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Osaka is located on Honshu's southern coast, and has a fascinating fifteen hundred-year history. Heritage is important to all members of Japanese society, and families have an incredibly strong bond within them. Assisting a parent or grandparent in need is always the primary duty of the children. This extravagant city, so full of energy and meaning, is the capital of Osaka Prefecture, and is the third most inhabited city in Japan after Tokyo and Yokohama.
 
Osaka is one of the premier vacation spots in Japan. Beautiful and busy, graceful and lively, Osaka has it all. The rich heritage of the region is complemented by the modern feel and splendid architecture. The ancient landmarks are glorious, and you will be treated to marvelous wonders at every turn. The citizens of Osaka have great pride in their hometown, and they should, because it is magnificent. While there are a number of outstanding man-made achievements in Osaka, the best sites are those that combine the thought of man and the brilliance of nature. Two examples of such spots are the Floating Garden Observatory and the Osaka Aquarium, where locals and tourists can see nature in its truest and most exquisite forms.
 
In addition to the extraordinary intrinsic glory of the region, Osaka is part "Shogun" and part "Lost in Translation." Tidy Buddhist temples rub up against modern hotels and pachinko parlors. In the center of town, the iconic Osaka Castle and its ancient moats and beautiful grounds are ringed by high-rises. Flattened during World War II, Osaka is a tangle of bridges, elevated roadways and skyscrapers, but surprisingly, Ferris wheels are also a big part of Osaka's visual signature, throbbing at night in neon color.
 
With 2.6 million people, Osaka is Japan's third-largest city after Tokyo and Yokohama. Another 1.5 million businesspeople and students crowd into town on weekdays. The city, located at the mouth of the Odo River on Osaka Bay, has a high energy quotient, which ticks up several notches at night when people spill into the entertainment and restaurant districts. And there are thousands of restaurants. Osaka has a longstanding reputation as "the kitchen of Japan," a culinary mecca known for its hearty cuisine. It's a city, it is joked, where people eat and go broke.
 
Osaka is also known for its stylish malls and shopping arcades, basically roofed shopping streets. It's a good thing some cruise ships choose to overnight here. With its many dimensions, Osaka is a town to take your time with.
 
Where You're Docked
Cruise Ships dock at the fabulous Tempozan Pier, which basically puts you smack dab in the center of Osaka's ever-developing waterfront. You can't miss the huge neon-lit Ferris wheel, said to be among the largest in the world. In advance of disembarking, passengers must go through a rigorous immigration inspection, lasting several hours and including fingerprints and photographs. Taxis and buses will be ready and waiting to take you to your destination upon arrival.
 
It would be easy to spend a full day in the area around the port, called Tempozan Harbor Village. Just steps from the pier, the terrific Osaka Kaiyukan Aquarium is home to nearly 600 species and 30,000 marine animals that come from the Pacific Rim. You'll find Pacific white-sided dolphins from the Tasman Sea, penguins from Antarctica, giant spider crabs from Japan, green sea turtles from Cook Strait and an impressive jelly fish collection. The aquarium's headliner is a whale shark that presides over the planet's largest fish tank. Exhibits are labeled in English and Japanese. Open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
 
Also nearby is the stylish Suntory Museum, which features a 3D IMAX theater and rotating exhibits of art and design based on everyday life. The museum is open 10:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday (closed Monday). Tempozan Marketplace is loaded with souvenir shops and restaurants and a food court offering Osaka specialties like Takoyaki octopus balls, broiled blowfish and okonomiyaki, a Japanese-style pancake or pizza topped with ingredients such as red ginger, udon noodles, squid, shrimp, bean sprouts and thinly sliced pork.
 
Getting Around
Osaka has a convenient subway system (easily navigable by non-Japanese speakers), and there's a stop at Tempozan Harbor Village. It's also easy to hail a taxi on the street or at taxi stands. A cab ride from the pier to the Sony Building in Shinsaibashi, a central area of downtown for shopping and dining, costs 3,000 yen (about $30). Editor's note: It's not customary to tip your driver.
 
Things to see and do in Osaka
In the late 1980s and early 1990s the Kansai area with Osaka at its heart was producing 5% of the world's GDP. Those heady days may have passed as the Kansai area and Osaka have been overtaken by such mega-cities as Shanghai, Shenzhen and Tianjin in China but Osaka and its hinterland of the Kansai region still remain a powerhouse in the Japanese economy.
 
Osaka has been an important port and mercantile city in Japan since the early Edo Period and before since Toyotomi Hideyoshi founded Osaka Castle in 1596. Osaka supplied goods such as rice, sake, ceramics and fineries from Kyoto to the capital in Edo (Tokyo) by sea.
 
