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  • Japanese: 大阪 (Oosaka)

Osaka was one of the three major cities in Tokugawa Japan, and remains today roughly tied with Yokohama as Japan's most populous city.[1]

Osaka is known for its strong chônin (townsperson/commoner) culture; in the Edo period, it rivaled or perhaps exceeded Edo as a commercial center, importing & consuming three times as much in goods as it exported, and also serving as a major financial center, with merchant networks at the head of massive flows of credit & loans. Osaka is also known as a major culinary center. Its role for centuries as one of the most major commercial centers in the country, bringing together the foods (and other goods) of the entire archipelago, has earned it the nickname Tenka no daidokoro (天下の台所), or "the Kitchen of All-Under-Heaven."[2]


Located to the west of Kyoto, facing the Inland Sea, Osaka sits astride the Yodo River, providing shipping & transportation access to Kyoto, and allowing for considerable access and influence in the Inland Sea.

Beginning in the mid-17th century, the Nishimawari, or "Western Circuit," shipping route was put into place, connecting Osaka, via the Inland Sea and through the Straits of Shimonoseki, to ports all along the Sea of Japan coast, as well as Ezo (Hokkaidô); the city was also an extremely common stopover point for travelers to and from Western Japan and Kyushu, including sankin kôtai daimyô processions, as well as Korean and Ryukyuan embassies to Edo, who traveled by ship through the Inland Sea to Osaka, and then overland via the Tôkaidô[3] to Edo.


The site of the mid-7th century Imperial capital of Naniwa, Osaka contains many ancient sites of historical importance, including prominent kofun such as the tomb of Emperor Nintoku.

The establishment of the Ishiyama Honganji fortress-cathedral in 1496 on the site of the former Imperial capital presages the (re-)emergence of Osaka as a major city; the placename "Osaka" is also sometimes said to date to that time. The Honganji fell to siege in 1580, and Toyotomi Hideyoshi built Osaka Castle shortly afterwards, spurring the growth of the city.

After the fall of the Toyotomi clan in 1615, the Tokugawa shogunate took direct control of the city in 1619,[2] not giving it to any daimyô, but appointing an Ôsaka jôdai (大坂城代) to oversee the administration of the city. The shogunate organized a number of riparian and land reclamation projects which gave the city its form; advantageous conditions caused a great number of merchants, in particular, to flood to the city, especially from nearby port-towns such as Fushimi, Sakai, and Yodo, establishing operations in Osaka and influencing dramatically the character of the city. Osaka thus emerged as a major economic center, with a chônin population of roughly 400,000, and is often characterized as the merchants' city, in contrast to Edo, which possessed a disproportionately large samurai population, and to Kyoto, identified with the Imperial Court and court nobility.

While some domains in northeastern Honshû sold their goods primarily through Edo, the vast majority of domains worked with Osaka-based merchants and/or maintained their own domainal warehouses (called kurayashiki) in the city to sell their local products.[2] In addition to the rest of the bustling commercial activity taking place in Osaka in this period, the city also became the center of an emerging network of rice brokers, which essentially represents the early modern forerunner to a modern banking system. By the 18th century, Osaka's economic power was so strong that its markets - and not those in Edo - determined the prices of rice, gold, and other commodities, and thus the value or exchange rates of coinage. Osaka's economy was the pulse of the entire country's economy, and so it was reports out of Osaka, even moreso than economic reports from Edo's commerce, that were watched closely by the shogun & his economic advisors, and by interested parties throughout society.


  • Moriya, Katsuhisa. Ronald Toby (trans.) "Urban Networks and Information Networks." in Chie Nakane and Shinzaburô Ôishi (eds.) Tokugawa Japan: The Social and Economic Antecedents of Modern Japan. University of Tokyo Press, 1990. pp97-123.
  1. Osaka tends to be more populous during the day, while Yokohama is more populous at night, as many of Yokohama's residents work in Tokyo. Both of these cities vie for the position of largest city because, due to a technicality of political designations, Tokyo is a "metropolitan prefecture" and not a "city."
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Luke Roberts, Mercantilism in a Japanese Domain: The Merchant Origins of Economic Nationalism in 18th-Century Tosa, Cambridge University Press (1998), 18-19.
  3. The 53 Stations of the Tôkaidô ended at Sanjô Bridge in Kyoto, but four more stations, known alternatively as the Ôsaka kaidô, Kyôkaidô, or simply considered an extension of the Tôkaidô, continued onwards to Osaka, ending at Kôraibashi.