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.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Women have been desperate to possess dimples like Cheryl Cole's
people Cole has secretly married French boyfriend Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini after just three months.
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Extras
indybestThe tastiest creations for children’s parties this summer
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Paolo Nutini performs at T in the Park
music
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
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
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Sales Manager (Fashion and Jewellery), Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Volunteer Digital Marketing Trustee needed

    Voluntary, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Are you keen on...

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Day In a Page

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

    Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
    Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

    The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

    Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
    Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

    Meet Japan's AKB48

    Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
    In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

    Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

    The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor