://osakafringe.com/home-english/. Venues across the city and even parks held a wide variety or concerts, stage plays and performance art but the energy and feel of this underground art culture is there year-round.

Richard Trombly is a writer living in Osaka and Shanghai. Email Richard@trombly.com