Japan 2014…The Lights and Sights of Osaka

This is part 4 of my Japan 2014 Pentalogy, and this time lets take a look at the rest of Osaka. With a population of more than 2 million within city limits, and 12 million if you include the surrounding metropolitan area, Osaka is definitely a busy city. Yet it is clean, and very organized.

Umeda

The Umeda Sky Building

The Umeda Sky Building

Umeda is the city’s “new” business center. It is the location of the Osaka and Umeda stations, two interconnected stations that form the city’s primary railway hub. With travellers from all over Japan converging on this place, Umeda definitely moves at a hectic pace. While it’s not quite Tokyo (you won’t be able to take videos of people getting shoved into trains here), there is that unmistakeable feeling of rush. The walkways that connect Osaka and Umeda stations, and the various subway stations in the vicinity are like a mass of organized chaos during peak times, with a crowd going every which way, yet managing not to hit each other. And I kid you not when I say that a Japanese office worker in the morning can compete in a 100-meter dash. Even workers in their fifties run on subway stations to catch the earliest train possible.

The view from the Umeda Sky Park

The view from the Umeda Sky Garden

Umeda is crowded with office buildings and high end hotels geared for the business traveller, and to be honest there’s not much there for the average tourist, except perhaps the Umeda Sky Garden. Sitting atop Umeda’s most unique looking skyscraper, the Umeda Sky Garden gives visitors the experience of riding what is perhaps the highest “hanging” escalator, which connects its two towers. And while it is perhaps the only garden in the world with not a single plant, it does give a full 360 degree view of the Osaka city center, and for the lovestruck, they also have lovelocks similar to what we’ve seen in Korea’s N Seoul Tower. Though we were there on an afternoon, I can imagine the place to be a romantic destination in the evenings.

The Umeda Sky Park

The Umeda Sky Garden

Love Locks, as the Umeda Sky Park

Love Locks, at the Umeda Sky Garden

Sunset at Umeda

Sunset at Umeda

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Osaka Station

Osaka Station

Namba-Dotonbori-Shinsaibashi

If Umeda is the new business district of Osaka, then the stretch of Namba, Dotonbori and Shinsaibashi is the traditional one. And whereas Umeda is an expansive concrete jungle, this stretch along the heart of Osaka (geographically it is closer to being the center of the city) is more lively, more engaging and more exciting. Shopping is the name of the game in Namba and Shinsaibashi, both of which feature incredibly long covered walkways lined with shops from end to end. Namba has some good electronics, I was able buy a premium camera lens at the Bic Camera store there at about 2/3 of the price I would expect to get locally, while Shinsaibashi is a so called fashion paradise.

The bright lights of Namba

The bright lights of Namba

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Dotonbori on the other hand is food lovers’ heaven. Sandwiched between Namba and Shinsaibashi, it is also the site of Osaka’s iconic neon lights. Here food stalls and restaurants line both sides of the pedestrian-only street, and a nearby waterway of the same name. Even the small alleyways in its surroundings are all about food. There’s so much food in this area it’s as if you can’t savor everything the place has to offer even of you keep coming back every evening for a week. This is also a good place to spend a late night…the place goes livelier as the night gets deeper.

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Osaka Museum of Housing and Living

Hidden atop a building in the Tenjimbashi area in the city’s northern half, the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living is a humble yet fascinating attraction. Occupying 3 floors of an office building, the museum is a full sized, indoor replica of a Japanese city street during the Edo period. It even simulates daytime and evenings, by varying the ambient light and accompanying sound effects. For photo opportunities, Kimonos can also be rented, to complete the old “Edo” look.

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Going Around

Transportation within the city is very convenient, if a bit expensive. The minimum subway or train fare is almost an equivalent of $3USD, but there’s hardly any place in the city that does not have a subway, train or tram station. There is also a loop line that runs both ways around the circumference of the city center. While it is only Japan’s third largest city (after Tokyo and Yokohama), the organization, cleanliness and convenience will put many capital cities to shame.

A limousine bus, a very convenient way to and from the airport (though trains are also an option)

A limousine bus, a very convenient way to and from the airport (though trains are also an option)

If you'd like to dare, do as the locals do. Lot's of people ride bikes around Osaka

If you’d like to dare, do as the locals do. Lots of people ride bikes around Osaka

Osaka Subway's automated ticket machines.

Osaka Subway’s automated ticket machines.

An Osaka Subway train

An Osaka Subway train

Inside the Osaka Subway

Inside the Osaka Subway

A rare tram in Osaka

A rare tram in Osaka

A colourful train in the Osaka Loop Line.

A colourful train in the Osaka Loop Line.

* All photos taken June 2014 with an Olympus EPM-2.

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