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
PREFECTURE POPULATION: 8.8 million
AREA IN SQUARE MILES: 86
YEARS AS JAPAN’S CAPITAL: 62 (683-745 AD)
RECORD LABELS LISTED IN THE NASHVILLE YELLOW PAGES: 66
HEIGHT OF THE ABENO HARUKAS SKYSCRAPER, JAPAN’S TALLEST, IN FEET: 984
PERCENTAGE OF THE CITY’S AREA THAT IS ACTUALLY WATER: 10
NUMBER OF BRIDGES IN THE CITY: 800
NUMBER OF MICHELIN STARS: 121 (#3 in the world)
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The Seedy Charm of Shinsekai,a 1912 vision of modernity
All Japanese cities have futuristic flourishes, but Osaka’s drive to modernity has produced a fascinating, quirky subset of historic districts. The most remarkable of these is Shinsekai, or “New World.”
Built in 1912, Shinsekai represents an odd approach to urban planning—the area’s northern half was meant to reflect a Parisian sensibility; its southern half was modeled on New York’s Coney Island. Today, it is a clutter of garish signage and 24-hour eateries, along with a few less savory enterprises. If urban Japan has its seedy side, this is it.
The centerpiece of the district is the 338-foot, Eiffel Tower–ish Tsutenkaku Tower, which looks like it was built for the express purpose of being knocked down by Godzilla.
Tsutenkaku was rebuilt in 1956, but the rest of Shinsekai is a glowing example of benign and beautiful neglect. There is, after all, an undeniable charm to streets like Jan-Jan Yokocho Lane, named after the jan jan sound of Japanese banjos, which were played by local waitresses for the workers who rebuilt the city after World War II.
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Osakans get very serious, and superstitious, about baseball
Sumo may be the national sport, but in Osaka, baseball is the game that sparks real passion. The city’s team is the Hanshin Tigers, nicknamed the “Hard-Luck Hanshin,” since they have failed to win a national championship since 1985. But urban legend says it’s less a case of luck or talent than it is a curse—the Curse of the Colonel, to be exact.
As the story goes, after winning the championship in ’85, a group of overly boisterous fans celebrated by unmooring a statue of KFC’s Colonel Sanders and tossing it into the Dōtonbori River. In turn, the Colonel allegedly put a curse on the team, which hasn’t won a title since. In an effort to reverse the curse, Colonel Sanders was fished from his watery grave in 2009 (pictured right), but fans are still waiting for results.
Nonetheless, locals continue to cram the 47,808-capacity Koshien Stadium. In general, Osakans are known for being extroverted, but Tigers fans take this tendency to an extreme, singing uproariously, releasing balloons during games and, when the team does win, taking mass dips in the murky waters of the Dōtonbori.
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The inside scoop from those in the know
Photographer, Amana Images
“After bar hopping, try udon noodles at Tsurutontan. It overlooks the Dōtonbori River and is open all night, until 8 a.m. They serve a big bowl twice the size of your face, and you can triple the size for free.”
CELIO H. BARRETO
Owner, SoHo Art Gallery
“Explore the fabulous Karahori neighborhood to see some of the few centuries-old houses to survive WWII intact, many of which have been turned into shops, restaurants, cafés and art galleries.”
Tour guide, Viator
“Go to the Sumiyosi Taisha shrine. From Tennoji, take the Uemachi tramway line—it goes through a residential area, so you get an up-close view of how locals live. The shrine is famous for its red wooden bridge and three Shinto halls. It’s beautiful.”