The Meiji and Taisho Eras in Photographs: From photographs in publications held by the National Diet Library - Tokyo, Kansai, Tohoku in Photographs


Column <Kansai>

5 Osaka Army Arsenal (Osaka Hohei Kosho)

Establishment in 1870

Osaka Army Arsenal (Osaka Hohei Kosho)
Osaka Army Arsenal (Osaka Hohei Kosho) from "Osakafu Shashincho"

The Osaka Army Arsenal is a government-operated weapons production factory that was established on the premises of the Osaka Castle in 1870. For the newborn Meiji government, to establish armament modernization and weapons self-sufficiency was one of the highest priorities. Masujiro Omura of Hyobu Taifu focused attention on the superiority of the Osaka Castle as a military base, and proposed the idea of basing central military organizations in the Osaka Castle, though quite a lot argued to use the capital, Tokyo as the base. On November 5, 1869, Omura became a victim of an assassin and was killed. However, Omura's petition for installing the Naval and Army Academy and establishing production factories for guns, ammunition and explosives in Osaka, which could be a central location for sea and land transport (a report regarding the outline of the War Ministry's military services' petition from the War Ministry on November 18, 1869) was adopted to some degree.

In February 1870, Zoheishi (weapons-manufacturing office) was placed in the War Ministry (Reference to: 'Placement of Zoheishi in the War Ministry.' on February 2, 1870), and in March of that year, they decided to use the vacant lot of the Sannomaru rice warehouse located in the northeastern district of the Osaka Castle as the site for the office. This was the beginning of the Osaka Army Arsenal. Machines and workers were transferred from Nagasaki Iron Works that was under control of the Tokugawa shogunate, and some machines came from Tokyo Sekiguchi Seizosho (later Tokyo Army Arsenal) to start operations.

Path to the Development

"Osaka Hohei Kosho Enkakushi" (History of Osaka Army Arsenal, edited by Osaka Army Arsenal, published in 1902) says in its preface that the arsenal was incomplete in their organization system and businesses in the beginning, as it says "the business of our arsenal had not always been operated under a specific policy. In most cases, according to military requirements and the trend of the time, but only to achieve a specific task, we made plans and performed our duties. (translation)" Its name was often changed, from Osaka Zoheishi in 1871, to Taiho Seizosho in 1872 (Reference: The ministry shall have jurisdiction over the Shuseikan and Kayaku Seizosho of Kagoshima prefecture, and change their names to Taiho Seizosho (cannon factory) and Kakojo (bullet factory), respectively: the Army Ministry order of March 8, 1872), Hohei Daini Homennai Hohei Shisho (Branch Arsenal of the Artillery 2nd District) in 1875 (Reference: The ministry shall place main artillery arsenal in former Zoheishi, and the branch artillery arsenal in former Osaka Taiho Seizosho: No.35 Notice of the Army Ministry on February 5, 1875), and finally in 1879, it came to be called the Osaka Army Arsenal (Reference: The ministry shall abolish both main and branch army arsenals and install Hohei Daiichi Homennai Tokyo Hohei Shisho and Daini Homennai Osaka Hohei Shisho: No.76 Notice of the Army Ministry on October 10, 1879). During the period, in the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877, it is said that production of weapons was extremely active so that the demand could not be met even if they worked night and day. This became an opportunity for the development of the Arsenal.

The Army Ministry defined, in Article 1 of the Army Arsenal Ordinance (Hohei Kosho Jorei) (No.79 Notice of the Army Ministry on October 10, 1879), army arsenals shall be placed in Tokyo and Osaka, and in Article 2, that Tokyo Army Arsenal shall hold a small arms factory, a gun factory, a bullet factory, a cannon repair center and an explosive factory, and the Osaka Army Arsenal shall hold a cannon factory, a bullet factory, an armored car factory, a bullet factory and a gun repair center. The Osaka Army Arsenal developed as a production center for weapons, mainly cannons and bombshells.

Wars promoted the development of the weapons industry. The Satsuma Rebellion, the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895), and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) increased the importance of the Osaka Army Arsenal both in name and in reality. Their premises became larger and the production facilities were improved. The aforementioned "Osaka Hohei Kosho Enkakushi" illustrates the detailed layout of the respective times: initial time, 1877, 1887 and 1898, so the transition of their development can be tracked. In the initial stage, the premise was situated in the northeast corner of the Osaka Castle, but towards the end of the Meiji era, after the expansion during the Russo-Japanese War, the site expanded to the Tamatsukuri gate located in the south edge of the Osaka Castle so that it covered the entire eastern side of the Castle. The production skills gradually improved and it became a power to promote the development of private industries.

On the other hand, the growth of the economy because of the wars sometimes brought hard times to workers. As a result of the repeated mass employment through special military procurements and mass lay-offs after the end of each war, large-scale labor disputes sometimes occurred. In December 1906 after the Russo-Japanese War, a strike of 16,000 workers was planned but it did not realize. There also was a large-scale strike in October 1919 after the First World War, when a labor union "Kojokai" was established. The lives of eight workers of those days at the Osaka Army Arsenal were outlined in a report by Osaka City.

Fatal day - August 14, 1945

In the disarmament period after the First World War, the Army Ministry organizationally integrated both army arsenals in Tokyo and Osaka under an armory ordinance (imperial ordinance No. 83 on March 30, 1923), and the Osaka Army Arsenal changed its name to the Armory Osaka Arsenal of the Army Ministry (Rikugun Zoheisho Osaka Kosho). In the Showa era, when the Sino-Japanese War intensified, the arsenal rapidly increased production. In wartime, the Army Ministry often reorganized the arsenal by issuing ordinances including an armory ordinance (imperial ordinance No.209 on April 1,1940), Engineering Center ordinance(imperial ordinance No. 696 on June 14,1941), Weapons Administration Center ordinance (imperial ordinance No.674 on October 10,1942). The name of the organization at that time was the Osaka Armory of the Army Ministry (Osaka Rikugun Zoheisho).

The number of employees at the armory exceeded 60,000 and it became one of the largest military armories. However, the huge factory was losing its production capability due to the shortage of workforce and materials towards the end of the war. The crisis was covered by forcibly-collecting workers and student workers, but Japan army's numerical inferiority continued. In 1945 downtown Osaka often became the target of intensive aerial attacks. Fortunately, however, the Osaka Army Arsenal received only slight damage.

Then the fatal day came. Shortly after noon on the 14th of August, a large formation of B29 bombers arrived and attacked the Osaka Army Arsenal. It was the last large attack, just one day before the last day of war, so the Osaka Army Arsenal was relentlessly bombed and 90 percent of its facilities was destroyed. It is said that workers other than air defense members had evacuated the premise at the sounding of the air-raid alert, so the number of deaths inside the premise was reported to be 382 people; however, the total number of casualties in the surrounding areas is unknown.

In this manner, the 75 year history of the Osaka Army Arsenal came to an end. The site was later reborn as the Osaka Business Park and the Osaka Castle Park. With many high-rise buildings, the ancient weapons production site is now a center for business and entertainment.