Monday, June 26th, 2023

Osaka Castle is full of tourists again

Black and white photograph of the main keep at Osaka Castle. A towering monument of 16th century Japanese castle design.

Last time I was at Osaka Castle it was quiet. Really quiet. Early pandemic, keep the tourists out quiet.

I’d slipped into the country a few weeks before. Quarantine was over. A house in Kobe was making its slow and painful way toward me. Until then I was in Tennoji, barely 30 minutes’ walk from the castle.

There were people around. A family taking photos. A couple wandering and looking at whatever flower was blooming. My wife. Me. That was it.

Blissfully quiet.

Not like today.

Today was chaos and mayhem. Arguments about whether ¥200 was good value for a walk in a garden. Tour groups in their usual onion arrangement with the most interested closest to their guide and listening attentively, while the invariably younger members clung to the edges with bored faces glued to phones. Those who thought the country owed them a favor for bringing their money. Most just trying to enjoy a unique experience and capture whatever passes for memories these days.

And the queue.

Castle was closed when I was here last. Now it was open, and I stood in line and patiently shuffled towards the ticket vending machine. A pointless exercise in automation as I took my self-serve ticket to a booth to be checked, scanned and approved by a fellow human. Better to let the machines deal with the confusion about what ticket to buy.

In I went. Bypass the snaking queue for the elevator and head for the stairs. Follow “The Route” studiously marked with arrows. Careful not to take photos, except in those places where it was allowed. A Sumo-size security guard was surprisingly nimble on his feet when a violation was detected.

Ever upwards to the viewing platform and join the crowds struggling to find a spot for a selfie. I prefer to look out and leave the camera in my bag.

Now down. Past the bookshop. No, not past, pause. Flick through a couple of the samples and settle on one about the generals of the Summer War. Reading material for next year when my confidence has grown.

Then out past the growing queue of people waiting to go in. None of them looking particularly happy. If only they would take the stairs.

A few minutes later I stop on the far side of the moat and look back at the keep. It’s quiet and peaceful again, like it was all those months ago. 

Except it isn’t, because at the top I can see shapes jostling for position. Trying to catch a selfie. The perfect addition to social media feeds already full of Japan.

Welcome back, tourists. You were missed.

My name is Ross Hori

I'm a freelance writer, designer and photographer. By day I create articles, features and reports. At night I take photos and write fiction. Find out more.