CAN YOU SEE THE HIGHWAY INSIDE THE BUILDING?
In a macro city as Osaka, considered to be the third city of Japan regarding the number of inhabitants, after Tokyo and Yokohama, we should not miss the opportunity to watch it from above. There are multiple and varied high buildings and skyscrapers, but if one of them deserves to be visited by its symbolism it would be the Umeda Sky Building.
This skyscraper was designed by the renown architect Hata Hiroshi, famous also for the very modern station of Kyoto or the Sapporo Dome. At the moment of construction in 1993, Umeda Sky Building had the privilege to be the highest building of Japan. Imagine how the city´s metamorphose and its constructive building fever is, that in a few years it has become the 20th highest in Osaka.
This 173-meter-high futurist building with 40 floors, is formed by two huge symmetric towers on which an observatory platform stands at a height of 150 meters. As an anecdotic note, the two towers of the building were built at the same time, and the platform joining them was made independently, being raised by huge cranes up to the projected height, and embedded between the towers as a thorough Tetris.
The main reason for fame of this building is due to the viewpoint at the top, known as the floating garden observatory or Kuchu Teien. Very famous among the Japanese and foreign tourists, it is probably the most famous in the city. To access it, you have to pay a ticket of 1,500 yens and ascend through imposing glass lifts and mechanical stairs, while the inside is suspended with glass tubes joining both towers of the building. Just the act of getting on these "suspended´´ mechanical stairs deserves going up the building.
From the observatory terrace there is a fabulous 360 degrees wide view over Osaka, with dawn being the perfect moment to enjoy a marvelous sunset and watch how slowly the city is illuminated. One of the pictures you cannot miss from above is Gates Tower Building. This curious building is crossed inside the 5th, 6th and 7th floors by the Hanshin highway. Such engineering work is sustained on supports outside the building so in a way, they are always in contact. Also, it relays on an external structure avoiding noises and vibrations in the building. IT IS IN THE CENTER JUST AS THURSDAYS!
The access timetable to this iconic building is from 10AM to 22PM.You can arrive at Umeda Sky Building by JR or subway until the Umeda station and access the building in a 10 minutes walk through underground passages.
DON´T BURN YOUR TONGUE WITH A TAKOYAKI!!
Popularly among the Japanese people, Osaka is known as Nippon Naples. Port city where people are more expressive, happy, open and loud than in other points of the country, the best artists and comedians usually come from here. And of course, Osaka is famous thanks to its very varied gastronomy, making everyone´s delight, and this city has fame for its guzzlers.
The most characteristic dish you will find in the region of Kansai, and particularly in Osaka, is no other than takoyaki.They are famous octopus balls reminiscent of a fritter or a croquette the size of a pin pong ball. The name joins two Japanese words "Tako" meaning octopus and "Yaki" meaning bake.
The origin of this popular dish seems to come from an Osaka´s peddler, Mr. Endo Tomekichi, who in 1935, created the present takoyaki while testing his takoyaki recipe. To cook this delight, a dough made out of flour, eggs and water is needed which is poured into very hot molds with a hemisphere or egg cup shape, boiled octopus is added as well as small tenkasupieces which are the crispy fried flour dough, beni shoga, red ginger pickle, and small pieces of a kind of Japanese leek that is called negi.
It is a real show to watch expert cooks making them with the help of chopsticks to turn the dough inside a mold at such a frenetic speed that they seem to be possessed, and all this to avoid the dough to be burned and to give them the spherical shape so recognizable takoyakishave.
Once the "fritter" is made, it is seasoned with a kind of specific Worcestershire sauce and mayonnaise, as well as nori algae and katsuobushi flakes, as a kind of dried and fermented bonito fishis sprinkled on top of them. The charm of this food is that with the heat that recently made takoyaki emanate, the katsuobushi flakes start moving as if they were alive and seem to be dancing.
You will find them everywhere as they are the star street food of Osaka and the Matsuri summer festivals. But especially in Dotonbori, you will not be able to resist to stop by any of the yatai, (street food stalls) and ask for half a dozen of these delights. But yes, remember not to be anxious as they are served very hot and if you eat them immediately, you will burn your tongue!
Not so long ago, in a certain place within Osaka, a name I don´t even want to remember, lived a compulsive buyer of every trinkets that he didn’t need or want. This would be a perfect introduction for the Japanese version of Don Quixote, not the literary one, but the commercial and consumerist version, as Don Quixote is probably the most popular chain of stores in all the country and in Osaka, we find one of the main centers of this unnecessary consumerism.
