Completing the mega-city trifecta on the island of Honshu is Japan’s second biggest city in that of Osaka. Whereas it doesn’t carry itself with the same flash and style as that of Tokyo, nor does it boast the bevy of refined temples, shrines, and traditional aspects of nearby Kyoto, Osaka still holds its own, appealing to yet another facet of Japanese society with its own unique characteristics and charming quirks.
Due to its location as a port city on the Western coast of Japan, Osaka has historically been the primary port of trade for the neighboring countries of China and Korea, as well as being the commercial center of the country. As such, the merchant class came to dominate the population, lending the city a somewhat proud, blue-collar feel with a distinct work hard, play hard mentality. Further, given that the merchants weren’t able to show outward signs of wealth (i.e. – flashy houses, stylish clothes, etc.), they inevitably spent their time and resources on life’s little indulgences, such as food, drink, and the arts. Subsequently, Osaka’s culinary scene thrived, a night out on the town carried a little more heft than in other cities, performing arts such as Kabuki and Banraku Puppet Theatre became popular, and the people of Osaka grew to enjoy the humor and light-hearted side of life. Thankfully, this legacy of excess still stands today, as Osaka is one of the best destinations in Japan to indulge in a cornucopia of gastronomic treats, drain as many beers as your stomach will allow, and make a few new friends with the somewhat quirky and comedic citizens of Osaka — ultimately what sets it apart from the likes of Tokyo or Osaka.
Osaka isn’t completely without its traditional side, however, as there are still a variety of historic sights and Shinto shrines available for travelers to visit (although admittedly, many of the structures aren’t originals, but have been rebuilt). The Osaka-jo, or Osaka Castle, for example — originally built in the late 16th century, it has been destroyed and reconstructed several times — has become the symbol of the city, with its 8-story main keep and surrounding walls, parks, and moats:
When first arriving in Osaka, many advice-giving folks will steer you towards the Kita neighborhood by day (where many of the fancy hotels, shopping plazas, and office towers stand) and the Minami area by night (famous for its raucous nightlife and uncountable eating spots). Another option, however — and one that I found to be my favorite — is the Nakano-shime district. This area in the center of town, which is actually a small island formed where two rivers nearly converge, houses a few interesting museums, notable public buildings, a pleasant rose garden, and a few great parks to sit back and enjoy the juxtaposition of grass and trees set against a backdrop of cement and concrete:
One would easily be forgiven for forgetting that Osaka is actually a port town with a view out to Sea, as most travelers only stick around the heart of the city, where the views are more of the urban-sprawl-type than that of an endless blue. It takes a bit of extra effort to get out to the coast, but besides simply a stroll up and down the pier, there are a few other attractions out there to lure in visitors, such as one of the world’s largest ferris wheels and a world-class aquarium:
As a final send-off, I decided to check out the Umeda Sky Building near the Kita area of town. The building itself is an interesting architectural specimen, but the fact that there is a circular platform on the top with 360-degree open-air views of the surrounding city was the clinching factor for me. For your viewing pleasure, here’s a quick glance as to how Osaka looks from the sky:
At this point, I’m sure there are a few of you out that are asking, “But what about the food you’ve talked about? Or the nightlife? Not even a single picture of the neon-arcade that is Dotombori, or even of the city at night for that matter?” To those I’ll say, don’t worry — I’m got another post in the works focusing on nothing other than a night out on the town. Below is just a quick teaser as far as what’s to come. Until then, Kampai from Osaka!