Explore Osaka, Japan
Explore Osaka the third largest city in Japan, with a population of over 2.5 million people in its greater metropolitan area. It is the central metropolis of the Kansai region and the largest of the Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto trio.
If Tokyo is Japan’s capital, one might call Osaka its anti-capital. Whatever you call it, though, there are many opportunities for you to discover its true character.
Veiled much with a commercial-centric city touch, you may as well start from picking up the lively intonation of Osaka dialect, heard from the people as you ride on the escalators standing on the right, instead of the left in Tokyo; then discovering the contrast of popular food to eastern Japan, as you look for places to lunch. The deeper you get inside, and at the end of your stay, it is not completely impossible that you may have compiled your own original list of reasons covering from history, culture, sports, to business.
Osaka dates back to the Asuka and Nara periods. Under the name Naniwa, it was briefly the capital of Japan 645-655, 661-667 and finally 744-745 AD. Even after the capital was moved elsewhere, Osaka continued to play an important role as a hub for land, sea and river-canal transportation. During the Tokugawa era, while Tokyo served as the austere seat of military power and Kyoto was the home of the Imperial court and its courtiers, Osaka served as “the Nation’s Kitchen” (tenka-no-daidokoro), the collection and distribution point for rice, the most important measure of wealth. Hence it was also the city where merchants made and lost fortunes and cheerfully ignored repeated warnings from the shogunate to reduce their conspicuous consumption.
During Meiji era, Osaka’s fearless entrepreneurs took the lead in industrial development, making it the equivalent of Manchester in the U.K. A thorough drubbing in World War 2 left little evidence of this glorious past — even the castle is a ferroconcrete reconstruction — but to this day, while unappealing and gruff on the surface, Osaka remains Japan’s best place to eat, drink and party, and in legend (if not in practice) Osakans still greet each other with mōkarimakka?, “are you making money?”.
- Osaka’s most famous shopping district is Shinsaibashi, which offers a mix of huge department stores, high-end Western designer stores, and independent boutiques ranging from very cheap to very expensive. Within Shinsaibashi, the Amerika-muraor “American Village” area is particularly popular among young people and is often said to be the source of most youth fashion trends in Japan. Near Amerika-mura, Horie is shopping street of mainly Japanese brand shops. The many shops in Umeda are popular among trendy locals, particularly in the Hep Five and Hep Navio buildings adjacent to Hankyu Umeda Station, although these shops tend to be too expensive to captivate most tourists’ interest. In this area, new shopping buildings have been constructed recently
- For electronics, the Nipponbashi area southeast of Namba, and particularly the “Den-Den Town” shopping street, was once regarded as the Akihabara of western Japan; nowadays, more people would rather shop at the new, enormous Yodobashi Camera in Umeda or BicCamera and LABI1 in Namba, although Nippombashi still offers good deals on many gadgets, PC components and used/new industrial electronics.
- For Japanese and foreign books, try Kinokuniyain Hankyu Umeda Station or Junkudo south of Osaka Station.
- The official Hanshin Tigers(baseball team) Shop is on the 8th floor of the Hanshin Department Store at Umeda.
- Tenjinbashi-sujiShopping Street (Tenjinbashi-suji Shōtengai) is said to be the longest straight and covered shopping arcade in Japan at approx. 2.6km. The arcade runs north-south along Tenjinbashi-suji Street and is accessible from multiple subway and/or JR stations, e.g., Tenma, Minami-Morimachi, Tenjinbashi-suji 6-chome, etc. Not meant for sightseeing, the arcade is a live exhibition of Osaka’s daily life, open since Edo period.
- Don Quijote(or Donki, how many Japanese call it) is a discount and novelty store chain with over 400 stores in Japan, Hawaii and Singapore. Wherever in Osaka you go, you will find one of their stores. Don Quijote generally sells anything. From brand items over medicine, suitcases, apparel, electric appliances, adult toys to snacks and drinks. If you want to buy souvenirs, their stores are the best place to find whatever you need. The three Don Quijote branches in Osaka Namba are among the busiest Tax-Free Stores in all over Japan. The Dotonbori Store in the notorious entertainment district has a ferris wheel on its roof that gives you a great view all over Namba.
The widest selection of restaurants is in Osaka’s main entertainment districts, with the highest concentration of all in the Umeda and Dōtonbori areas.
Even in a nation of obsessive gourmands Osaka is known as an excellent place to eat, exemplified by the Osakan maxim kuidaore, “eat yourself into ruin”. The best place for trying out kuidaore is probably Dōtonbori and neighboring Hōzenji-yokochō or Soemon-cho, the whole area containing nearly nothing but one restaurant after another.
Okonomiyaki Osaka style (The DIY Food) is usually do-it-yourself food at smaller, independent specialized restaurants. Tables are equipped with embedded hot plates and you’ll receive a bowl of ingredients, which you are expected to cook on your own. However, in larger franchised chains the staff can often cook for you — and even in smaller places staff will usually gladly help if asked.
Should you decide to try your luck on your own, you might want to dress for the occasion: pork slices, the most common topping, are usually very fatty and tend to splatter grease all over the place. Try Modernyaki which is an Okonomiyaki with Soba on top, or go fried egg on top of the pancake.
Some typically Osakan foods worth trying include:
- Battera, is a block type sushi, with mackerel put on rice and squeezed very hard in a wooden box, cut into pieces when served. Batterasushi is a variant and direct descendant of primitive sushi, this one from Osaka is unique for its squarelike shape. Available not only in sushi restaurants but also as take-away in department stores and train stations.
- Okonomiyaki, fried cabbage cakes that resemble a cross between a pancake, pizza, and omelette.
- Takoyaki, bits of octopus inside fried dumplings.
- Kushikatsu, skewers with various sorts of food (meat, vegetables, cheese, etc.) deep-fried in panko and served with tonkatsu sauce.
Okonomiyaki is best eaten in hole-in-the-wall restaurants, while takoyaki is best eaten from street vendors’ carts, which can be found all over the major districts around nightfall. The best place to find kushkatsu is in Shinsekai, between Dobutsuen-mae and Ebisucho stations on the Sakaisuji subway line.
There are many nightlife districts in Osaka. Nightlife in Osaka is very popular.
- Kitashinchi This area, located just south of JR Osaka station, is the most famous nightclub and entertainment district of contemporary Osaka. It’s just like Tokyo’s Ginza, filled with many hundreds of high-class bars, clubs and small restaurants where Japanese businessmen entertain their clients.
- Dōtonbori This area is the centre of nightlife.