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Osaka

By: Jena Maddalino

Date Posted: 2000-05-19

Osaka became the first capital of Japan in the 7th century. Eventually the capital was moved to nearby Nara and then Kyoto, but Osaka continued to be an area of foreign trade and economic strength. During World War II, Osaka was one of the cities of Japan to be devastated by air raids. Today, Osaka is a global center where over 200,000 foreigners reside. Because of this, Osaka is one of the most welcoming cities for "gaijin" or foreigners, and their numbers continue to grow.

One of the many complaints heard from foreigners traveling in Japan is the county's lack of English signage. Tourists can spend literally hours at a major train station just trying to figure out which train to take. Osaka is unique and the people are often friendly and helpful. At one point of my trip, I was desperately searching for the correct line to take to return to Umeda (center of Osaka). A lady actually walked off her train (that left) and proceeded to ask me if I needed help. I was so shocked that I could barely speak in Japanese (thankfully, she spoke English). Of course, I still got lost several times during my trip and I received a crash-course in the Osaka rail system. Travelers should not feel embarrassed about asking for help; native Osakans sometimes get lost too!

The people of Osaka also have there own dialect, called Osaka ben. This dialect is considered to be rude by some, but I found it to be very interesting. The standard Osaka greeting is not the usual "genki desu ka" but rather "mo kari makka", which literally means are you making any money? The reply is "bochi bochi den' ne", which means I can't complain. Occasionally, restaurants and taxi drivers will use "oo-kini" instead of arigato for a thank you.

Osaka is most notably famous for its food. Because of its location and ties with foreign countries, travelers can expect to find any type of food in the city. If you like Japanese cuisine, you will love Osaka. Everything just tastes better! The sushi, teppan yaki and ton katsu are wonderful dishes and of course, all tourists should try the most famous dish, takoyaki. Takoyaki is chopped octopus cooked inside of round dumplings and can be found almost anywhere in Osaka.

Osaka is also a great central location to stay in. If you desire to travel outside of the urban area, take a trip to nearby Kyoto, Nara or Nagoya. All three can be easily traveled to by train and are wonderful cities full of ancient temples, sites and culture.

Osaka Highlights

The Kansai area is home to many temples, shrines and museums, as well as famous shopping areas. The best way to decide on an itinerary is to purchase a guidebook of the city. Some of most popular sights of Osaka are the Osaka Castle, the Osaka aquarium and the Nintoku Mausoleum.

Osaka Castle, originally built in 1585 by Hideyoshi Toyotomi, is one of the best sights to see in Osaka. Shortly after its first construction, Osaka-jo was lost in a wartime fire. The Tokugawa Shogunate reconstructed most of the castle in the 1620's. In 1931 the main tower was rebuilt and in 1995 the tower underwent a large-scale renovation. Presently, the main tower serves as a history museum and inside the castle one can see interesting artifacts such as old paintings. The castle grounds also host a lush park that is full of people during festivals and holidays.

The Osaka aquarium is also a top attraction and is well worth the 2000-yen entrance fee (adults). The aquarium offers guided tours and is open from 10 to 8 daily. The tour starts at the Japan Forest, which is full of local flora and fauna. From the forest you enter the "ring of fire", a recreated environment that mirrors the volcanic perimeter that surrounds the Pacific Ocean. 35,000 specimens and 380 species (including the whale shark) are part of the amazing exhibition. Some of the areas represented in the ring of fire are the Aleutian Islands, the Great Barrier Reef, the Tasman sea and the coast of Chile.

Nintoku Mausoleum is the incredible ancient burial site of the fifth century emperor Nintoku. Located in Sakai city of Osaka Prefecture, this is the largest "keyhole" shaped ancient burial mound in the world. The actual burial grounds cannot be walked on as they are regarded to be sacred, but one can look over the site by standing above it and admission is free.

If you love shopping, try downtown Shinsaibashi, a short trip from Umeda station. This area is full of famous designer stores as well as less-expensive American chains like the Gap and Starbucks. Shinsaibashi also has both an American and European village. The area around Umeda station also contains many shopping areas including a large seven-story mall with a Ferris wheel situated on top of the roof. For the electronic lover, den town is the place to go for discount merchandise. Just like Tokyo's Akehabara, one can find all the latest gadgets here.

Another word used in the Osaka dialect is "abukuzeni" which means easy come, easy go. Traveling in Japan can be very expensive, and Osaka is no exception. It is very easy to spend money, especially on food and entertainment, so sticking to a pre-planned budget is advised. Travelers might also be surprised at how warm a reception a foreigner gets when he or she uses a few Japanese phrases.

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