FEEL THE BUZZ AT OSAKA
As the Shinkansen (bullet train) hurtled at a dizzying speed from Tokyo, the passing Japanese countryside was a blur, save for the occasional majestic sight of snowcapped Mount Fuji. Everything else whizzed by in a haze. It was also incredibly silent inside the train till it reached Osaka apart for the sporadic announcement. And then all hell broke loose!
Stepping into the Shin-Osaka train station was like being hit by a wall of sound. A million loud conversations swirled around, unlike the relative noiselessness of Tokyo. A bigger surprise was on the escalators: people stood on the right, in contrast to Tokyo’s left, and stark initiation into Osaka’s contrariness, and why it was called the ‘anti-capital’. In fact, everything was a bit different; even the Osakan dialect was both lilting and rougher. And conversations were colourful as were the streets and the people.
PULSATING WITH LIFE
As first impression went, Osaka seemed like an urban sprawl gone awry. But from the Harukas 300 observatory on the 60th floor of the Abenobashi Terminal building, the cityscape seemed lovely, made more so by Yodo river and its tributaries cutting through the city. From up there, the city looked serene and felt restful, but was altogether different on the ground. it did have its sights such as the Osaka castle, an impressive Japanese-style structure with moat and gardens, Shrine, Shintennoji temple, Sumiyoshi shrine, the aquarium and puppet shows. But the city and its ground. It did have its sights such as the Osaka Castle, an impressive people were more compelling reason: an ancient 6th century city, Osaka, however, was never part of Japan’s political scheme of things. But rather than sulk, it chose to build its own quirky image and reputation; something that seemed to have been a thumping success.
Even during the day, the city’s bright neon lights were flashing. But one could still spot the city’s soul between its pulsating shopping districts. In Dotonbori, the most popular shopping area with towering complexes and streets packed with eateries, I glimpsed a bit of old Osaka. Narrow stone alleys disappeared into the distance and opened suddenly into little courtyards with Buddhist temples, which unapologetically rubbed shoulders with izakaya bars and hole-in-the-wall restaurants.
As I wandered around Shinsaibashi, Midosuji and Amerikamura, I was buffeted by waves of indulgence. Massive shopping centres competed for clientele and a noisy buzz filled the air. Local and global brands, luxury and everyday products, hip and vintage wear competed with souvenirs and trinkets. At Ebusibashi, the shops spilled with masses of youngsters hanging out noisily.
But as much as shopping was front and centre, it was more a foodie paradise. Not for nothing did Osaka have the nickname tenka no daidokoro (Japan’s kitchen) and wore it proudly. Food was everywhere –street food, tiny eateries, cafes, pubs, smart restaurants… At its heart were some of Osaka’s most popular dishes: street snack takoyaki, fritters stuffed with octopus; okonomiyaki, a cross between an omelette and a pancake, heaped with meat, seafood, noodles, shredded cabbage and sauces; kushikatsu, deep fried skewered vegetables, meat or quail eggs; kitsune udon, a thick noodle soup heaped with fried tofu, and much more. For the adventurous, there was also fugu, poisonous pufferfish!
As the day turned into evening, the whole place got a bit more frenzied and yet, there were little islands of calm which provided the perfact spot to watch as another Osaka day came to a close.