Japan’s third-largest city, ultra-urban, hard-working Osaka (大阪) is an unabashed antidote to the fashion-forward frenzy of Tokyo and the prim propriety of Kyoto. This longtime capital of commerce is filled with down-to-earth citizens speaking colourful Kansai-ben (Kansai dialect) and neon-clad streetscapes bursting with over-the-top 3D signage.
Most of all, Osaka is famous for good food. The phrase kuidaore (‘eat 'til you drop’) is heard so frequently here that it’s practically the city motto. Delicacies from okonomiyaki (savoury pancakes) to conveyor-belt sushi were invented here and continue to thrive.
Even if Osaka isn’t particularly attractive – at times it seems like an endless expanse of concrete boxes, pachinko (pinball) parlours and elevated highways – the city makes up for it with some architectural and cultural gems, pretty riversides, energetic shopping districts for highbrow and lowbrow and refreshingly open residents.
Sightseeing highlights include Osaka Castle, Osaka Aquarium Kaiyūkan, the Blade Runner–style nighttime scenery of the Dōtombori area, the gloriously gaudy retro storefronts of the Shin-Sekai neighbourhood and the peaceful Open-Air Museum of Old Japanese Farmhouses.
But more than any specific sights, Osaka’s real treasures are in the bustling street life in its arcades, markets and byways. And Osaka really comes into its own at night, when locals come out for tasty eats and good times.
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