License all the photos on this site at our boutique photo agency for vintage photographs, illustrations and maps of Japan between the 1860s and 1930s (Meiji, Taisho, early Showa)
This glass slide shows the second Osaka Station in all of its glory. Opened in July 1901 (Meiji 34), the Gothic style building was two stories high and built of granite, giving it a massive and imposing look. Osaka Station was one of the city’s three must-see tourist attractions. The other two were the Osaka branch of the Bank of Japan, built in 1903 (Meiji 36), and the Sempukan (泉布観), the guest house for the Mint Bureau. Completed in 1870 (Meiji 3), it was the first Western-style building in Osaka.
The second station—located roughly where the current station stands—was built about 100 meters to the east of the first station, opened in May 1874 (Meiji 7). When it was built, Osaka Station was the terminal station for the railway line connecting Osaka to Kobe, Japan’s second rail connection. But in 1876 (Meiji 9), the line was extended to Kyoto, giving Osaka Station an important central location. This importance increased after the Tokaido railway line was finished in 1889 (Meiji 22), making it possible to travel from Osaka to Shinbashi Station in Tokyo.
While the second station looked like an enormous rock, the first station was a very friendly looking building with a small park in front, featuring a rock-lined pond.
The first Osaka Station; the photographer shot this photograph from the park in front of the station. The station was still called sutensho (the Japanese pronunciation of station) at the time.
Planners had intended to place the station in nearby Dojima, near Japan’s most important rice market, but Osaka’s frightened inhabitants were set against it. They worried that if the fire wagon ran through the tightly built area full of wooden houses it wouldn’t take long before it started a disastrous fire. It was therefore decided to move the graveyard in Umeda, place the station in its stead, and have the tracks run through the then uninhabited wetlands and fields. The single road leading to the station, lead through rice fields. Impossible to imagine today, when the station is surrounded by high-rises and crowded roads.
Most of the first station employees were of the samurai class, and they apparently took their job and themselves very seriously. The first station master for example lived only a hundred meters away from his office, but is reported to have used a jinrikisha (rickshaw) to cover the distance.1
The station initially handled both passengers and freight. But the volume of both increased so dramatically that in 1928 (Showa 3) a large freight yard was built, the Umeda Freight Station. When the Japan National Railways (Kokutetsu) was privatized in 1987 (Showa 62), it was decided that the Umeda Freight Station would be relocated so the area—the last piece of undeveloped real estate in Osaka’s city center—could be developed. This development is now under way. When it is finished, Osaka Station will no longer have a front and a back, but will effectively have two fronts.
In 1935 (Showa 10) the second station was pulled down to make way for elevated platforms. The third station was opened in 1940 (Showa 15). This building was replaced in 1979 (Showa 54).
After the station was placed in Umeda, the area slowly but surely turned into Osaka’s primary transportation hub. Several railways used Osaka Station as their terminal or built their terminal nearby: Osaka Railway (大阪鉄道) in 1895 (Meiji 28), Nishinari Railway (西成鉄道) in 1898 (Meiji 31), Hanshin Electric Railway (阪神電気鉄道株式会社) in 1906 (Meiji 39), Minoo Arima Electric Tramway (箕面有馬電気軌道株式会社, current Hankyu Railway) in 1910 (Meiji 43), and the Midosuji Subway in 1933 (Showa 8).
Osaka Railway and Nishinari Railway were nationalized under the 1906 (Meiji 39) Railway Nationalization Act and their tracks became the basis of the Osaka Loop Line. The other lines still exist and to this day have stations near Osaka Station, albeit all under the name Umeda Station.
During WWII, US air raids destroyed the area in front of the station. As happened with many other Japanese stations after the end of the war, the bombed out area was for many years used as an enormous black market where people would go to buy the most basic necessities, as well as otherwise unattainable luxuries. But Osaka Station would soon recover its former glory and was within decades surrounded by well-stocked department stores, and busy office buildings.
At the beginning of the 21st century, Osaka Station is once again reinventing itself. The station is being completely renewed, a new building will be built and a massive atrium will cover the platforms. This renewal is scheduled to be completed in 2011 (Heisei 23) and must increase the importance of Osaka’s Kita (キタ) district, one of Osaka’s two city centers, the other being Minami (ミナミ).
Osaka Station played a very important role in the industrialization of Osaka, helping to make it Japan’s biggest and richest city during the 1920s and 1930s. During this time, Osaka was nicknamed the Manchester of the East and proudly called itself the City of Smoke. Children all over Japan learnt in their schoolbooks that on approaching Osaka Station, the sky appeared overcast because of all the smoke in the air. Seen from Kobe, a huge brown cover of smog can still be seen hanging over this metropolis. But these days, people aren’t proud of it anymore.
Osaka Station Timeline
May 1874 (Meiji 7) – Opening of the 1st Osaka Station, connecting Osaka with Kobe
July 1901 (Meiji 34) – Opening of the 2nd Osaka Station
June 1940 (Showa 15) Opening of the 3rd Osaka Station
December 1979 (Showa 54) – Opening of the 4th Osaka Station (current North Building)
May 1983 (Showa 58) – Opening of ACTY Osaka (Osaka Terminal Building)
2011 (Heisei 23) – Scheduled opening of the new station building
1913 (Taisho 2) map of Osaka: 1. Osaka Station.
1 Yomiuri Shimbun Shakaibu (1987). Scenes of Naniwa: Osaka Time Tunnel. Warajiya Publishing Co., Ltd, 46-49.