Don Quixote´s shops are one of those businesses where you enter looking for nothing specific, and where it will be practically impossible not to load your basket with hundreds of things that didn´t enter in your original parameters. The fixation Japanese people have for extravagant or bizarre things is well known, at least for our latitudes, going from fancy dresses, schoolgirl outfits, used underwear, sweets and quirky flavored baubles as wasabi, semi useless inventions to make your teeth white in a DIY way, or gadgets to take away nose hairs. You can find all this and much more here. You will have a laugh! It is guaranteed!
The discount chain Don Quixote opened its doors in Tokyo in 1989 with its first branch office expanding, then like gunpowder, opening 300 businesses all around the country. They are very famous and in them, you can find everything at super competitive prices. Some of them are opened 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Dotonbori shop in Osaka is one of the most famous all over Japan, with more than 20,000 visitors a day, in a place you cannot miss. Placed in the touristic area of Osaka, you will recognize it immediately by its great sculpture of Ebisu (one of the gods of fortune) decorating it and the huge 75 meters high yellow water wheel in its facade. Known as Ferry Wheel, it is made by 32 cabins moving slowly, turning one complete time around the rectangular structure every 15 minutes. This attraction of the mall is open 24 hours and you must go up to the third floor where the entrance is located to enjoy it, paying 600 yens first.
Inside the shop, you will find a selection of every kind of unimaginable article, basically making an illusion park out of it. You´ll be able to buy items of daily use, electronics, garments, cosmetics, souvenirs, magic items, toys, even very rare food items as matcha tea kit kat, Borat costume, Donald Trump masks, outlandish party items or sexual toys for fetishists. On the fifth floor, they also sell luggage, being conscious of what you will probably be loading.
Don´t forget to bring your passport asTax Freeis applied, and as it is almost guaranteed that you will buy many things that didn´t enter your plans. You can at least take some advantage of it.
Address: 7-13 Souemoncho, Chuo Ward, Osaka, 542-0084, Japan
GLICO YOUR PHOTO OF OSAKA
No doubt, Osaka might not be the most pretty or monumental city in Japan, but it will stand out for being the most frenetic, dynamic and vital, where without a doubt, the most photographed monument is a neon sign. Surprised? But this billboard is not any billboard as you will find it in any travel guide or travel brochure, when somebody tells you about this city, this image will come out. Don´t miss it!!!
The origin of the most famous neon sign of all Japan goes back to 1935 when it was lit for the first time, and its size was nothing less than 33 meters. Its design has been changing in its almost 100 years of life and actually, it is on its sixth generation measuring 20 meters high and 10.85 meters wide. It has diminished with time!
The enterprise owning this publicity icon is Glico firm, creator of some of the most famous sweets in Japan and all around the world, such as the famous Pocky, that in Europe is known as Mikado. At its beginning in 1920, the founder of the company, Ezaki Riichi started experimenting with oyster glycogen extraction to produce healthier food, especially sweets, and helping to improve child´s health. The company launched its first product, a candy containing oyster glycogen, which is a substance that serves as a way to store energy in humans and animals, so the name Glico comes from the glycogen as a source of nutrients.
The box of the first candy had the design of a man running, with the slogan "300 meters in a single piece". The design of this athlete was not the result of chance or whim of the company´s president, but it was based on a curious mathematical study. If an average Japanese measures 1.65 meters and weighs 55 kilos, eating one of these candies containing 15.4 calories, could burn the candy by run 300 meters in 2 minutes. This slogan is a bright way to take away the guilty conscience from worried mothers.
The best place to photograph this famous Glico man´s neon board is from Ebisubashi bridge, possibly the most crowded all around the city, and meeting point of boys and girls to flirt or hang out. When sunset arrives and the neon are illuminated, it becomes a real anthill of people taking selfiesand different pictures in front of this Osaka´s icon. Try to take a good picture surrounded by smiling pubescents making the victory sign with the fingers.
Address: 1 Chime-10-2 Dotonbori, Chuo Ward, Osaka, 542-0071, Japan.
EIFFEL TOWER OF OSAKA IS IN SHINSEKAI
With a retro futuristic aspect, we find in the southern part of the city the singular Shinsekai district, literally meaning “new world". This new world was created from the time when the west was in full swing with the two great metropolis: Paris with its Eiffel Tower and Coney Island from New York from which the Japanese people got inspired.
This is a neighborhood where a walk in its streets will transport us to a nostalgic trip in the recent past, that of the 50´s. The past where many businesses, with its kitschshop windows, has remained undaunted to the passing of time with a charmingly stale aspect of what was once modern.
We owe the origin of Shinsekai to the National Industrial Exhibition that was held at this place in 1903 and attracted more than five million people. After the event, the works for the present district design started, being officially completed in 1912 with the construction of its more iconic monument, the Tsutenkaku Tower. The name of the tower cannot be righter, as it means literally "tower arriving to heaven".
