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A lady I met yesterday

November 17, 2012

Words and images by Danielle Lancaster
Japan in autumn is mesmerising. As the temperature slowly drops in preparation for winter’s icy chills, the leaves of the maples, plums, oaks and ginkos transform into a myriad of captivating colours.
One of the best places to see the colours of autumn in Osaka is at Osaka Castle and the neighbouring Nishinomaru Garden.  Sitting under an old maple tree outside the castle entrance I met this lady. Her name is Nagawa-San and she is 85 years old. As I sat next to her we silently nodded politely to each other and she softly spoke pointing and nodding towards the castle.
I nod back and tell her I am going there soon but for now I just want to sit. She bows lower and gently touches my hand as if reassuring me it is OK. She is happy to chat and tells me she comes and sits here every day. It is part of her daily routine that has lasted a life time.
During World War II a building next to the castle was a bomb shelter and Nagawa-San along with her family and other Osaka residents would take refuge there. ‘I remember seeing the planes flying by, low, very low and dropping bombs, many, many bombs. The noise was loud and each day we’d walk seeing less of our city standing,’ she recalls. ‘The castle was safe and we wanted to believe the US didn’t want to bomb it because of its importance to the Japanese’.
After the war Nagawa-San worked at the castle which became a US base. ‘It was very secret work and we are not allowed to talk about it, not ever,’ she tells me pressing her fingers to her lips.
Nagawa-San’s favourite season at the castle is autumn and she tells me she is glad I am seeing it at its best. ‘I paint and autumn brings me great inspiration,’ she continues as I pry a little asking more and more questions. She seems happy to sit in the dappled shade and continue our conversation.
Traditional Japanese style ink drawing and oils are her favourite mediums. ‘I am still being taught by a man very well known. His name is Uemura-San and maybe he is one of our most famous modern oil painters,’ says Nagawa-San. 
I ask her for the best place in Osaka to see the autumn colours. ‘Why here’ she says ‘in my opinion Osaka Castle is the best scenery in Osaka’. And as another ruby red maple leaf drops to the ground between us, I think she may be right.
About Osaka Castle
The construction of this magnificent castle started in 1583 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi who intended the castle to be the centre of a new, unified Japan under his rule. It was at the time the largest castle in Japan.
Unfortunately a few years after his death, Tokugawa troops attacked and destroyed the castle and terminated the Toyotomi lineage in 1615.
Tokugawa Hidetada rebuilt the castle in the 1620’s however in 1665 the main castle tower was struck by lightning and the castle burnt down.
The castle you see today was built in 1931 and the castle miraculously survived the ferocious air attacks on the city during World War II when much of Osaka was flattened.

The only other area in Osaka that was spared was the red light district:)

It is a major tourist drawcard for visitors to the city. An elevator allows easy access and the interior of the castle which houses an informative museum about the castle’s history and Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
Autumn leaves at Osaka Castle
Hours and Fees
Castle Tower

Hours: 9:00-17:00 (entrance until 16:30)
Closed December 28th to January 1st
Admission: 600 yen
Nishinomaru Garden
Hours: 9:00-17:00 (entrance until 16:30 from November through February)
Longer hours during cherry blossom season
Closed: Mondays (or following day if Monday is a national holiday December 28thto January 1st
Admission: 200 yen (350 yen during the extended hours for cherry blossom season.
 Osaka Castle

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