Osaka, like Tokyo, is divided into distinct areas each with their own unmistakable character: Nakanoshima is the cultural and administrative center of Osaka located on an island in the Yodogawa River, Den-Den Town (an electronics shopping area in Daikokucho and Osaka's equivalent to Tokyo's Akihabara), Umeda, Shinsaibashi and Namba are the places for shopping and nightlife.
 
The new developments near Osaka Port on the coast at Tempozan including Osaka Aquarium and the nearby Universal Studios have become the new reasons to visit the city. The southern part of the city around Tennoji, which includes the historic temple of Shitennoji, Shin-Sekai (New World) and Osaka Zoo has its own particular draw.
 
Spa World near Dobutsuen-mae Station (Osaka Zoo) in the Tennoji district is a super onsen with a capacity of 5,000 bathers who can wander bath areas modeled on those of Turkey, India, Rome, China and other countries.
 
Tsuruhashi is Osaka's Korea Town with a unique ambiance and a good opportunity to sample Korean food.
 
Osaka is divided into Kita (north) and Minami (south). Kita is the main business area of the city located around JR Osaka and Umeda stations, whereas Minami is the shopping and entertainment district centered on Namba and Shinsaibashi with the more earthy Dotombori roughly in the middle of the two places.
 
Dojima-gawa and Tosabori-gawa are the two rivers that divide Kita and Minami, with the administrative area of Nakanoshima sandwiched between the two.
 
Osaka-jo Castle (near Kyobashi Station) is one of Osaka's main attractions and the large Osaka-jo Koen (Osaka Castle Park) has bands and other cultural and music events in the grounds on weekends.
 
Osaka's many excellent museums include the Osaka Maritime Museum, which traces the importance of the sea and the city's rivers and canals in the commercial history of Osaka, the Osaka Municipal Museum of Art, Peace Osaka dedicated to Japan's World War II experience, the Museum of Oriental Ceramics, the Suntory Museum (now the Osaka Tempozan Special Art Gallery), the Osaka Museum of History, the Liberty Osaka Museum (Osaka Human Rights Museum), which details such taboo subjects as Japan's Burakumin, foreigners and the environment, the National Museum of Art in Nakanoshima and the Instant Ramen Museum.
 
Temples and shrines in Osaka of interest include the ancient Shitennoji Temple in Tennoji, nearby Isshinji Temple, the Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine and Imamiya Ebisu Shrine.
 
The National Bunraku Theater holds performances of traditional Japanese puppet theater and is the best place in Japan to catch this unique art form.
 
Osaka Municipal Museum of Fine Art
Home to over 8000 works, this museum is a must-see for lovers of fine art. The gracefully appointed collections comprise 12th-14th century classical Japanese arts, modern Japanese art and lacquer ware. In addition to Japanese works, the museum is also home to a magnificent collection of Chinese paintings, artifacts and calligraphic works. Numbers of the pieces have been classified as National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties. (81 6 6771 4874)
 
Ame-Mura
Ame-Mura, or American Town, is the place to go if you want to catch a glimpse of hip, contemporary urban youth. Originally receiving its name from the first stores here that sold inexpensive American clothing and accessories, it has exploded into an immensely popular shopping locale for trendy fashion seekers with over 3000 shops to visit. Coffee shops, bars and restaurants abound. The name may be Ame-Mura, but the experience is uniquely Japanese.
 
Osaka Museum of History
Located on the outskirts of the Osaka Castle grounds, this museum brings to life the city's 1400-year history. Each floor details a different period of Osaka's history beginning with the most recent and moving upward to ancient exhibits on the museum's uppermost floors, culminating with a full-size, partial recreation of the regal Naniwanomiya Palace on the highest level. Prepare to be captivated by reconstructions, life size exhibits, intriguing photographs, movies and scale representations of Osaka's past. (81 6 6946 5728)
 
HEP Five Ferris Wheel
Conveniently located beside Osaka Station, this large Ferris wheel with diameter greater than the height of some buildings, affords riders outstanding views of the city in addition to being just plain fun. It sits aloft a large shopping mall which houses both Western and uniquely Japanese shops as well as a large entertainment arcade. You will find the wheel's gondolas to be air-conditioned and quite comfortable during the 15-minute ride.
 