This Osaka´s Eiffel Tower that originally was 64 meters high, was built as part of the theme park, the Moon Park. After suffering a serious fire in 1943, it was disassembled and its steel used in the weapons manufacturing for the Second World War. It would not be until 1956, when Hitachi company, with the support of Osaka´s Town Hall, decided to rebuild the tower with its present 103 meters. Open to the general public, you can raise up to an observatory 91 meters high from where you have magnificent views of the city. To go up the tower, you will have to pay a 700 yens ticket and the timetable is from 9 AM till 9 PM.
Nostalgia about what Shinsekai could have been and was not, we will find in plenty of traditional taverns with a stale decoration, where you can taste from traditional okonomiyaki tofugu (blowfish) in the most popular local shops. This mystic wrapping the neighborhood is threatened today by gentrification with no originality invading everything. Modern restaurants are slowly substituting the old and classic establishments of the place.
Gossips talk of this neighborhood as decadent or dangerous, arriving to certify it as the most dangerous all around Japan. But don´t forget that, even if it is true, the most dangerous neighborhood of Japan will always be calmer than the safest in any other country. Don´t skip to visit it! Shinsekai is worth it!
To arrive at this singular neighborhood, you can take circle line from JR to Shin-Imamiya stop.
DON´T MAKE JOKES WITH FUGU COOK
Already, you would have perceived that speaking about food in Osaka is not a minor item, or as that one politician put it, "it is a major item". In fact, there is an expression saying "dress kimono till you are ruined in Kyoto and eat till you are ruined in Osaka".
Inside the very varied and delicious gastronomy of Osaka, there is a specific dish that is part of the Japanese gastronomic culture for many centuries, we talk about fugu or blowfish. A fish that, aside from being delicious, is considered a real delicacy, but it has a not very important detail: Just that it could kill you!!! And you know that what doesn´t kill you makes you fat.
Fugu is a word used referring to the blowfish, coming from the Tetraodontidae family. As a characteristic, it has the ability to puff up, multiplying many times its size to appear powerful and avoid being eaten by other species, as well as its well-known poison. In fact, this fish is considered as the second most poisonous vertebrate in the world (only overcome by the golden poisonous frog) due to its tetrodotoxin that is one of the strongest poisons in the world, being quick and mortal.
Considering that a single fugu has enough poison to kill 30 adults, I recommend you not to make jokes with the cook about this curious delicacy. Fugu cooks are truly prepared, they need a special license to treat this product and the regulations are very strict, they have to study for three years, pass an examination with theoretical questions and practical tests and after that, they have to eat the fish themselves.
Hundreds of thousands of this fish are prepared daily to be consumed in restaurants as well as in specialized stores, and even if the regulations and controls are very severe, there is always a minimum risk. Fugu consumption goes always together with a certain morbidity as if you would be playing with a Russian roulette. It is consumed mainly during winter months and the most common way to eat it is in very thin sheets of sashimi, almost transparent. And also, we can find it in multiple stew recipes, pickles or salads.
This fish is considered as a delight of the gods in Japan, that usually is eaten on appointed dates or very special occasions. Although it is forbidden for the emperor to eat it, as for the rest of us "mortals", we can enjoy it.
Would you dare taste this delicacy of singular flavor, delicious with a tingling taste?
SOMETHING SMELLS OF SCORCH WITH THE CASTLE
As many other cities in Japan, Osaka also has its castle, nonetheless.
And it is not just any castle we are talking about, but thanks to its powerful and elegant presence, it is considered to be one of the three great castles of the country built atop in front of a plain, together with the ones of Nagoya and Kumamoto.
It was ordered to be built in 1538 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who aspired this castle to be the biggest at his time, becoming the center of a unified Japan. It had a fundamental paper in the unification of Japan in the XVI century, even though at his death, the castle was razed by the Tokugawa hosts. Once reconstructed, it suffered, as it is common in this kind of construction, a dramatic fire in 1665 that left it reduced literally to ashes. This time, the cause of the deflagration was a whimsical lighting bolt that impacted the tower.
It was rebuilt once again in the middle of XIX century but " joy wouldn´t last long in the poor man´s house" because as a consequence of the conflicts between supporters of the shogunate and defenders of the emperor, it suffered another fatal fire in 1868, at the beginning of Meiji restoration.
The main tower of the castle was reconstructed again in 1931, becoming a weapons storehouse during the Second World War, surviving miraculously the North American bombings, while the rest of the castle was damaged once again.
For this reason, the present shape of the castle is really modern, using mainly concrete as the main material. It was rebuilt in 1997. This recent reconstruction adds amenities so singular for this kind of edification, a lift. If Hideyoshi raised his head, he would pull his hair out!
In the surprising interior of this castle, we can find a museum, a conference room and an altar dedicated to Hideyoshi. From the top of the main tower, you can take interesting pictures of the park surrounding it and the city.
