Take the slow boat to Osaka for a city with complex charmOSAKA, Japan ― A port city usually has elements of both openness and exclusivity. It’s a maritime portal that offers an ideal base from which to absorb alien elements from outside the country. Meanwhile, its location allows it to be very different from inland areas.
These factors help create a variety and vitality which directly affects regional culture and the local lifestyle of the area. Thus, cities on the seashore usually have plenty of attractions for a person to enjoy.
Osaka is a good example. This important city in western Japan has many faces, each with abundant expressions, like the dazzling signboards that fill the city’s streets.
Traveling from the bay area to the downtown streets as a stranger, I could easily sense its vibrant atmosphere. There was a feeling of laku, or pleasure and energy, in the streets, helping visitors to fully appreciate Japanese traditions.
Osaka is renowned for its matsuri, or seasonal festivals. Even on an ordinary day, the city presents visitors with festive experiences. It promotes a strong impression of a city where traditional elegance meets modern refinement.
The spirit of Osaka is expressed through the tangible components of urban space, such as the ultramodern skyscrapers of Business Park and the quaint temples of Shi-Tennoji. Even the small signs in the antique back streets are worth checking out. Osaka’s spirit is also found in the surging waves of local people during rush hour. This stylish city and its fashionable citizens have abandoned uniformity, but, in their politeness to strangers, they have retained their sense of wa (harmony), which is arguably the best virtue of Japanese society.
In central Osaka, there are three parts to downtown: Shinsaibasi, Namba and Dotonbori. These areas are where the tradition of Japanese merchandising took root, and there are a wide range of arcades, shopping centers, restaurants and bars in these business blocks. The many stores lined up tightly along the downtown streets sell not only goods, but also examples of Japanese culture.
Shinsaibasi is a famous marketplace with a long history. Now it is the fashion center, specializing in Osakan vogue. Lots of fashion boutiques, brand shops and accessory malls stand roof to roof here. This large scale marketplace is always crowded with young people.
Namba is a traditional merchant site as well. Stores in Namba usually deal in the necessities of daily life. This place is also famous for its underground arcade, which is 800 meters long, with more than 250 shops inside.
Dotonbori is a street of culinary delights where the entire food culture of Japan can be observed at a glance. Legions of characteristic restaurants and cafeterias stand closely together in this area. Some of them are family businesses passed down through the generations and have traditions that stretch back over a century.
People who visit Dotonbori usually fall into a state of happy indecision as they try to select from a huge variety of products. Moreover, the prices are relatively cheap compared with other Japanese cities. Osaka-styled ramen (instant noodles) and takoyaki (balls made from pastry and octupus) provide an ideal meal for backpackers travelling on a shoestring. With so many traditions jostling together, visitors can get a taste of culture as well as some delicious food.
Just outside central Osaka, the area around Umeda station is also a good place to visit, with tall buildings and arcades that are characteristic of the area. As the hub of the city’s public transportation, this area is always overflowing with passengers. There are, of course, many refined shopping malls, neat restaurants and nice hotels. Furthermore, the historic Lotden shrine, flea market and antique bookstores make the space unique, with a touch of fusion.
Another distinguished attraction in Umeda is the beautiful night view. Travelers can enjoy the brilliant scenery harmonized with the skyline and the train station from the observatories of skyscraper buildings such as Umeda Sky, Akuti Osaka and Hankyu Grand.
In the southern part of Osaka, the Tennoji Park neighborhood is a residential area famous for its beautiful park. In the park, there is a giant Japanese-style garden, called Keitakuen, with tidy ponds and meticulously-arranged groves. The park also contains a public zoo and municipal museum of art.
Near the park is Shi-Tennoji. As the oldest and first state-made temple in Japan, it teems with Buddhist antiquities. The most conspicuous feature of Shi-Tennoji is the arrangement of its buildings. The main structures stand in a line, marking the origin of this unique style, which is seen in many old Japanese temples.
As this venerable temple proves, Osaka is a city of history. Highlights from Japan’s complex past are scattered around. Thus, travelers can get their lessons from the very spot an historic event took place, making a trip to Osaka all the more memorable.
Osaka rose to the forefront of Japanese history in the 16th century. The small port of Naniwa became the center of reunified Japan, as Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a uniter of warring states, built his stately castle in the town. The castle represented the concentration of political power, and it is currently the most recognized symbol of Osaka.
The majestic appearance of Osaka Castle exudes its old glory. Tenshugaku (the tower) of the castle is a beautiful structure that shows the classical style of Japanese castle construction. It is currently used as a museum, exhibiting relics and audio materials on the golden age of Osaka. In the museum, visitors can observe a life-sized model of Hideyoshi’s gold-coated tea room. At the observatory on the top of the tower, visitors can take in a bird’s-eye view of the four-sided boundary of the castle and the overall landscape of the city as well.
Standing on top of BK Plaza, across from the Osaka Castle, visitors can get a complete panoramic view of Tenshugaku and the Twin 21 Tower, a close-by modern skyscraper that offers an impressive contrast. Such a scene plainly shows that grand historic structures and cutting-edge modern buildings can coexist together. In this way, travelers witness that the past and the present co-exist in Osaka.
In Osaka, differences inspire reconciliation. Osaka-style foods are made of ingredients from both the sea and the land, and such diversity establishes unique features that are Osaka’s own. Such characteristics can even be found in the language. It is great fun for foreigners who can understand Japanese to distinguish the Osakan accent. Such clear local color makes a trip a more impressive experience.
*Going to Osaka
Osaka is much closer than most imagine. It’s only an hour and a half away by plane from Incheon International Airport. Yet, the most fascinating way to reach Osaka is to take the channel liner. Boats leave Busan bound for Osaka three times a week. The cruise is always busy with travelers from both countries and bundle-laden merchants.
It’s an 18-hour ride, but the trip has no dull moments. There are lots of different events on board, including concerts, magic performances and talent shows. It is also a good chance to get the latest tour information and to make friends with fellow travelers.
Furthermore, watching the changing scenery at sea is a great way to pass the trip. The boat travels near Tsusima island and goes through the beautiful straits of Seto Naikai. Passengers can take the sea air and look at the huge suspension bridges, such as the Kanmon, Seto, Akahisi, and Kurujima, which are the pride of Japanese architecture.
Tourist information: Other attractions to see in neighboring cities around Osaka
Osaka is the gateway to the Kansai region of western Honshu. The historic cities of Kyoto and Nara are located an hour away by train. The Aska and Horuji temples are also close to Osaka. They are places where Korean influences still remain. Another strong recommendation is Inari. There visitors can visit Husimeeinari-taisha, a key shrine for the merchants of Japan. At this shrine, visitors can see the spectacle of the Doriyee tunnel, which is a gate that looks like a bird. A number of small shrine gates stand in a line towards the hillside. Also, the beautiful international port of Kobe and the famous castle town of Himeji are not far from Osaka.
by Koo Sung-chan
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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