By Antonio Malara
Osaka was the sixth Japanese city that I visited during the trip made with my sister that took me to visit this country in April 2018. This destination, unlike others, was strongly desired by me and in fact it was not a cultural destination. For me it was enough to see a skyscraper with a particular shape in an architecture magazine to be intrigued by a city. It was exactly what had happened for Osaka, moreover I had noticed that the city was very futuristic with modern buildings and an equally interesting urban planning. Actually in Osaka people went to visit the famous castle, however I managed to convince my sister to avoid that visit and rather focus on the main streets and thus get to know the true soul of the city. We visited Osaka one afternoon after being in Nara, thus scheduling a cultural and a leisure visit. We arrived at Osaka station at lunchtime and once we got off the train and went to the upper level of the platforms, what I saw was something that made me forget for a while the appetite I had.
The Osaka-Umeda station was decidedly out of the ordinary, similar to that of Kyoto but much larger and more original. In fact, above the level of the tracks we found ourselves inside a skyscraper of about eight floors. One of the sides was completely open along the full height of the building so it was like being in a square but with an artificial roof overhead; the open side overlooked skyscrapers. It was something I can't describe properly and I prefer to convey the idea through pictures. After admiring that wonder, my sister and I decided to go to one of the upper floors where there were several restaurants, hoping that in the meantime it would stop raining. The place we chose had a view of the skyscrapers and I had a couple of wagyû burgers there which were excellent. After lunch we left that magnificent building and walked towards the first metro stop, the area was full of construction sites and seemed to be expanding. Right there was a skyscraper that I had seen in an architecture magazine, it was called the Umeda Sky Building, it was made up of two twin towers connected at the top by a platform. It was one of the first skyscrapers of that kind of architecture that they were start building around the world and I was curious to see it. Unfortunately the skyscraper was inside a very large construction site area which was closed. However as we exited the station we took a road which was adjacent to that area so I could see the skyscraper in a three quarter view, all in all I was happy with it.
We took the train and stopped in Shinsaibashi, the area with luxury shops that extended along the main road called Mido-suji. This part of the city had modern buildings and the streets were decidedly wide with the presence of plants and flower beds. Even if the fashion stores had huge signs and designs that stood out, I found the street itself a bit dispersive for a shopping street. To be clear, the main street of Giza was large but gave more of a sense of intimacy like fifty Avenue in New York. However, many of the parallel streets that intersected with Mido-suji were narrow and with several less well-known businesses. Once we reached the Nishishinsaibashi area we decided to walk down one of those narrow streets and see what the neighborhood had to offer. In just a few steps the atmosphere was transformed, many small shops with typical Japanese signs crowded the streets. It was a different, more typical experience and it was surprising that this neighborhood was within walking distance of another street that was completely different in every way. We arrived in a square that broke the urban planning and from there we walked on a road that went diagonally. That neighborhood was very characteristic and from time to time a super modern skyscraper always popped up in the middle of the typical buildings.
The road took us to the Shinebisu Bridge, one of the many bridges that crossed the canal which in the larger part became the Dotombori River. In fact, crossing that bridge we were precisely in the Dotombori district, the center of Osaka. That canal was fascinating and disturbing at the same time, the fact that it was narrow but surrounded by tall buildings with big signs was a unique sight. It kind of reminded me of some sequences from the film Total Recall, the one with Colin Farrell and this increased its ambiguous charm. After crossing Mido-suji again we saw a very particular skyscraper that had a shape like of a number 8 but which also resembled a giant guitar. Passing that building we took one of the galleries. These places were simply streets with a roof where the inside was full of shops. We discovered that there were many in that area and it was fun but also a little distracting to enter one of those galleries because then you would find yourself in totally different streets. There was the risk of getting lost because the crossroads branched off in all directions! They were a bit like the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, you always had to take references to avoid getting lost.
After experiencing the galleries, we spent the time walking along the main street of Dotombori, parallel to the canal, a street very popular with people and full of shops with signs of all colors. That was the type of street that best represented the soul of a city, ordinary people, tourists, street food. At the same time there was no lack of more modern design buildings which for a moment reminded us that we were in a metropolis and not in a Medina. We concluded the journey on the Ebisubashi Bridge, one of the largest bridges that crossed the canal. We headed there because in fact people flocked to that bridge, as if there was something special there. The bridge was filled with tourists of all types taking photos of the canal, which of course we did too. From that bridge there was a view of the Ebisu Tower Ferris Wheels, a building that immediately attracted my attention but initially I could not figure out what it was. Looking at that building I saw like a yellow ferris wheel that formed a very high arch only that it was basically built on top of another building. Only by looking carefully and then doing some research on the net did we get the confirmation of what that eccentric building was. We spent the time wandering around and doing some shopping in the main street, it served as a decompression after the tiring day we had spent between Nara and there in Osaka.
We went to a nearby metro stop that took us back to Umeda and there we had the last surprise of a unique nation. We had taken regional trains that day, so our journeys had taken quite a while. At Umeda station we discovered that there was a Shinkansen that would leave in a short time. The unique thing was that the Shinkansen would cover the Umeda-Kyoto route in just 16 minutes! It was incredible, that was real technology and avant-garde; connect two cities that had millions of inhabitants in just 15 minutes. It was science fiction and pure teleportation, one of the most unique experiences I've had in my life.
That day the light rain that accompanied us all the time, didn’t make us feel bad. This is because the exploration of the city was so interesting that we didn't feel the disadvantage of the rain. Osaka was more stunning than I imagined and I was glad I saw that part of the city rather than its castle. A place that absolutely must be visited and that deserves to be seen again because it has unique views especially for me who love photography. A modern place that intersects at every corner with typical Japanese architecture, a magic that sees its peak in the "dark" atmosphere of the Dotombori canal.
Pictures: Antonio Malara
Camera: Nikon D800