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
A NEON MAN RUNS ALONG A neon blue track on the iconic Glico candy billboard above Dōtonbori Street, one of Osaka’s more garish tourist destinations. But just below this busy thoroughfare, reflections of chochin lanterns ripple in the canal as a parade of boats drift lazily by.
These contrasting images say a lot about Japan’s third city. Unlike other destinations, Osaka doesn’t come with a neat, prepackaged tagline for the tourist guides. It’s a place defined as much by the Yodo River’s 10,000-year-old fishing tradition as by the Dojima Rice Exchange—the world’s first futures market, established in 1697. It’s the latter, of course, that spurred the city’s demand for fine dining, as it created a ready supply of people with the funds to pay for it.
Today, Osaka is a thriving aquapolis with a miscellany of bars, Michelin-starred restaurants and clubs steeped in traditional manzai comedy. It’s a city where rivers converge and modern highways squirm over 17th-century canals. These waterways may not reflect Venetian grandeur—much of the old city was leveled during Word War II—but whatever beauty was lost is more than made up for when the city explodes in a springtime riot of cherry blossoms, making for an incredibly colorful spectacle.
It’s the people in Osaka, though, that truly make the city shine. Shrugging off the Japanese tendency toward quiet modesty, Osakans are fun, forthright and friendly, making even the farthest-flung visitor feel very much at home.