What struck me about Osaka was how sunny and relaxed this city seemed, as I traveled down south from Tokyo through a green country. The second thing that amazed me was how the obligatory high-rise buildings were designed with a peculiar grace and elegance, in unusual shapes- round, hollow, strikingly angular. And in perfect contrast to a city from the future, there stood the beautiful White Castle, complete with moat, battlements and serene inner courtyards. The castle recalled the stern, martial times of the Samurai, dominating the center of the city with its multi-tiered, winged roofs.
The Ocean World
The Osaka metro system is much simpler and straightforward than the sprawling labyrinth of Tokyo. Within minutes, I learned how to zip between various parts of the city, and one day my chosen destination was the Osaka aquarium, the Kaiyukan. The aquarium is renowned for building near-natural habitats for the fishes of the Pacific rim. Over 15 large tanks showcase stern crabs, colorful tropical fish, but perhaps the most stunning exhibit is the central tank, representing the species of the Pacific Ocean. This tank is nine meters deep, offering a stunning view of a lazily-circling whale shark, surrounded by outlandish moon fish, hammerheads and other sharks.
The Local Snack
The local snack of Osaka turned out to be a fun and satisfying Japanese-style omelette, the okonomiyaki. In the shopping district around the Dai-ichi hotel, it was not difficult to find the okonomiyaki place- in fact, there seemed to be dozens, each offering a mouth-watering selection of meats, vegetables and seafood. And the experience of ordering the food was itself satisfying. A skilled cook arrived at the table, mixing all the ingredients before my eyes and pouring them onto the hot grill mounted on the table. Within minutes, the cook had made a wonderful hot okonomiyaki. As it is usual with Japanese food, it was prepared quickly and meant to be eaten quickly- which was no problem at all, with all the deliciousness.
Osaka offers many other specialties, and the locals seem to love the good food. Beef steakhouses and restaurants specializing in Kobe beef abound.
The Tiniest Bar in the World
Somehow, after a fun dinner, my travel companions and I wandered into what seemed to be the tiniest, but most peculiar bar in the world- called the Kamakura bar. The bar countertop was cut from a large piece of natural wood, and there were no more than six seating places for customers. The bartender, who spoke no English at all, still managed to show us an intriguing selection of local alcohol, enticing me with a sweet-tasting Japanese plum wine and a peculiar sweet potato brandy. I have fantasies of one day opening a similar bar, for just a few customers, with an intimate vibe and with a quirky serving selection.
Shopping in Osaka
Osaka offers you to lose yourself into extremely dazzling, roof-covered shopping streets. You won’t miss the cute shop talismans- the Maneki Neko, a kitten waving its paw to attract customers, but also the Tanuki, a magical badger-like creature that will make you smile for a very weird reason. But I leave it to you to discover the Tanuki statues. And next door you might find a cosplay store, where cute dresses and Mary-Jane shoes are on display, to supply cosplayers and those who play out the Gothic Lolita image.
If I were to revisit Osaka, I have two options: either a direct flight to Osaka airport, or I could take the winding path down from Tokyo, stopping by in Nagano and Kyoto for a fuller Japanese experience. I would love to go back to that sunny, joyful place and perhaps next time, go even further south, to the white-sand beaches of Okinawa.
- Freelance Writer