Museum of Oriental Ceramics
Located in Naka-no-shima, Osaka's oldest park, this museum maintains a prestigious collection of fine ceramics that has been rated one of the most distinguished in the world. Korean celadon, Chinese ceramics from the Song and Ming dynasties and Arita from the Japanese Edo Period are expertly shown under natural and computerized natural light simulation. Allow between 30 minutes to an hour to take in the splendid array of skillfully crafted pieces. (81 6 6223 0055)
 
Umeda Sky Building, Floating Garden Observatory
Don't miss the opportunity to enjoy panoramic views of Osaka from the 39th floor of this innovative observatory in one of the city's most modern architectural structures. Visitors take a fast moving glass elevator to the building's top floor where they then ride on a glass enclosed escalator to deposit them 167 meters from the ground in the floating observatory between two towers which comprise the Sky Building. The observatory is both a day and nighttime favorite among locals and guests alike. (81 6 6440 3901)
 
Shitennoji Temple
The Shitennoji Temple site is the oldest in Japan, with the original temple being constructed in 593. In addition to the Main Golden Hall, visitors will find a five-story pagoda, turtle sanctuary and aged stone gate dating as far back as 1294. Surrounding the temple are lush grounds including a serene Japanese landscape garden replete with manicured shrubbery, streams and waterfalls. Making the perfect historical and cultural stop, the temple is a site worth seeing. (81 6 6771 0066)
 
Universal Studios Japan
Located in the attractive Osaka Bay area, Universal Studios Japan appeals to kids of all ages with its movie-themed thrill rides, live entertainment, restaurants and shops. Plan to spend an entire day soaking up the Hollywood ambience touring attractions such as Jurassic Park, Spider Man and Shrek's 4-D adventure where technology brings characters to life. Movie sets allow glimpses of daily Hollywood behind-the-scenes activities. Come early, as this is one of Osaka's most popular attractions. (81 6 4790 7000)
 
Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
Featuring the largest aquarium tank in the world, Osaka Aquarium displays a breathtaking view of aquatic life. Favorites among the 15 natural habitats and 35,000 specimens are the Japanese Forest, whale shark, Arctic penguins and giant spider crab. Assembling tank walls with enormous sheets of glass, aquarium designers aimed for guests to feel as though they were playing together with creatures of the sea. Allow approximately 2 hours to take in the spectacular sights. Tours are available for an additional fee. (81 6 6576 5501)
 
Osaka Castle
Osaka Castle, one of the city's most beloved attractions, is a more recent replication of the original castle built in the 1580s. The re-building of the main tower was completed in 1931. Impressive stone walls, elegant gold-leaf trim and copper roofing make it a stunning exhibition of Osaka's past. An observatory is perched atop the eight-story keep, making it a great place for panoramic views of the surrounding area. Videos, models and artifacts bring to life the castle's former inhabitants in the heritage museum located inside the castle. Lovely grounds surround the park and make for a perfect afternoon stroll. (81 6 6941 3044)
 
Don't Miss
The city's best-known attraction is Osaka Castle, originally completed in 1583 and later destroyed. Today's reconstructed fortress, built in the 1930s, has a collection of exhibits related to the castle and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who first built the castle as the permanent residence of the ruler of Japan. On the eighth floor is an observation deck offering great views of the city. The extensive grounds, with 5,750 Japanese plum and cherry trees, are also worth a look. A trolley circles around Osaka Castle Park from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It costs 200 yen (roughly $2). For additional details, visit the Osaka Castle Web site.
 
The oldest Buddhist temple in Japan, Shitennoji, was founded in 593; today the complex, none of it original, continues to operate as an active place of worship. Based on the philosophy of Wa, or harmony in all things, the temple has formed its own sect of Buddhism with the goals of pursuing good works in the areas of education and social welfare. Beloved by the local people, Shitennoji is a model of classic temple design with its five-story pagoda; kondo, or main hall; and kodo, an assembly hall. It also has two teahouses. For more information, visit the Shitennoji Web site.
 
To fully appreciate Osaka's zest, explore it on foot. In addition to America-Mura and Shinsaibashi, other areas worth visiting are Tenjimbashi-Suji, the longest shopping street in Japan, and the lively Dotonbori district, noted for its nightclubs, restaurants, shops and a new promenade along Dotombori Canal. Take a cab or the subway to your destination and then wander as long as your feet will let you.
 
 To view the bright lights of Osaka at night, take a river cruise. The Naniwa Tanken Cruise and Osaka River Cruise pass under 48 bridges during a one-and-a-half hour tour in Dotonbori, the city's liveliest nightlife district. Cruises depart from Minato-Machi River Place.
 
Osaka is known for its efficiently laid out infrastructure and public transportation. Its subway system is world-class, and navigating the underground is easy because the use of English is especially prevalent. You will most likely be using the red Midosuji Line for most of your travels throughout Osaka, as this line hits the most sought after sights in the city for tourists. In addition to the subways, Japan Railways runs the JR Loop Line that makes a convenient loop around the heart of Osaka. Fares start at 120 Yen (approx. $1).
 
