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Did You Know … ?
- The iconic Osaka Castle is a 20th century reconstruction.
- Osaka hosted Expo ’70, the first world exposition ever held in Asia.
- As in most Japanese cities, many Osaka streets don’t have names.
- Shitennoji Temple is Japan’s oldest temple (founded 593).
- The local Nissin food company introduced the world’s first instant noodle product, chicken ramen, in 1958.
Osaka is a sizeable city (population: approaching 3 million) but with a metro area of intimidating dimensions (population: more than 17 million). From the fifth century, Osaka developed as a center for finance and trade. By the next century, this port city was the hub for Japan’s exchanges with the rest of Asia. Osaka was also Japan’s capital for a short while (645 to 794).
Emperors and warlords favored it with the temples and shrines that bespeak a long and colorful history and, today, give it physical charms of the kind tourists look for. Osaka more recently became an industrial center, known by the end of the 19th century as the smoky city and, sometimes, as the Manchester of the Orient.
Osaka, in the middle of Japan on the main island of Honshu, faces the arc-shaped Osaka Bay to its west. Mountains surround the other three sides, and several rivers run through it. Most of the main touristic attractions are within a relatively compact area in the city center.
Osaka’s skyline is turning into an attraction, too; In the 1990s, the city fathers launched a long-term project to upgrade Osaka’s nondescript image. Numerous new high-rise office towers and apartment buildings have raised the skyline and brought new energy to the metropolis.
Osaka already was an established center for all the traditional Japanese performing arts, including Bunraku (puppetry), Kabuki and Noh. The city is home to numerous festivals each year, as well. The city boasts a growing abundance of restaurants and clubs for those who wish to round out their nighttime activities.
Sports are very popular, giving visitors familiar choices like baseball and soccer and the distinctly Japanese sumo wrestling. And, not to be forgotten, shopping is a well-developed pastime here. Even the shopping facilities, both above and below ground, are attractions, too.
Osaka is relatively close to Kobe, Kyoto and Nara. It is a convenient base for day trips when visitors are too time strapped to include longer visits to the other cities.
Things to do for Venturers
- Bargain when buying electronic goods in the Nihonbashi area.
- Have lunch at a tachi-nomi-tabe (stand-and-drink-and-eat) snack stall in the Shinsekai (New World) entertainment district. This relatively rough neighborhood is dotted with the stalls, pinball parlors and inexpensive shops. Here, the Tsutenkaku Tower (338 feet) offers good views of the city.
- Hit the city’s main nightspots in and around the Namba/Shinsaibashi area in the heart of town. Here, you are likely to see other travelers as well as foreign residents. Or, check out the spots in America Mura, if only for a look at the Japanese take on the U.S. It won’t feel like home.
- See the city from a helicopter, then take a walking tour.
- Time your visit to attend the Spring Grand National Sumo Tournament, which Osaka hosts in March. Or, attend other matches in other months of the year and enjoy the posturing and Shinto rituals that are central to the sport.
- Sample these two symbols of Osaka cuisine, the giant crab of Dotombori and the giant blowfish in Shinsekai, the latter carefully prepared to remove toxins!
Things to do for Centrics
- In mid-July, position yourself to see the hundred or so ships sailing down the Okawa River against a backdrop of fireworks, as part of the Osaka Tenjin-matsuri Festival, one of Japan’s three largest.
- Witness the unique theater known as Noh, at night by torchlight in the Osaka Castle Nishinomaru Garden. The plays are presented in local theaters at other times, too.
- Take a one-hour sightseeing cruise on sections of Osaka’s several rivers. Or, take a 90-minute cruise with lunch. Or, choose a cruise in Osaka Bay aboard a tall ship.
- Ride the bright red Ferris wheel that sits atop the HEP 5 building in the Umeda district. Or, choose the Tempozan Great Ferris Wheel, one of the world’s largest, at 328 feet in diameter.
- Make noodles at Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum, and learn more about how the world’s first instant noodles came to be created. You can create your own instant noodles or make them from scratch.
- Attend a baseball game. Watch the game — and the local fans who are generally fanatic about their teams.
Things to do for Authentics
- Visit the Osaka Castle Park in April when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. There are cherry blossom displays elsewhere, too. Or, if your trip is later, late May to mid-June, head to Shirokita Park for the extravagant display of irises in bloom.
- Kabuki, a colorful traditional theatrical form, presented by men only, is regularly on offer at the Osaka Shochikuza theater. Arrange to attend a performance.
- Take a guided tour encompassing the most important historic sights. Cross one of Japan’s most famous arched bridges at the Sumiyoshi Taisha Jinja Shrine. Only the foundations of the seventh century Naniwanomiya Palace remain, but see a reconstruction at the Osaka Museum of History.
- Pursue an interest in Asian art at the Fujita Museum of Art, as well as the Museum of Oriental Ceramics on Nakanoshima Island.
- There are choices for the museum averse. Consider the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living, which re-creates scenes from daily life in Osaka during the late Edo Period, from 1601 to 1867. Also, there is the Open-Air Museum of Old Japanese Farmhouses.
- Enjoy the national pastime, shopping. Try one of the many underground retail centers. Entertain yourself on the Sennichimae Doguyasuji shopping street in the heart of Namba for wholesale goods.
For more information, consult the Osaka Convention and Tourism Bureau at www.osaka-info.jp/en