Hello, everyone. My name is Saga Ashita. I’m a professor of Japanese history at Osaka City University (OCU).
In this course, we, the Japanese history faculty, will tell the story of the city of Osaka, from prehistory to present, and also provide you with an introduction to the leading edge of research in urban history
What comes to mind when you hear “city” or “urban history”?
At present, our societies have urbanized almost entirely: as more and more people have concentrated into cities, our lives have become rooted in urban infrastructure and the electricity, gas, and water it provides. Using Osaka as an example, we need look no further that the Dōtonbori area for the scenes that have come to epitomize the urban metropolis: throngs of tourists, both foreign and domestic, enjoying shopping and dining in the places of commerce and restaurants that line the bustling streets.
However, this commonplace image of cities is no more than a single shot in a long series: urban societies have taken shape through the deep, multi-faceted, and rich layers of history that accumulated as people lived their daily lives and built their communities. This is of course just as true of the city we live in today. And so in this course we will use the latest scholarly methods to reconstruct Osaka’s history, the foundations of which lie in the lives and livelihoods of the common people of each age.
In the ancient period, the Uemachi Plateau, which sits at the center of Osaka today, served for a time as the site of the imperial palace (Naniwanomiya) and, therefore, the capital. The area thus became a primary node for the circulation of goods and people, as well as for international relations. It continued as an urban space even after the capital moved, came to be called “Osaka” from about the fifteenth century, and eventually Toyotomi Hideyoshi chose it as his seat of power, constructing a massive fortress and building up the surrounding town. Thus Osaka is a city that represents the two classic urban forms in Japanese history: the Chinese-style capital of the ancient period and the castle town of the early modern period, with the gap between them, importantly, bridged by the medieval period’s city networks.
In this course, we’ll shine light on Osaka’s history through on-the-ground examples, making full use of the texts, illustrations, and other primary sources and visual materials that together allow us to reconstruct the true shape of the city’s past. In bringing together the material for the class, we’ve worked with researchers from other institutions, such as the Osaka Museum of History, and along the way a number of them will join us as guest speakers. To make the course available to a wider audience, we’ve also prepared English subtitles for each lecture. We very much hope that the course will reach people overseas with an interest in Japan’s urban history, especially international undergraduate and graduate students who might be considering studying urban or Japanese history at a university in Japan.
With that, let’s get started on our journey, following the frontiers of urban historical research in Japan through the twists and turns of Osaka’s past.