Osaka Castle: The remains of a Toyotomi family feast? Venison, pheasant, helmet-split sea bream and turbo are found.

A view of Osaka castle’s main keep from the investigated area

Location of the investigation

Investigated area from the latter Toyotomi period (early seventeenth century) A refuse pit was discovered to the right of the photo’s center. There were also fence and water well remains.

Refuse pit Measuring 4.8 m east-west by 3.1 m north-south and 0.6 m deep, the deposits divided into three main layers.

Deposits within the refuse pit The bottommost layer was of black clay, and the overlying (middle) layer was seen to contain large numbers of chopsticks.

Conditions inside the refuse pit In addition to the leg bones (humerus and radius) of a deer and a lacquer bowl, large numbers of turbo shells are visible.

Bones of a kabutowari (helmet-split) sea bream The head was severed with a single stroke along the line indicated in the skeletal chart above. Kabutowari (helmet splitting) is a culinary technique which facilitates soup production by splitting the severed head vertically from the tip of the upper jaw. It is thought to have been used for making salt-seasoned fish soup and other dishes.

Lacquer bowl with a love bird (mandarin duck) design

Mukōzuke, Karatsu ware

Early seventeenth century (latter Toyotomi period). Diameter: 14.3 cm; height: 6.2 cm.

Mukōzuke is a dish set at center on the far side of the tray in formal kaiseki cuisine. Viewed from the side there are pronounced variations in height. The rim also opens outward in four directions in the manner of flower petals. An iris is drawn in iron glaze at center, surrounded with pine branches. With the exception of the gilt roof tile, all items here were found in the refuse pit.

Large shallow bowl, Tanba ware

Early seventeenth century (latter Toyotomi period). Diameter: 35.2-37.4 cm; height: 6.9 cm.

Although broken, nearly all of the vessel survives. The bottom is flat, and the sides rise up with a slight inward curve. The interior bears marks left by firing in stacked fashion. Large shallow bowls appear to have been standardized in size at slightly under 40 cm.

Mukōzuke, Nezumi Shino ware

Early seventeenth century (latter Toyotomi period). Diameter: 15.3 cm; height: 4.7 cm.

Fired in Mino (Gifu prefecture). It is called Nezumi (mouse) Shino because the base color is a deep brown, in contrast to the more commonly recovered white-glazed Shino ware. Observations of the broken edge in section revealed that the deep brown glaze covering all of the inner surface was scratched to produce the peripheral double line and the floral design.

Decorative roof tile with a gold-leaf impressed paulownia design

Late sixteenth century (Azuchi Momoyama/early Toyotomi period).
Height: 10.6 cm; surviving width: 10.7 cm; thickness: 1.9 cm.

This was recovered from the fill used to cover the occupation level from the age of Hideyoshi. This type of board-like tile is thought to have decorated the ridge of a building. The paulownia design has two groups of leaves expressed with raised lines, and the number of flowers on the central and lateral floral sprigs are seven and five each (a go-shichi kiri design). Gold leaf was pressed onto the raised portions of the design.

Small vase, Bizen ware

Early seventeenth century (latter Toyotomi period).
Diameter at midsection: 7.8 cm; height: 6.5 cm.

The wide base gives stability to this small vase. The outline from the base up begins as perfectly circular, becoming elliptic toward the neck. Turning the vessel over, there is a mark scratched in the shape of the character .


Early seventeenth century (latter Toyotomi period). Length: about 25 cm.

Chopsticks recovered from the refuse pit included 149 unbroken items, and 1,510 fragments. Computing their combined length gives 17,637.9 cm, from which it is estimated there were more than 357 pairs originally.

Adapted from Hakkutsu sareta Nihon rettō 2008 [Excavations in the Japanese Archipelago, 2008]
(Bunkachō [Agency for Cultural Affairs], ed., Asahi Shimbunsha, 2008).
Photos courtesy of Osaka City Cultural Properties Association.

Osaka Castle Site, Osaka City, Osaka Prefecture

The investigated area lies 480 m northwest of the main keep of Osaka castle. It lies on the northern side of the outermost third bailey, constructed from 1598 to the following year to strengthen Osaka castle’s defenses.

Multifarious artifacts from the remains of the third bailey

In the current investigation, a rectangular refuse pit 4.8 m east-west by 3.1 m north-south was discovered, made during the period of a dozen or more years up to the time of the castle’s fall in the Summer Campaign of 1615. The sediment in the 60 cm-deep pit divides into three layers, the bottom stratum of black clay being a refuse deposit, from which many eating utensils, animal and fish bones, and shell were recovered. The middle and upper layers above this were deposits used to fill the pit, with numerous chopsticks being recovered from the middle stratum. It appears that after various utensils used for a meal and left over food were discarded, the pit was filled in all at once.

The utensils found consisted mainly of domestic glazed stoneware and Haji (earthenware) pottery, with one third being lacquerware. In addition to vessels there were also square serving trays. It is thought that these large trays, 30 cm on a side made of plain wood, were used as settings for bowls and plates.

An astonishing bounty of sumptuous foods

The most outstanding find of the current investigation consists of the bones and shell that bring to mind a rich variety of foods. Animal bones included deer, horse, and dog, while among birds there were members of the Phasianidae (pheasant) family which appear to be domesticated chickens, plus members of the Anatidae (which includes ducks, geese and swans) and Ardeidae (herons, egrets) families. Young individuals were prevalent for dogs and fowl of the pheasant family, so it appears that the soft flesh of immature juveniles was preferred. Fish are varied and include red sea bream, dolphinfish, Pacific cod, yellowback seabream, pufferfish, jack mackerel, and barraduca, and a large red sea bream showed signs of kabutowari (helmet splitting) treatment. In addition, the recovered shellfish included turbo shell, clam, ark shells, Rapa whelk, oysters, abalone, cockles, and ivory shell, and among these turbo shells numbered 253 items.

From the plain wooden trays and chopsticks normally used to entertain persons of high status, or the kinds of meat, fish, and shellfish used as food, it is inferred that the remains from a banquet such as the multi-course kaiseki style dinner were discarded in this pit. A meal of sumptuous foods, served in lacquer bowls and domestic stoneware set on individual trays, while simple in form took extra measures in the tableware and cuisine to make it fit for treating a daimyo, and invokes thereby the image of an Osaka castle banquet.

(Sugimoto Atsunori)