Another day trip from Kyoto and this time it is too Osaka.
If Kyoto is York or Bath to Tokyo’s London, then Osaka is Manchester or Birmingham. In terms of population, the urban sprawl of Tokyo dwarfs anywhere in Japan (and many places in the world) at a population of 13.6m. Osaka is 2.6m but gets a lot closer to Tokyo when the outlying commuter areas in its prefecture are considered.
It isn’t a pretty city but it is a productive industrious one. Originally the centre of commerce of Japan, this has shifted somewhat to Tokyo but Panasonic, Sharp and Sanyo still have their headquarters there.
We arrived via bullet train from Kyoto, a journey of just 12 minutes, which gives some idea of the geographic pull that the transport system provides, whereby one could live in the beauty of Kyoto and commute to work in Osaka’s powerhouse.
Our first stop was the Umeda Sky Tower, a 40 story building of two towers, linked by a bridge and escalators at the top that hang in the air.
The image of Osaka at night tells the story of the best way to experience in its electric neon glory. Again by way of a comparison, if Tokyo is “Blade Runner” then Osaka is “Black Rain”.
After getting our bearings at the Sky Tower, we headed south to the Naniwa Ward to buy some knives. We were on a mission to pick up a couple of Japanese knives whilst we were over, a paring knife for a friend and a general purpose (almost cleaver) knife for us. We had a drawn a blank at the recommended shop in Kyoto’s Nisiki market. Whilst the shop had an impressive array of knives, it was ram full of people and just didn’t feel like the kind of place that you would want to spend time choosing something special.
Tower Knives in Osaka was different. N had a tip off via a blog that it was worth a visit and blimey, they were right. Bjorn, the owner of the shop could speak a whole array of languages coming from Canada via Denmark (or possibly vice versa). We got a demonstration on how to cut tomatoes (cut from the back of the knife pulling through with the blade roughly 25º to the horizontal) and how to sharpen knifes (not the way that I had been doing it). We spend a joyful hour there, eventually buying exactly what we had come for plus a couple of items we hadn’t bargained on (including a sharpening stone). We picked up an Osakan or Sakei knife with a fairly plain handle. There were others with a much more flamboyant grip.
We had our knives engraved and gift wrapped. It was an hour of sheer delight. The quality of service was astonishingly good, even down to getting directions to our next port of call, a denim store.
After a stop off to by a pair of Japanese selvedge jeans and a shirt at the excellent UES (pretty much nothing my comparatively giant western theme), we walked back through the bright lights of Namba. The main thoroughfares have your normal Western brands whilst the parallel side streets offer a more Japanese experience.
It was Friday night and Osaka was letting its hair down. The area is effectively pedestrianised with street food vendors either side. I picked out something to try and hoped for the best. They turned out to be choux pastry stuffed with greens and bacon with a BBQ sauce. Probably great after half a dozen pints of Asahi but not for me.
There was quite a few older Japanese men spending time with their glamorously dressed and beautiful granddaughters (or at least that’s what we told our daughter).
We went via an amusement arcade, which provided a blast for half an hour, combining a drumming coordination challenge with a kawaii photo booth experience.
Osaka is not pretty but if you want a flavour of how a hard working Japanese city moves from the working week to the weekend, we would recommend it. We managed to get the last commuter train back to Kyoto (the bullet train had long stopped running) and arrived back at our hotel just after midnight.