City Guide

Four Hours in Osaka 2009

1 Dec 2008 by intern22

John Ashburne checks out a gravity-defying garden, enjoys the antics of adorable marine creatures and does what every Osakan loves to do – eat.


Imagine being atop colossal twin skyscrapers that are connected in mid-air by a gravity-defying garden. You peer down onto flying machines suspended in mid-air below while sipping a sunset martini. A scene from Blade Runner? No, it’s the Umeda Sky Building, and a trip up to its vertiginous apex is a must-do for all but the most acrophobic of Osaka visitors. In daylight hours, head for the Floating Garden Observatory, a 360-degree panoramic observation deck perched 170m above the city. As you gaze across the serpentine Yodogawa and the adjacent mountains, you finally recognise the scale of bustling Osaka. As dusk approaches, adjourn to the 39th-floor Sky Lounge Stardust for a cocktail. Then dine at Chinese restaurant Sangu, still going great guns in its 15th year. Visit Floating Garden, open daily from 1000 to 2200, ¥700 (US$6.40) for entry; Sky Lounge Stardust, open daily from 1700 to 2300; Sangu, open daily from 1130 to 1500 and 1700 to 2200.


A trip to Osaka is incomplete without visiting an izakaya, that uniquely Japanese amalgam of restaurant and bar, and one of the city’s finest is Gataro. Its name refers to the kappa water sprites (Gataro is its local dialect equivalent) that used to pop in here for a nibble. These days it is frequented by salarymen, office ladies, students and, increasingly, Osaka food cognoscenti. Nestled under the railway tracks in Hankyu-Umeda station in Kita, it serves traditional Japanese fare with a creative twist. We recommend the sublime Toro Yuba and Tofu Salad (¥680/US$6.22) and Tori Seseri Itame Chicken (¥600/US$5.50). tel 81 6 6373 1484; open Monday to Saturday from 1700 to 2300.


Mandarake prides itself on being the biggest dealer of anime, manga, otaku and hentai (referring to graphic sexual imagery in adult-oriented titles) products. The Osaka representative of this nationwide, and indeed now global, corporation may be found at the Mandrake Grand Chaos building in Shinsaibashi, Minami. It’s serious fun, too, with wall-to-wall build-it-yourself cyber-dolls, giant manga posters and anime ephemera.; open daily from 1200 to 2000.


Osakans are famed for their commercial alacrity, yet alas they are equally well known for their habit of kuidaore, literally meaning “to eat oneself into financial ruin”. In the Dotombori district in Minami, you’ll find Zuboraya which serves fugu or poisonous blowfish (around ¥1,700/US$15 for lunch, ¥4,500/US$41 for dinner) and kani doraku honten (courses from ¥2,835/US$26 to ¥10,050/US$92), the famed crab specialist that spawned a nationwide chain – look for the huge claw-waving mechanical crustacean above the doorway. Or take the humble option. Honke Otako has been serving takoyaki octopus-balls (¥300/US$2.75 for six) from its outdoor street-stall in Dotombori since time immemorial. Zuboraya, tel 81 6 6211 0181, open daily from 1100 to 2300; Kani Doraku Honten, tel 81 6 6211 8975, open daily from 1100 to 2300; Honke Otako, tel 81 6 6211 5223, open daily from 1000 to 2300.


Contrary to some commonly held misconceptions, not all Japanese aquatic creatures are served up dead, alive, or somewhere in-between. Those on show at the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan are all in very fine fettle. One of the world’s largest, its design is based on Dr James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis, which makes it educational, cool and entertaining at the same time. Kids and adults alike adore the Kaiyukan, and it is easy to see why. Its inhabitants have star quality. The penguins are slapstick adorable; the Aleutian sea otters cute beyond expression; and the Pacific white-sided dolphins are fascinating with their grace and intelligence. But it’s the building-size, awe-inspiring whale shark, Kai-kun, that steals the show.  


Osaka citizens are famed for their unrestrained, nay sometime outlandish appearance, and their upfront willingness to express their opinions. At times, Osaka streets are a combination of vaudeville, fashion-show, avant-garde performance, wrestling match and rock concert. It comes as no surprise then that people-watching is the undeclared city-wide obsession. The best vantage points to check out the action are Shinsaibashi and Amerika-Mura districts and the Namba station area in Minami; Nanpa-Bashi (“Pick-up Bridge” literally) in the Dotonbori Canal district; and Umeda Station, especially in front of the gigantic “Big Man” TV screen in Kita. Saturday afternoons and evenings are optimum.
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