The Osaka Castle is located at 1-1 Osakajo (06/6941-3044) and was constructed in the 1580s. It is one of the most famous castles in Japan, and for a long time it was the largest as well. The Tokugawa government demolished the castle in 1615, but it was rebuilt in 1629. In 1665, the tower of the castle was burnt by lightning, and the remainder completely destroyed in 1868 during the Meiji Restoration War. The Osaka Castle that you see today was constructed in 1931, and in 1997, incredible restorations were made. See the Osaka Castle like you've never seen it before!
 
The Osaka Aquarium can be found at 1-1-10 Kaigan-dori (06/6576-5501). This is one of the largest and most impressive aquariums in the world, and the 2.9 million gallons of water housed in one establishment make it an extraordinary achievement. There is a series of outstanding videos that depict volcanoes from the Ring of Fire erupting violently. The structure of the aquarium walls make you feel as if you are under water swimming with the fishes, but in an oh-so-glorious way! There are 380 species housed here, and thirty-five thousand specimens in total, including a whale shark, which is the largest fish on Earth.
 
The Floating Garden Observatory is located inside the Umeda Sky Building, at 1-1-88 Oyodo-naka (06/6440-3901). This unbelievable landmark is located 557 feet above the ground and allows you to overlook the entire city in unparalleled fashion. There is a remarkable glass elevator inside the building as well, and it is sure to excite even the most hardened roller-coaster fans, as it zooms up and down at an alarming speed.
 
Eating Out
Fine dining, cool bars, jazz and raucous clubbing - Osaka has it all. Nightlife areas in Osaka include: Umeda, Namba (Nanba), Shinsaibashi and America-mura (Ame-mura). Kita-Horie and Minami-Horie, west of Midosuji from Shinsaibashi also have some trendy locales. Osaka's main gay area is in Doyama, close to Umeda. Look out too for Osaka's tachinomiya - the city's signature stand-up bars and eateries.
 
Jidoritei Yakitori Shin Miura can be found in the basement of the Umeda Sky Building at 1-1-90 Oyodo-naka. This dreamland of Yakitori delight is a fabulous place for dinner after a long day of sightseeing fun. Kaen is located at 1-10-2 Sonnezaki-shinchi (06/6344-2929) and is the premier French restaurant in Osaka. If you are in a liberated mood and want a lot of selection, then this is not the place for you. All others take note, because Kaen is tremendous. The meals are set and change monthly, and the dining room only seats thirty-two, making for a quite intimate dining experience.
 
The National Bunraku Theater is located at 1-12-10 Nipponbashi (06/6212-2531) and is a remarkable place to see a traditional Japanese puppet show. The performances are very enjoyable, and both locals and tourists flock to this fun-filled event that is full of laughter and excitement. Murphy's can be found at 1-6-31 Higashi Shinsaibashi (06/6282-0677) and is an Irish pub in the heart of Osaka, Japan. What can be more interesting than that? You will think that you're back in the land of the leprechaun when you down a glass of their hearty Irish stout. A great place for drinks and dancing, Murphy's is always a lively spot. Every Wednesday is the official performance night, where locals and tourists play Irish music while the crowd dances shamelessly.
 
Shopping
Osaka is known for its excellent shopping and people come from all over the Kansai area of west Japan to shop in the elegant department stores of Umeda as well as visit the warren of small shops in Umeda's Underground Shopping Area.
 
Constructed in the 1960's five subterranean avenues radiate out from Osaka Station City: Diamor Osaka, Herbis Osaka, Hankyu Sanbangai, Dojima Underground Shopping Center and Whitey Umeda - with its historic 1960's fountain.
 
Namba has its own underground malls: Namba Walk, Namba City, Namba Nan Nan and Crysta Nagahori. Above ground is the Shinsaibashi-suji arcade with around 180 shops, Amerika mura, Horie and Minami Senba for youth fashion and the big brand outlets at the intersection of Midosuji and Nagahori-dori.
 
Namba Parks, designed by by Jon Jerde, the American architect responsible for Canal City in Fukuoka, boasts a series of roof-top gardens on its exterior and inside there are floors dedicated to restaurants offering a variety of cuisines, an 11-screen cinema and various shopping outlets.
 
South again in Tennoji is a revamped Kintetsu department store at Abeno Station, Abeno Harukas, Hoop and Abeno Park Q's mall, the largest shopping mall in Osaka Prefecture.

The underground shopping complexes in Osaka are incredible, and the best sector is Diamor Osaka, located where the Hankyu, JR, and Hanshin train lines merge together. Here you will find sixteen galleries and a total of seventy-three stores. Be warned that this place is a real labyrinth, so be sure to pay attention when you go traveling around this underground maze of wonder. Den Den Town is the electronics headquarters of Osaka and is home to two hundred shops filled with gadgets and goodies.
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