To enter, you have to pay a ticket of 600 yens and you can visit it from 9AM to 5PM.
To arrive at this popular monument, we must take the circle line of JR till Tanimachi stop.
Address: 1-1 Osakayo, Chuo Ward, Osaka, 540-0002, Japan
LET´S WALK BY DOTONBORI DECORATED FACADES
Osaka is a colorful and happy city where you can breathe creativity, the boisterous and small Dotombori being the best place representing this value, a touristic neighborhood with restaurants and theaters, where you can also shop in any of its multiple parapharmacies or variegated souvenir shops.
This neighborhood is one of the biggest highlights of Osaka, being very popular by its luminous neon lights, the appealing decoration of the facades of its hundreds of restaurants and the agitated nightlife. All of these aspects make it the leisure neighborhood of the city by excellence.
We find this small neighborhood south of Dotombori channel, bounded by Dotombori and Aiai bridges. The construction of this channel started in 1615 with the purpose to join Umezu and Yokobori rivers to connect the commercial activity of the area. This neighborhood enjoyed an important development, becoming the entertainment area of the city in 1619. This was possible thanks to the construction of the first kabukitheater, followed by the appearance of six more theaters of this genre and five puppet theaters. And as it seems that culture makes you hungry, an infinity of izakayasand restaurants appeared like plague around these theaters.
The walk we propose you will start over Dotombori channel is in Ebisu bridge, with views to the Glico Man and the multiple neon lights surrounding it. This busy bridge, meeting place for locals, is also a celebration point for Hanshin Tiger hooligans, the local baseball team. It seems that these celebrations, within Japanese righteousness, go out of hand, with hooligans jumping off to the channel from the bridge. Even in 1985, they stole a sculpture of Colonel Sanders, creator and logo of the famous fast food firm KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) and threw it to the channel. It was recovered in 2009, almost 25 years later.Go inside, south of Dotombori and turn left, let yourself go by the torrent of people, you will discover how little remains of the theaters that one day populated it, but the entertainment is still intact in this place with many restaurants with theatrical sets; a huge golden dragon, as a symbol of Kinryu Ramen, the popular establishment of takoyaki,Akaoni. You will remember it immediately by the red ogre of its façade and the izakaya, Tayoshi Tombori, with its huge fugu or blowfish in its façade as it will indicate to you which daring delicacies you can taste. You will recognize the Osaka Ohsho by its great plate of gyoza dumplings over the door, and especially, the restaurant Kani Daraku will attract your attention with its huge articulated crab that moves its legs.
Finally, you will discover another street and city´s symbols, the Kuidaore Taro, a strange mechanical doll that moves at the rhythm of the drum he is playing. Created in 1953, to call the attention of the curious people who will enter to eat at the restaurant.
NAMBA PARK, A GARDEN IN THE CITY OR A CITY IN THE GARDEN?
The present challenge in a big city as Osaka, consists in trying to provide vegetation to this concrete metropolis. This is one of the main reasons why more and more projects such as Roppongi Hills in Tokyo or east Namba, where vegetation as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, is integrated inside the architecture. Is it a garden inside the city, or a city inside the garden?
This fantastic project executed in 2003 was designed by Jerde Partnership, who conceived this space with an area of a total of 32,000 sqm as a natural city or an urban jungle. The set is made by two huge towers, one of them with 20 floors of offices, another with 46 floors of residences and a great mall with a huge park over its roof that is rising from the street level till a height of 8 floors.
The inclined orchard of the park works as an authentic green oasis clearly recognizable in a city where nature is scarce. To communicate with the street, the park plan slops, inviting people to go into the vegetation with lush trees, spaces with water and external terraces. A perfect place where you can read, eat, socialize, or simply watch the city from this point, definitely the perfect place to take a break from the frantic city.
The mall presents a design with an upward slope full of gardens, some of them hanging or suspended, waterfalls and interlocking terraces across the rolling trails that remind us the traditional Japanese gardens, trying to reconcile the idea of western consumerism of a mall with the beauty and good treatment of the Japanese gardening.
Under such a forest mass and across its passages, we find the mall that recreates nature of the west of the Grand Canyon of Colorado. In its interior it hosts more than 120 business and thematic shops spread over 8 levels, making the delightfulness to the biggest of consumerists.
In the park set, terraces are connected through trails and stairs, standing and folding, flower beds, vegetal terraces, cliffs and walkways. Sit down in any of its beautiful corners and areas with magnolias, willows, ivies, jasmines, roses, lavenders or gardenias and in the higher areas of the park, recreate yourself with the different trees as cherries, lilacs, ash trees or junipers among others.
Relax! Let yourself go and enjoy this incredible green paradise inside the city!
Address: 2 Chome-10-70 Namanaka, Naniwa Ward, Osaka, 556-0011, Japan.
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