See Osaka

by Takahiro Takiguchi
Stripes Okinawa

As a member of the Keihanshin industrial zone along with nearby Kyoto and Kobe, Osaka may be more famed internationally as Western Japan’s hub of business and commerce. Make no mistake, however, this energetic worldly city of 2.68 million offers attractions that, much like its unique atmosphere, are well worth a visit in their own right.

Whereas its regal northern neighbor Kyoto, former imperial capital for 1,000 years, touts all things traditional and eloquent, it’s the can-do business bustle of Osaka, also the nation’s former capital for brief stints in the seventh and eighth centuries, which marks its claim to fame. Yet residents of both cities share the same Kansai-ben dialect and regional heritage.

Nicknamed “Tenka-no-Daidokoro,” or “the Nation’s Kitchen,” for the central role it once played in Japan’s rice trade, Osaka’s prominence continues today as the birthplace of financial conglomerates such as Obayashi and Takeda, and home to Big Electronics like Panasonic, Sharp and Sanyo. But this is also home to one of the world’s four Universal Studio theme parks, which reportedly saw its 100 millionth visitor just last year. And it boasts the Umeda shopping district, packed with major department stores and shopping malls.

Osaka is a very international city, accommodating a large number of foreigners and citizens who are not ethnic Japanese, especially Koreans. Of its 116,249 “foreigners” according to city statistics, 74,089 are Korean, many comprising Korea Town in Ikuno Ward, Japan’s largest Korean/Korean-Japanese community. This makes Ikuno the ideal place to choose from a plethora of “yakiniku,” or Korean-style barbecue, restaurants to dine at.

The city also accommodates the largest number of Okinawans in mainland Japan. Many, about 16,750, reside in Taisho Ward, according to city data, making this an ideal area in western Japan to find shops selling wares from down south as well as restaurants, such as Ichariba, famed for their authentic Okinawan cuisine.

In fact, Osaka, home to Japan’s only Human Rights Museum, has long welcomed diversity, adding to a progressive, cheerful and casual ambience that continues to invite visitors to feel at home. While there are many attractions in Osaka, be sure to include the following three in your travel itinerary to sample a true taste of the warm and cheerful hospitality this city has to offer.

Osaka Castle

Osaka Castle is the best known site, and is considered Osaka’s landmark. The current eight-story castle is a concrete reproduction (with elevators) of the original. The interior was built as a modern functioning museum, which displays various exhibits on each floor. The displayed exhibits range from the castle’s facts and figures, details on its founder, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-98), and other events of that era including miniature battle scenes of historic wars.

The original castle was built by Hideyoshi in 1597 as a base for his campaign for national unification, and a show of power and authority. However, it was burned down in 1615 after his death during Osaka’s Summer War by another leading lord, Tokugawa Ieyasu, (1543-1616) who later became Japan’s first shogun. The castle was reconstructed in 1931. In addition to the vast museum collection, the vista from the eighth floor of the castle is amazing. After exploring the castle interior, you can also stroll around the castle walls and moats. The sheer size of the facility is a testament to the former power of Hideyoshi.

For more information, call 06-6941-3044 or visit: www.osakacastle.net

Dotonbori

Osaka is often called “Kuidaore no Matchi,” or “Eat till You Drop Town.” The moniker best describes Dotonbori, Osaka’s massive downtown which is chock full of eateries and runs for two miles along Dotonbori Canal in Namba Ward.

Take a walk along these busy streets that are crowded with an unbelievable number of restaurants and amusement facilities, ringing with the cheerful Osaka dialect amid the aromas of cooked foods. Here, giant colorful signboards in themselves can be attractions with flashy and distinctive logos like Glico Man (a giant neon athlete) and the 21-foot-diameter mechanical crab above Kani Doraku Crab restaurant.

At night, the illuminated signboards and neon lamps reflect on the canal, making this downtown even merrier. In the streets, there are theaters that play traditional puppet shows, called “bunraku,” storytellers’ halls and other popular entertainment as well as a number of movie theaters.

Drop by a couple of restaurants or shops on the street. Kani Doraku or Otakoya, a popular “takoyaki” (octopus dumpling) stand. There is Zubora-ya, a restaurant with a huge blowfish lantern hanging out front that serves the famed fish, which I also highly recommend. These restaurants face the main street near Dotonbori Crossing – you can’t miss them.

Tsutenkaku and Shinsekai

Compared to Osaka’s more than 1,600-year history, Shinsekai is a relatively new district, as its name, which means New World, suggests. The area was developed into its current layout following the success of the 1903 National Industrial Exposition. The northern half of the district was modeled after the streets of Paris, while the southern portion was built to resemble the streets of Coney Island in New York. This district is filled with restaurants known for serving “kushikatsu” (small deepfried pieces of pork and onion), one of Osaka’s famous specialties.

Tsutenkaku (Heaven Reaching Tower), a 338-foot-high, eight-sided structure, is another Osaka landmark; located in the center of Shinsekai, it is also a well-known symbol of this district. Its main observation deck on the fifth floor offers visitors panoramic views from 299 feet up of the entire Osaka Plain against a back drop of Mount Ikoma.

On this observation deck, a wooden statue of a popular American charm doll called Billiken is enshrined as a symbol of good luck. Thousands of visitors place a coin in his box and rub the soles of his feet to make their wishes every year. Try yourself and see how it works. On the second floor of the tower, there is a souvenir shop where you can find various comical Osaka souvenirs.

Tsutenkaku was originally constructed in 1912, modeled after Paris’ Eiffel Tower and was connected to the adjacent Luna amusement park. Although it was scrapped during World War II, the present tower was reconstructed in 1956. The current tower had its 35 millionth visitor in 2010.

Two of the most popular restaurants at the foot of Tsutenkaku are Yaekatsu (10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; 06-6643-6332) and Daruma Sohonten (12 a.m. to 8:40 p.m.; 06-6645-7056).

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