Widely considered to be the commercial centre of Japan, Osaka is home to some of Japan’s biggest companies, such as Panasonic and Sanyo. This city was also capital of the country briefly during the medieval period, but biggest claim to fame over the years has been in reference to its status as a rice trading centre, giving it the nickname “The Nation’s Kitchen”.
From this start in the art of making money, Osaka has developed a definitive corporate business culture that has persisted to this day, boiling down to the way native Osakans greet each other in the streets, as they will often say mōkarimakka, which translates to “are you making money?”.
Apart from the glistening skyscrapers that form its imposing business district, Osaka has other things to attract the wayward traveler, from one of the most famous castles in the country to theme parks to even a museum dedicated to the humble noodle Ramen, making it a worthwhile stop on your bullet train powered tour of Japan.
Though it may be a reconstruction after the original was reduced to rubble after the Second World War, Osaka Castle still remains as this city’s best historical attraction. Built in 1583, it served as a consolidator of power that eventually united the Japanese nation. It comes complete with a moat, turrets, gates and gunpowder magazines, with the central castle building standing eight stories high, giving excellent views of the surrounding areas to defenders.
These days, the interior serves as a museum to the history of the period of when Osaka Castle was in its heyday. During the spring, the gardens outside are a popular gathering place for city residents during the cherry blossom season, as many trees bearing the famous sakura flower are planted on the premises of Osaka Castle.
Your next stop on your cultural tour of Osaka should include the Sumiyoshi Shrine, the oldest Shinto shrine in all of Japan. This religious site is positively ancient, with observances here going back 1,800 years into the distant past. This shrine stands out from many others in Japan due to its traditional architecture (oddly enough), as it has torii gates that physical features that make them differ from most others (like square edges and differences in the middle bar of the gate) and the design elements on the roofs of the shrine are also markedly different.
This shrine is situated in a serene natural area, which stands in contrast to the concrete jungle that defines much of Osaka, making it an excellent escape from stress and worry for many locals. Come here at New Year’s if you can, as many worshippers also turn up to pray for prosperity in the months ahead.
Finally, Osaka has a museum dedicated to the chronicling of the ravages of war, as well as the cause of peace. Peace Osaka is this resource, which has catalogued not only the destruction it suffered during the extensive fire-bombing it endured during the Second World War, but also detailed exhibits on the effects of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The perspective of this place is balanced, as it also focuses on the atrocities committed by Japanese forces during their conquests of China, Korea and Southeast Asia, thus presenting a unified and convincing case on why war should be avoided if at all possible.
Being a business-oriented city for centuries, Osaka has a downtown filled with formidable skyscrapers. Afraid however that their collective style had become too staid, the stunning Umeda Sky Building was completed in 1993 to shake up urban design in the downtown area. Featuring two twin towers connected at the top by a two storey enclosed bridge, the element of this building that is of most interest to the casual visitor is the escalator that goes between the two buildings near the top, giving incredible views of the surrounding area.
Amusement park fans will want to check out Universal Studios Japan. While many features here are identical to Universal Studios parks in other areas of the world, the rides are just as welcome to those seeking a rush of adrenaline, which has offerings including the Amazing Adventures of Spiderman and the Terminator. Those looking for something unique will find it however, on Hello Kitty Fashion Avenue.
Those who wish to experience the creatures of the sea without having to strap on SCUBA gear will have such an opportunity at Kaiyukan, which ranks as one of the world’s largest aquariums. Here, the exhibits focus on various environments found in the Pacific Ocean, ranging from tropical species in the Cook Strait tank, to cold water species in the Aleutian Islands tank. All in all, there are 27 tanks and 16 major exhibits to hold your attention, making for an excellent afternoon out.
Finally, those looking for a taste of the offbeat should drop by the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum. At this quirky attraction, visitors will learn about the life and times of the inventor of the instant noodle cup, Momofuku Ando, and they will learn how instant noodles are made, all the different multivariate flavours, as well as the opportunity to (get this) … make your own instant noodles. Oh joy!