Osaka is the embodiment of Japan's famous hardworking mind-set. In a different way than Tokyo, though. I would say Osaka is the Yin to Tokyo’s Yang. It’s a little more chaotic, feminine, and indulging. There’s an on-going rivalry between the two cities. People from Osaka are jokingly called stingy and gluttonous. Might sound harsh but there's always a story behind a nickname. Historically, most of its population consisted of merchants. There's an interesting theme connecting Osaka and the origins of money in Europe. It began in late 17th century London. Goldsmiths used to store their clients’ gold and jewellery and gave out receipts. They took a cut from every deposit because people are greedy by nature. Before long everyone started trading using the receipts in place of the physical wealth. Naturally, banks printed more receipts than they had the equivalent of in gold. We all know how it all blew out of proportion in our times. Osaka was the London of Japan. The only difference is that they didn’t store gold but their daimyos’ rice. Heaps of rice meant wealth back then. They even had their first rice Wall Street where people could buy rice that didn’t exist yet. Everyone with a head on the shoulders got very rich. The ruling shogunate overlooked everything even allowing some of the merchants to operate within the castle.
The reconstructed Osaka Castle is one of the most visited landmarks in Japan for a good reason. The real thing was crucial during the Sengoku Period. It’s part of Japanese history with all the Tokugawas and Nobunagas you’ve seen adapted into pop culture. The first thing you see is a giant moat surrounding the castle. Gives you a perspective on what the invading armies had to deal with. Add that to all the towers with archers, a maze of the inner courtyard and you have an impregnable fortress. The platforms and walls are the most impressive. They’re just massive blocks of granite put together like LEGO blocks without any mortar. The whole complex is only a shadow of its former self. That doesn’t take away from the sheer scope of the grounds and the park beloved by Osakans.
The port is another reason why Osaka got big and wealthy. It’s one of the largest in Japan and the first to open for foreign trade. In recent years it became not only a trade hub of international significance but also a landmark for tourists. That’s because it stretches over the entire bay area. You’ll see the characteristic Ferris wheel, art museums, shopping malls, and… Universal Studio Japan! They call it a studio but everyone comes for the massive amusement park. My favourite part is the recreated Hogwarts from Harry Potter. They even included that small village with candy shops and a bar with butter beer. Must be a trip of a lifetime for any fan. This theme park goes far beyond the usual Universal franchises. Anime is the name of the game here. The company invested in such classics as Dragon Ball, One Piece, Attack on Titan, and Gintama, among many others.
Osaka is a busy place and busy people need calories. That’s the reason why this city is known for its food and its people for their appetites. This is the birthplace of takoyaki and okonomiyaki. They’re both a type of fried batter. Takoyaki is a pancake ball with octopus filling while okonomiyaki is a flat one with cabbage and various toppings. The street food mania doesn’t end there. Osaka is Japan’s street food central and you’ll find everything there. Fresh seafood is popular. The Dōtonbori district is famous for its animated crab neons and blowtorched crab legs. It stretches along the Dōtonbori Canal connected by several bridges. This part of Osaka is crowded during the day but gets even wilder at night. People eat, drink, and stumble out of izakayas; the famous Japanese taverns, and karaoke bars. If that’s not your thing then go and explore. You’ll find a plethora of Zen gardens and temples. Shopping is also a big part of the Japanese lifestyle, especially for the youth. They’re trying hard to break out of that strict mold of the “don’t stand out” mind-set. Visit Shinsaibashi, Osaka’s renowned shopping area, and see what the crazy kids are wearing these days.