A Different Perspective on the Urban Jungle in Osaka

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.

The streets of Osaka

Given that the city was basically bombed flat in WWII and subsequently rebuilt, most of the street have about as much charm as a cinder block. That being said, however, a casual stroll around will inevitably yield a few bursts of color and decoration, where Osakans openly show their artistic side

One of dozens of office towers that from the skyline of the city

The Hozen-ji Shrine – popular with the sea-faring folks plying the waters nearby, the tradition is to splash a bit of water on the Buddha each time you visit, which has resulted in a complete coat of moss covering the entire statue

The streets seem to be competing with each other to see who can squeeze in the most shops, restaurants, bars, and cafes

Streets of the Den Den Town section of the city, a gaming/manga/anime/electronics hub that is Osaka’s answer to Akihabara in Tokyo

Shelves of Manga (Japanese Comic Books) on display

An example of a cosplay store in Den Den Town selling all manner of anime costumes, frilly outfits, and scary disguises

As mentioned above, merchants have run this city for generations, and the subsequent “marketing” instinct can be seen all over the city, as there is hardly a nook or cranny without a signboard

More street art in Amerika-mura (literally America Town, though the resemblance is less-than-striking)

The Tsutenkaku Tower peeking out between the buildings

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:

The outer moat of Osaka-jo

The castle itself perched atop a hill in the center of the grounds

The main hall and pagoda of the Shitennoji Temple set amidst a sea of delicately raked gravel

The colorful bridge leading to the main hall at the Sumiyoshitaisha Shrine

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:

The Nakanoshima Park, hemmed in on both sides by adjacent rivers

The Central Public Hall Building

One of thousands of beautiful relics housed in the Ceramics Museum (technically, you weren’t allowed to take photographs inside, but given that the exterior of the museum was basically an unattractive brick cube, I felt that one picture couldn’t hurt)

The National Museum of Art Osaka

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:

The view out towards the sea — or what you can see of it, at least, between the industrial complexes

The Tempozen Ferris Wheel, standing over 112 meters tall (about 370 feet)

I braved the perilous dangers of happy families with strollers and courageously fought through the marauding hordes of school children to make sure I got a good view at the aquarium

I know visiting the aquarium is a little cheesy, but when faced with the opportunity to see stuff like this, I’m like a little kid who can’t help himself

If you’re still out there Veronika, this picture is for you!

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:

Looking up at the Umeda Sky Building

To get to the roof, you first have to ascend the last few floors via an open-glass escalator suspended in the air.  You can see these in the previous picture — they are the two platforms (one goes up, one down) that form a “V” against the open circle in the middle

The viewing platform at the top

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!

What’s glowing in the distance? Where do all the lights lead? Is there food?

About andrewamiet

I'm a 29 (now 31) year-old former desk jockey who is now making my way around the world, experiencing all of the sights, sounds, tastes, people, and culture that the world has to offer.

10 Responses to “A Different Perspective on the Urban Jungle in Osaka”

  1. I am constantly amazed at the expanse of the human experience. You’re comments and pictures reinforce that through words and pictures. And those words and pictures are outstanding.

    • Thank you very much for the compliment regarding the photos and words — it means a lot to me coming from you. And it is for exactly the reason that you mention — seeing the expanse of the human experience — that I’m on this trip, afterall, so I’m also equally happy to be able to take folks along for the ride!

  2. Great stuff as always, Andrew. Loved the aquarium pics. Safe travels!

    • For some reason, I thought you and your brother would like those. I don’t know what it is, but zoos and aquariums are still infinitely fascinating — it must just be one of those things you never outgrow. I hope all is well in your world, and great to hear from you, David!

  3. A friend of mine is visiting Osaka this November. I will definitely tell him to read this post (and also the rest of your posts on Japan). I bet in your next post there will be a picture of okonomiyaki. 🙂

  4. Your pictures were just beautiful this post. Can’t wait to see the nightlife/food post. You have really captured the beauty of this area. Stay safe and healthy.

    • Thanks, as always! And it’s funny, as most folks wouldn’t refer to Osaka as “beautiful,” given it is largely a grey expanse of concrete blocks. But obviously, even in the confines of a mega-city, there are still many beautiful aspects to be found.

  5. Amazing photos. I loved them!

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