Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Feeling the Vibe in Osaka

Although this might come as a surprise to those who know me, the glitzy, fashion conscious, shiny new building- and shopping arcade-filled urban knot that is Osaka actually turned out to be my favourite stop of the trip - a stop which I sincerely wish could have lasted longer!

Osaka's Umeda Sky Building. Home to both an indoor and outdoor observation deck (the latter 173m above ground), my favourite aspect of visiting was taking the escalators which connect the two legs of the building and span a height of 5 stories. I may have enjoyed this too much as I made Osaka local Yugi ride up and down them with me several times.  

A young boy gazes in wonder at the Pikachu on the screen at Osaka's Pokemon Centre. The place to go to buy anything Poke-related, the Pokemon Centre is located on the 13th floor of the Diamaru Department Store, one of the many glitzy department stores surrounding Osaka Station.

In many ways, Osaka's cityscape can be said to be much like Tokyo's. Like Tokyo, Osaka is a coastal city that does not seem like one; and, like Tokyo, much, if not all, of the old city was destroyed during the last world war, making space for gleaming new high-rises and fancy shopping centres. Yet somehow, the two are not the same at all. Maybe it was all the neon, or maybe it was just in the more laid-back attitude that seemed to roll of those living there, but to me, Osaka just seemed to beat with this incredibly addicting pulse that Tokyo lacked. It was basically everything I expected a modern Japanese city to be - and more.

Some of the bright neon lights in Shin-Sekai, the area in which I stayed. Described as 'a world that time forgot, home to ancient pachinko parlours, rundown theaters, dirt-cheap restaurants and all manner of raffish and suspicious characters' by the Lonely Planet, I found that I loved this area just as much as I did the much newer and happening Shimbashi & Namba areas (the latter of which is pictured further down). In the centre of this photo is Osaka's Tsuten-kaku, originally built in 1912 and rebuilt in 1969 after the war, at only 103m high, it's actually much shorter than a number of the buildings around it. 

One of said gaming parlours. These establishments can be found in numbers on nearly every shopping street in Osaka, and they always seem to contain players of every conceivable age range.
The road leading to Osaka-jo. Although Osaka is home to a number of excellent museums, Osaka Castle is the only real 'historical site' in the city (disregarding the lovely ruins of an earlier fortification located to the northwest of it that all those not-archaeologically-minded are likely to ignore). A 1931 concrete reconstruction of Tokugawa Ieyasu's 17th century castle (which itself was a reconstruction of Toyotomi Hideyoshi's late 16th century 'impregnable' granite castle destroyed by the Tokugawa forces), Osaka-jo offers not only an excellent view of the city from the top floor, but a nice museum filled with artifacts and detailed explanations of who's who and what they did as it relates to the history of the castle and shogunate.

If Osaka is famous for one thing over anything else, it is food - and boy does Osaka do food! (And here is where all those who know me are nodding in sudden comprehension of my love for this city - okay, so I'll admit, the food may have had something to do with it, but it wasn't only the food, I swear!). Osaka also doesn't just do food, it does it in both quality and quantity - lots of quantity. With entire areas of the city seemingly dedicated to nothing else, I, who am rarely ever full, managed to happily achieve that distinction and more.

Trademark Osaka Takoyaki - battered octopus balls. I've loved these since I first tried them in Taiwan. Osaka is said to have the best. There is an entire restaurant-museum dedicated to these in the Odaiba area of Tokyo.

A Lively shopping district during the day, the Minami area, comprised of Shinshabashi and Namba seems to really come alive at night. In the Shimbashi area to the north of the Yodo River, small exclusive looking bars and clubs are the name of the day (er... night.), while to the south in Dotombori and Namba, it's food, food and more food. I was lucky enough to head out this way on my first night in search of a late dinner and, although it was a Monday, by 10 or 11pm both areas were full of life in the form of the young and eccentrically dressed - fashion in Osaka is taken seriously (I had and old man look at me disparagingly for having such insufficient fashion sense that I was wearing slightly flared jeans in this day and age) and the aim seems to be to look unique. I can't even begin to describe the results of this drive, but it was one of the things that I loved about the city.
One of the food filled streets in Osaka's Namba-Dotonbori District. I think this is how I imagine heaven.
While much of what I loved about Osaka was its loud unabashed liveliness, one of my favourite things about wandering around its side streets in search of some new delicacy was stumbling upon some of its quieter places. It was those places that really brought home that this was a city that was both loved by those here and well lived in.

Like many of the other small charming shrines and temples frequented by locals in Osaka, Hozen-ji was located down an alley-way off one of the shopping arcades (in this instance, off one of the arcades to the south of Dotombori). Unique from many of the other Buddhist temples I saw while in Japan, Hozen-ji is centred around a statue of Mizukake Fudo that has been completely covered in moss due to the practice of sprinkling it with water in order to ensure the granting of a wish.

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