En route from Kobe to Kyoto, I stopped by Osaka for a day. Osaka is the third largest city in Japan by population after Tokyo and Yokohama. As compared to Kobe, the city of Osaka seems rather dull and grey even though Osaka has been the economic powerhouse of the Kansai area for many centuries. Apparently, Osaka also has a reputation to be a place where homeless calls it home and because of this, it has the largest slum in Japan. Even so, Osaka is still a very safe city for tourists.
For a tourist, Osaka has a good mix of contrasts – it embraces ancient relics and its history as much as modernity. The main icon of Osaka is the Osaka Castle. Osaka Castle is a big place, I didn’t get to walk all the grounds of its premises. I had two takeaways from this visit to this beautiful castle. First, instead of focusing all your attention at the beautiful castle tower, what is truly amazing about Osaka Castle (or any similar Japanese castles) is how the castle tower is supported by rocks. These rocks apparently were stacked on top of one another and no glue was used. If you go close enough, you see gaps between the rocks. For odd reasons, such a support was sufficient to prevent the castle from toppling down during earthquakes. It is truly amazing! According to a local guide, these rocks were transported by boat from a Japanese island to Osaka and only intact rocks which survived the boat ride were used to construct the castle. Second, Osaka Castle is quite significant in Japanese history. It was built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi – the warrior who unified Japan. When Toyotomi Hideyoshi passed away, his young son Hideyori was displaced by Tokugawa Ieyasu – one of Hideyoshi’s allies when he fought to unify Japan. Many battles between Hideyori’s and Tokugawa’s troops during the Siege of Osaka happened at this castle. At one of the levels inside the castle tower, you will see a fusuma depicting the Siege of Osaka and on another level, you will find a video which explains the different parts of the fusuma in great detail. My heart sank as I watched the video. As the video puts it, the weak and vulnerable are the ones who suffer the most during wars.
I left Osaka Castle with a heavy heart and I thought it would be great to visit a temple to relax and recuperate. I visited Sumiyoshi Taisha. Founded in the 3rd century, it was one of Japan’s oldest shrines built before Buddhism was introduced to the country. During the New Year, Sumiyoshi Taisha is one of the most-visited temples in Japan. I was drawn to this temple because of the Sorihashi Bridge which forms a unique high arch over the river and looks like a rainbow. It was so beautiful. 🙂 Apparently, by crossing this bridge in front of the shrine, you are cleansing away your worldly sins and filth before arriving at the shrine. The best part is that even though it is so beautiful, there were no tourists in the temple.
I ended the day at Namba which is yet another very popular tourist attraction in Osaka. One of the famous spots in Namba is the Dotonbori street which runs parallel to the Dotonbori canal. It offers a wide range of (cheap) food and shopping. As compared to what I have experienced so far in Japan, Dotonbori is quite noisy with many people shouting to get the attention of the passer-bys to visit their shops. I was quite happy to reach the canal which is quieter at this hour of the day. However, I can imagine that it will get fairly noisy and maybe rowdy later in the night here. Besides Dotonbori, Namba also has Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade – a premier shopping area with many expensive department stores and designer labels. I don’t think any shopaholics can explore every corner of Namba in a week. There are just too many things here.