Japan is a relatively small country but sometimes the regional differences can be night and day. Tokyo and Osaka, for example, can feel like completely different planet to the residents of each in terms of language and habits.
The following six places in Osaka are a good example of these differences. The names of each of these places could be dropped to a local in conversation without so much of a flinch. However, these same Osaka residents might be shocked to learn that people in Tokyo have no idea that such places exist.
In no particular order here are the six hidden (unless you live here!) gems of Osaka.
Tsuruhashi Korea Town
Immediately getting off the train at Tsuruhashi Station you can smell the meat grilling all around you. Underneath the station is a dark Blade Runner-esque labyrinth of small stalls selling all types of foods and T-shirts. If you make the correct turn, you’ll end up in a well decorated plaza of restaurants offering some of the finest Korean food in Japan.
It’s not over yet, though. Just head a few blocks south for the full-on Korea Town shopping street lined with even more food shops and restaurants.
Image: Hirakata Park
Also affectionately known as Hira-Paa, at first glance this might seem like your standard amusement park with a roller coaster, haunted house and occasional Anpanman shows. Actually it’s Japan’s oldest continuously running amusement park operating today. Hanyashiki in Tokyo is technically older but had to be demolished and rebuilt following WWII.
In addition to being long lived, this park proudly claims to pull in 1.2 million people every year.
You can find these Cabbage Yaki stands all over the Osaka area. Students of Japanese food will no doubt be aware of okonomiyaki, which is a type of cabbage and pancake hybrid with a wide selection of toppings. Cabbage Yaki is a lot like okonomiyaki but without all the bells and whistles. A special type of batter is fried into a crepe-like consistency and topped with cabbage, egg, and other seasonings like ginger. In the end a dollop of sweet and tangy okonomiyaki sauce is spread on top and served. The taste is similar to okonamiyaki but a lot more doughy, and it’s delicious.
Rather than the full meal that okonomiyaki is, Cabbage Yaki makes for a great snack on the go or side dish to a larger meal. It tastes great and only costs 130 yen (US$1.30).
Image: Wikipedia – J o
Abeno Harukas is a department store housed in the lower floors of Japan’s tallest skyscraper (300 meters, 60 stories). Having opened in June of this year it’s constantly used as the backdrop for television programs in the region and was hugely successful right out the gate. MSN reported that in its first month of operation alone the department store drew 2.9 million visitors and generated around 10 billion yen (US$101M) in sales.
Abeno Karukas also boasts the largest floor space of any department store although around a quarter of it is not used for retail. There are also numerous rest areas for shoppers traversing this massive complex.
Maishima Waste Management Plant
The man-made island of Maishima has many fun things to do with its massive sports complex and heliport, but the real gem of the island lies in its waste management facility.
It was designed by Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser who also designed a similar-looking plant in his hometown of Vienna. The concept was to create an organic-looking structure using as few straight lines as possible.
Although it looks a little like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory from the outside, you won’t find any treats inside… unless you like burning dirty diapers.
There are several discount store/supermarket chains around Japan but Super Tamade stands out among them in Osaka – literally. Their storefronts are often loudly decorated to say the least and can usually be spotted from a good distance away.
Each Super Tamade looks unique too. This is partly because their stores, like zombies, tend to be the reanimated corpses (buildings) of other fallen establishments such as hospitals, furniture stores, and bowling alleys. Only instead of wanting to eat your brain, they’ll sell one to you, dirt cheap.
But the bright lights are not what attract legions of shoppers. It’s their discounts that often surprising to those not from around here. For example, below is their flyer for 19 to 21 September. In it we can see kimchi, a cloth pouch, plastic wrap, fish sausages, and more for 1 yen each (US$0.01). Holy bargains, Batman.
Image: Super Tamade
These are just six of the hidden treasures Osaka has to offer. Of course there’s plenty more to find, but this should hold you for now. Just remember, the next time you hear someone is heading to Osaka tell them “you have got to check out the garbage incinerator they have there!”