No matter where I go in the world, although I can’t speak any foreign language, I don’t feel out of place. I think of the earth as my home.
-Akira Kurosawa, Something Like an Autobiography
As I wander through cities, I sometimes try to take in too much at once. The sights, sounds, smells of a city are what give me a sense of place — it tells either tells me that this is not a place I’ve been before or this is someplace familiar in a way. And the streets of Osaka were in the former category.
Osaka overwhelmed me from the moment I stepped off the train from Kyoto — I got lost searching for the exit that should’ve been nearest my hostel. I only got more lost when I exited Namba Station and found myself at a five-way intersection with a map that wasn’t oriented with north on top.
Despite wandering and getting lost, I found the area where I stayed in Osaka to be walkable. Of course, it was even better when I rode a hostel bike around the city.
However, near my hostel in Naniwa Ward was the most intriguing Shinto shrine I’ve seen. Nanbayasaka Shrine is quite small, but is home to a fearsome lion’s head that encloses a shrine — certainly grabbed my attention as I walked by.
There is a lot to see along the streets of Osaka. Despite the history, the city is home to some of the more interesting contemporary architecture I found in Japan (alright, so I only saw metropolitan Tokyo (including Yokohama), Kyoto, and Osaka). These were not buildings I expected to see on my trip, but I was certainly impressed enough to stop and admire what I found.
Of course, the main attraction for walking in Osaka is Dōtonbori — a touristy area for food. Of course, locals eat in the area, but it is crowded around dinnertime. The appeal in Dōtonbori isn’t always what’s on the plate, but what’s on the building above the entrance to the restaurants.
Giant mechanical seafood to entice customers, perhaps? Or cartoonish depictions of Japanese culture and food. Either way, this area is fun to wander through as long as you don’t stare up too long and cause a traffic jam. It would be easy to walk with your head tilted skyward to admire the artistry of Dōtonbori, but it would most likely end in an accident. This section of the city has a kitschy appeal, but it’s well worth wandering through–there’s a reason it’s popular with tourists.
While the city is centered on Osaka Castle, everything surrounding it is contemporary — it’s rare to find a street with older structures, but there are some hidden away from the crowds that wander the streets.
Although at times I seek quieter avenues to escape the overwhelming feeling that comes with the crowds, those bustling streets are almost a requirement to get a better understanding of the city. Watching the people in the streets from a coffee shop window, or gazing at the buildings from all angles provides me with a sense of place — an image to associate later on as I recall my journeys through these cities.
Of course, with all this wandering through streets of a major city, food is desired. Osaka is known for okonomiyaki and takoyaki, both of which I had in Tokyo and was desperate to try again. Unfortunately, as I was unemployed at the time, my budget did not allow me to enjoy everything Osaka had to offer on a plate — I still managed to eat at one of the popular okonomiyaki restaurants.
As it isn’t a long flight from Taipei, I could easily plan another weekend getaway to wander the streets of Osaka again and enjoy the architecture and culinary delights that the city has to offer. It doesn’t feel like as much of a tourist city as other places I’ve been, but there is still plenty to enjoy.