Osaka, a city where things have always moved a bit faster
a href="http://www.histerius.com/hs0717/wonder_loop_and_tsutenkaku_tower_v.jpg" rel="lightbox">Osaka contains numerous canals and night river cruising and the double-decker open-top bus Osaka Wonder Loop are most probably the best ways to go around. Cruising with a bottle of champagne by your side along three routes is a perfect way to spend the night. Wonder Loop, a fun hop-on hop-off bus, goes around 13 spots and with two day pass you can explore some of the most iconic places: from the glorious 16th century castle to the bustling Dotonbori shopping district and Tsutenkaku Tower, a symbol of Osaka that has appeared in many movies.
So, where to start? We recommend Amerika-Mura (American Village), an enclave of shops, cafes, tattoo studios, and clubs, as the best place to slowly immerse yourself into Japanese culture. It is always crowded and popular nightlife spot with Triangle Park in its center where people come to relax and watch the fashion parade. Specially shaped, the lamp-posts are lining its streets, adding to the already funky atmosphere. So start planning a visit and come here in spring when flower gardens begin to bloom to enjoy the city in its whole glory.
In the midst of modern Osaka stands Castle Park and a beautiful Osaka Castle that displays the castle’s history. On the 8th floor there is an observation deck which circles the top of the tower from which you can enjoy spectacular views of the city. Then take 17-minutes Tempozan Ferris Wheel ride for even better vievs. The wheel has colored lights that provide a weather forecast for the next day. You'll find it next to Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, one of the largest aquariums in the world. While at landmarks, The Umeda Sky Building is a must.
The Umeda Sky Building is a spectacular high rise building with two towers connected by the Floating Garden Observatory on the 39th floor. At the base of the towers there is a garden with walking trails and water features while the basement houses the Takimi-Koji gourmet street with old fashioned images of Osaka from the 1920s. Whether you feel like eating, there are restaurants to cater for your desire. Osaka is the Food Capital of Japan and more than 100 Michelin-starred restaurants are living proof for that.
Food is here so good that locals even invented a word for the experience: kuiadore, "eat oneself bankrupt" and we admit it has sense. In the home of ramen, the museum of instant ramen, a student food invented in 1958 and now present around the world, is a must. Here you can order your own Cup Noodles mix with your own decoration and that's an experience you won't forget. Don't miss to taste Osaka "soul food" dishes like Takoyaki (grilled Octopus balls), Okonomiyaki (cabbage based pancakes, Japanese pizza), and Kushikatsu (fried skewers).
After you had a good meal, browse the Depachika (food market) in the Umeda district, amongst the best places in the world to buy desserts. For authentic local experience walk through the beautiful stone-paved pathways of Hozenji Yokocho that feels like Osaka frozen in time. At the end of the alley you'll find a statue of the kami (god or spirit) Fudomyoo. The locals believe that it protects people from evil and his statue is one of the most popular Buddhist spots. The belief is there are eight million kami in Japan, some good, some not so much.
Osaka is always vivid and busy, some say things have always moved a bit faster here. And there really is something for everyone: Station City is a home of a huge appliance store and several department stores. Midosuji Street with luxury brands and an endless number of things to do, and the Horie block with small boutiques and large shopping malls Tennoji and Abeno, are places to stroll and enjoy for hours. Some stores even have rooftops where you can find al fresco dining establishments or a pop-up beer garden in the summertime.
Japan wouldn't be Japan without its colorful temples. Hiding amid the skyscrapers of Umeda, O-hatsu Ten-jin, a 1,300-year-old shrine, is a Japanese version of Romeo and Juliet and one of the most famous romantic destinations. But at the end of July, Tenjin Matsuri, one of the biggest water and light festivals, is to be seen with some 5,000 fireworks set off in the night sky at its climax. The Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri is another thrilling festival featuring traditional Japanese wooden floats pulled through the streets at breakneck speeds. ■