Another intense corner of urban Japan, Osaka has it's hidden gems like that of Kyoto and has the manic pace of Tokyo. The capital of Japan’s most cultural-heavy region, Kansai, Osaka was almost bombed to the ground during the Second World War, so you won’t find much in the way of history in the city itself. It’s an essential stopping off point for anyone with a passion for ancient Japan, though, as the outskirts are home to more history than you can shake a Samurai Sword at. The city's not without plentiful charms, either.
It might be dominated on the surface by over those overground roads you see light up in spectacular long-exposure photographs, but that's not the only way Osaka comes alive at night. Neon lights dominate a cityscape that’s bordering on the surreal, glowing with sparkling neon and futuristic streets that feel like a scene from a high-technology movie. It’s often ugly, sure, but it’s actually surprisingly charming, too, especially once you find yourself sipping sake in a local karaoke room, or waiting for your favorite dish to make its way round the sushi conveyor belt.
Osaka’s Kaiyukan aquarium is a surprising highlight, being home to 15 recreated environments that even host a whale shark; it’s also housed in a beautiful, sparkling new building. The intimidating Osaka-Jo castle contains plenty of relics from the once ruling Toyotomi family, while its gardens are dripping with beautiful pink cherry blossom in spring. The ceramics museum stores pieces of national importance, and stands amid a picturesque 19th century park.
Explore the enormous Ferris wheel that looks out over the city, or make the most of Osaka’s reputation as the ‘kitchen of Japan’ and indulge in plenty of hearty food. After all, Osaka is the city of "Kuidaore (Eat till you drop)". You can even check out the local entertainment specialty, Banraku Puppet Theater, before heading off into the province to explore Nara, Mt Koya and Kobe.
At its core, Osaka remains a merchant city; a place where fireworks and pharmaceutical companies each have their district, and dominate the streets. To dismiss the city as only this, though, is to miss the point. It might not be picturesque, but its lively, playful, and a taste of a more typical urban Japan.
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