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Osaka: Exploring the aqua metropolis

Shinsekai area with Tsutenkaku Tower.

Publication Date : 21-10-2012

 

If it was not for its citizens, Osaka Castle, the last vestige of the Toyotomi Shogunate that stands proud in the centre of Osaka city, would never have survived until the present day.

“Osaka people chipped in to help the administration rebuild the castle. They wanted to honour the history behind it. No one lives in the castle anymore, it now belongs to the people,” said Tetsuya Nakamura of the tourism bureau of Osaka, one of Japan’s largest cities.

The current castle is the replica of the original castle that was completely burned down in 1615 after the death of Hideyoshi Toyotomi, a warrior during the warring states period who unified political factions in Japan.

Back in the day, he used the 60,000 square-metre castle grounds as the base of his campaign of national unification and as a symbol of his power and status. It remained in ruins for more than two centuries until it was rebuilt in 1931 with the help of public donations.

The castle underwent another restoration in 1995, this time to improve its main tower.

“We were trying to make it more similar to the original,” Nakamura said.

Today, thousands of tourists visit the castle — now a museum — every day.

Those who are fond of history will find it interesting to spend hours at the museum, strolling around its eight floors. In total, there are 8,000 cultural assets that are stored in the main tower of the castle.

Inside, visitors can see scenes from the Summer War in Osaka, which is presented as a movie, can take pictures of battles reenacted by miniatures, enjoy writing and poems composed by Toyotomi
or admire the full-scale golden tea room replica.

The top floor is probably the biggest attraction as visitors are invited to enjoy the scenery of the castle’s surrounding areas from above. Osaka’s police headquarters, NHK Osaka Broadcasting centre, a baseball field and Osaka Castle park are among things you can see from there.

“Visiting castles is my favourite thing to do during my holiday. And as for Osaka Castle, this observation deck is my favourite. I like the view from up here,” Yuka Koshimura, a tourist from near Tokyo, said.

Wandering around the castle for two hours definitely sapped my energy, but I had no worries. I knew that Osaka was a gourmet city, which meant that it was time to seek out the city’s delicacies.

A stop at Shinsekai, which means “New World”, was indeed a mood booster. Everywhere I looked, the area was full of stalls and restaurants, offering specialties such as kushikatsu, takoyaki and okonomiyaki.

I have tried takoyaki and okonomiyaki back in Jakarta many times, so I chose kushikatsu (some call it kushiage) instead. It’s deep-fried meat, vegetable, or seafood on a stick, and is eaten by dipping it into a sauce.

After taking care of my hunger, I noticed that the area had come alive; full of colourful banners, Japanese characters and energetic sales promotion girls who were screaming out loud, calling on customers to try the products on the stalls.

Those sights, complete with Tsutenkaku Tower — a tower with an observation deck and a shrine for the Billiken or the God of Happiness — as the background, make for good photographs.

Another area to satisfy one’s hunger is Dotombori. Here, entering one alley to the next and running the risk of getting yourself lost is sometimes needed to find the best eateries and bars in town.

Eating at cafes overlooking the river that crosses the Dotombori area is also something you will not want to miss to enjoy a lazy afternoon in the city’s downtown.

The water corridors that flow through the city, running to the Osaka Bay area, show why Osaka is known as an aqua metropolis. Taking a cruise on the replica of the Columbus ship in the bay is the perfect way to get a taste of Osaka’s newest area.

Not wanting to be left behind by the ship, I rushed on to it only to find myself unsure of which part would offer the best view during the cruise.

The 45-minute Santa Maria cruise allowed me views of the redeveloped waterfront that featured some of the city’s best tourist attractions.

Santa Maria is the name of the ship used by Christopher Columbus when he discovered America. The replica is twice the size of the original.

For those who like city lights, sailing with Santa Maria at night is a must. With longer routes, a 105-minute sail gives you different sights of the Osaka area that can please both the eye and the camera lense.

The joy of exploring the bay area continues with my next stop at one of Japan’s largest aquariums, Kaiyukan. The largest tank is 9 metres deep and holds 5,400 tonnes of water that exhibit 580 marine species, including a whale shark, manta rays and jellyfish.

“The creatures are mainly from Japan’s waters, but we also brought some from the likes of the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea,” Hiroyuki Murakami, the aquarium’s public relations officer, said.

I might say that it was my best lost-in-translation experience. Despite the all-Japanese performances and guides, a full day here was definitely worth my time and energy. My favourite was the roller coaster ride, which was so fun as the music coming out of speakers on the back of my seat helped to distract my nerves.

 

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