Japan: Insider's guide to Osaka

What's the weather like now?

What's the weather like now?

Really cold; Japan is in the grip of a harsh winter with heavy snowfall bringing chaos to communications across the whole Japanese archipelago in recent weeks. Good news for the northern ski resorts but bad news for visitors. The first signs of cherry blossom, and hence the onset of spring, are still a good couple of months away.

What are the locals complaining about?

The economy is still very much at the forefront of people's minds, especially in Osaka which, since the 15th century, has been renowned for its charismatic people with their keen sense of entrepreneurial spirit. A popular greeting in the local dialect, Osaka-ben, is mo kari makka?, meaning "are you making money?", but Osaka has been in the shadow of Tokyo for many years now. Even the local yakuza gang bosses will tell you that business is slow.

Who's the talk of the town?

It is hoped that the opening of Universal Studios Japan in the spring will provide a much-needed shot in the arm for the local economy. Also, the legacy of former city mayor, Nokku 'Knock' Yokoyama, still looms large. Many citizens still support him despite his conviction last summer for assaulting a 21-year-old student assisting with his re-election campaign. The 68-year-old governor was sentenced to 18 months' prison suspended for three years, for fondling his victim and attempting to buy her silence with a Louis Vuitton bag.

What's the cool drink?

Whisky and water is the salaryman's drink of choice, while office ladies seem to prefer shochu, a distilled grain spirit served with a fruit mixer. Osaka also brews some particularly good brands of saké, Japan's national drink. There is an elaborate etiquette to Japan's drinking culture: don't pour your own beer into the glass - your hosts will do that. You should then return the favour by pouring theirs. The word for cheers is kampai.

What are people eating?

The best local dishes are okonomiyaki (a flat pancake-style dish filled with meat, noodles and vegetables coated in rich sauce) and takoyaki (battered octopus balls). Another popular dish is fugu (blowfish), which is eaten as a winter delicacy. Beware: the insides of the fish can be fatally poisonous. The historic restaurant, Futomasa Sennichimae Honten, in Osaka's Dotombori, brings in fresh blowfish every day from western Japan.

What's the latest outrageous stuff on TV?

We're all familiar with Japan's extreme games shows. One of the most popular shows here is the brainchild of a local comedian turned internationally renowned director and media player, Beat Takeshi. The show is called Koko wa hen da yo Nihon jin ("Strange Japanese Habits") and involves teams of locals and foreigners verbally jousting over a given topic. Takeshi acts as judge, wearing outrageous costumes and holding a giant squeaking hammer.

Where wouldn't the locals dream of going?

Kamagasaki, a district between Shin Imamiya JR station and Tennoji Park is regarded as the homeless capital of Japan and considered a no-go area by locals. Largely populated by "day labourers", it is estimated that 1,500 people sleep rough in Kamagasaki each night. The number of available jobs for casual day labourers has dropped to its lowest level in 10 years, while the number of public construction projects in Osaka Prefecture is down by 20 per cent. Local charities say the decline in work has been matched by an increase in the number of people sleeping on the streets, and record levels of suicides.

Where are locals going that tourists don't know about?

Most visitors to Osaka head for the aquarium and castle, then complain about the dearth of attractions compared with nearby Nara and Kyoto. The locals are more likely to be found in the video room of the Museum of Kamigate Performing Arts in the Namba area. This small but fascinating museum celebrates Osaka's great tradition as the capital of Japanese comedy, tracing its history from its origins to the present day and profiling some of the household names that have made Osaka's comedy tradition legendary. Every Saturday at 2pm there is a manzai comedy show featuring young up-and-coming double acts - straight men bandying words with their stooges.

Where are the chic people doing their shopping?

The streets lining both sides of Mido Suji (Osaka's answer to the Champs-Elysées) around Shinsaibashi subway station are where the beautiful crowd goes to shop and be seen. Quirky teenage fashions, as showcased in boutiques of Osaka's trendy America Mura and trumpeted in the pages of the teen style bible, Egg magazine, are de rigueur. The OPA building acts as a shrine to the latest Japanese fashions - enormous stack heels, Burberry and Louis Vuitton are this season's must-haves. The city's numerous temple markets provide a fertile hunting-ground for knick-knacks at bargain prices. The pick of these is held at Shitenno-ji on the 21st of every month.

Where's the trendy place to escape to for the weekend?

Families regularly take off for weekend breaks to open-air onsen (mineral hot-spring spas), where bathing has developed into a fine art with its own strict rules of etiquette. Here, stressed salarymen like nothing more than soaking away a night of saké and karaoke while taking in a panoramic forest or cherry blossom vista. Some attribute the popularity of onsen to the fact they are bereft of the rules and regulations that make life a minefield of potential social gaffes for the average Japanese citizen. From Osaka, the pick of the bunch is the Arima Onsen, an exclusive hot-spring resort nestling in the Rokko mountains overlooking the port of Kobe.

David Atkinson is a 'Rough Guide' author and is currently working on a non-fiction book about Japan.

Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Recruitment Genius: Centre Manager

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Guru Careers: Accountant

    £28 - 45k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Accountant is needed to take control of the ...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Assistant Manager

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This hotel in Chadderton is a p...

    Day In a Page

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk