Japan’s third city may not have the gloss of Tokyo or the timelessness of Kyoto, but it’s second to none in terms of its food, energy and an unflagging sense of fun
Author Robert Michael Poole Photography Alfie Goodrich
DAY THREE | You start the day by clicking a bedside button that, it turns out, opens the drapes. You click the button to close them again, then repeat the process a half-dozen times or so before doddering over to the window to take in the view. In front of you are the commercial towers of Umeda, which seem set ablaze by the morning sun. It’s a stirring sight, but it’s still early, and you’re pretty sure you have one more “click” in you.
Your extended snooze has done you good, so you emerge from the hotel’s opulent lobby at a canter. There’s a capped chauffeur outside, waiting to take you to the Grand Front mall, one of the city’s larger temples of retail. Upon your arrival, having been distracted by a quick survey of your disposable income, you exit the car minus your camera. “Sumimasen!” the driver cries, chasing you down and handing you the forgotten instrument with a deep, almost apologetic bow.
Before attempting to navigate the cavernous mall, you stop for a nibble at a patisserie named, oddly, Stressed. A cup of Japanese green tea and some creamy matcha cake leave you feeling anything but. Next you’re off to the trendy-teen hangout HEP Five, another shopping mall, one that has a painting of a large red whale decorating its interior and a red Ferris wheel on the roof (something you feel obliged to experience). To get up there, you share an elevator crammed with Harajuku girls—teenagers in elaborate makeup and dresses of the kind worn by Disney princesses.
Having left the shopping behind (and the Ferris wheel, which was, erm, high), a short subway ride brings you to Sakurae Toyonaka, a mildly experimental eatery whose chef, Kenji Mitsuda, claims to serve the thinnest somen noodles in Japan. You try them, served with smoky skipjack with ginger and lime on small salt blocks, washed down with sweet umeboshi soup. While you can’t speak to the thinness issue, you’re more than happy with the taste.
From here, it’s a few minutes on the city’s monorail to the 642-acre Expo ’70 Commemorative Park, where you encounter a happy rabble of day-tripping school kids. “Konnichiwa!” they shout in your direction—“Hello!” Nearby, a moon face adorning Taro Okamoto’s totemic, 230-foot Tower of the Sun maintains the scowl it has worn for the last 40-odd years. Built as a centerpiece for the 1970 World’s Fair, this odd conical monument has survived several demolition attempts and has become a local icon.
The final significant trek of your visit involves a 30-minute train ride and a short hike to Mino Waterfall, a 108-foot cascade in a peaceful forested valley that makes you feel you’ve journeyed to the back of beyond. As the evening draws in, fireflies flicker around you, not quite lighting up the narrow hillside trail but making for a lovely spectacle nonetheless.
Passing the traditional wooden ryokan inns bordering the trail, you stop off at Ichijunisai Ueno Mino, where you enjoy a delicious, multicourse kaiseki menu of locally produced salmon roe, lotus root, sashimi and tempura, sipping your sake and gazing at the haphazard shower of fireflies outside. It’s a perfectly romantic setting, the kind that makes you wish you had someone to propose to.
It’s fitting that your last night in Osaka should take you to the city’s new InterContinental Osaka, which combines boutique flourishes with old-style hospitality. Here, again, there’s an effortlessness that suggests Osaka isn’t merely playing catch-up with Tokyo but forging an identity of its own. You take this thought with you to the Adee Bar on the 20th floor, where you order a “Blue Sky” (Cointreau-and-gin) cocktail and sit beside one of the enormous windows. You try to think of a nicer spot for a quiet evening drink. It’s not easy.
ROBERT MICHAEL POOLE found his hotel yukata robes so comfortable that he has purchased several for his personal use.