Could this one day be a scene that will once again be familiar to us all? The current state of emergency in many parts of Japan, including Osaka, is due to remain in place until the end of this month, but is also due to be reviewed tomorrow.
Osaka is a bit like Betty to Tokyo’s Veronica. Where the latter receives the bulk of the attention, courtesy of glitz, glamour and all-around buzz, the former is vastly underrated. Equally as gorgeous, almost as buzzy (and most certainly bouncier!), and far, far friendlier.
Take this picture for example. You could be forgiven for mistaking it for the famed Shibuya Crossing, located in the Shibuya ward of Tokyo. Frequently photographed in all its glorious frenzy, Shibuya is rumoured to be the busiest intersection in the world, with over 1000 people crossing at peak times, coming from all directions. This particular image though? This is a pedestrian scene in Osaka. The same technicolour frenzy, yet if you were to try speak to someone on this crossing, they’d very likely answer, instead of scurrying ahead, unseeing, at top-Tokyo speed.
Osaka is still the third largest city in Japan, with a population of over 2.5 million people in its greater metropolitan area. It is still known as the ‘Nation’s Kitchen’ – courtesy of the gastronomic wonderland that is its food district Dotonburi, with out-of-this-world takoyaki and okonomiyaki at a myriad of restaurants, street food stalls, and bars. And it is still, undoubtedly, a quintessentially Japanese experience. But there is something markedly friendlier, more relaxed, more easy going, about this city.
Formerly known as Naniwa, Osaka was once the capital of Japan, indeed the first one ever known, with Japan’s first full-scale palace, Naniwa-no-Miya Palace, built here in 650. (You can visit the site of the palace, which is maintained as a park, located south of the current Osaka Castle.) Today, though, in spite of the obvious history and cultural significance to be found in the city, Osaka is better known as a charming, relaxed neighbour to bustling, business-like Tokyo, with a reputation for fabulous food, fun and nightlife.
Just a short shinkansen ride from Tokyo, this city, with its vastly different personality to Japan’s modern-day capital, is home to a number of other attractions worthy of Veronica-esque buzz. The Tempozan Ferris Wheel, one of the tallest and largest in the world, offers up see-them-to-believe-them views of Osaka bay, the whole city and the surrounding mountains. The Osaka Kaiyukan Aquarium is the second largest aquarium in the world. And the underground shopping complex, Whity Umeda, located in Osaka’s central district Umeda? Yes, there’s fabulous shopping to be had here with more than 190 shops in a unique subterranean location, but pay attention to your surroundings for something quite priceless: it actually has fossils from the Jurassic to Cretaceous periods on show, right there in its very walls.
Perhaps it was its demotion from capital to mere city which turned Osaka easy going, perhaps it was just a quirk of fate. Whatever the reason, today Osaka is lauded by many as the very soul of Japan. Home to the most outgoing, friendly, people in the country. A laid back escape from Tokyo’s polish, and price. But with more than enough buzz and bustle to keep any visitor entertained and entranced.