The idiosyncratic mood of this metropolis is perhaps best reflected in its nationally-televised manzai teams: duos who put on bawdy performances in the manner of Abbot and Costello. The flip side is the city's reputation for aggression. Osaka is very safe compared to other world cities of the same size, but to think of it as little more than colorfully rough and ready is to do it a disservice. Rather, it is a source of bubbling cultural energy, beauty and historical richness.
The central business district is at the northern hub of Umeda, just three stops south on the Midosuji subway line from the Shin-Osaka bullet-train station. A conglomeration of businesses, deluxe hotels, retail high-rises and, at night, countless karaoke bars full of red-nosed "salary men," Umeda is as close as the city gets to the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. The numerous international hotels that have sprung up over the past few years make Umeda the natural choice for the business traveler or adventure-seeking tourist who wants to travel in comfort. The district is also served by several train and subway lines.
Inside Hankyu Station is the mammoth bookstore Kinokuniya , which is well stocked with English titles, as well as magazines and newspapers. Check out Hankyu's new Hep Five shopping, restaurant and cinema complex with its built-in Hep Five Ferris Wheel . Behind HEP Five, you will find the nightlife district of Doyama-cho, which is full of restaurants, love hotels and gay bars.
Three stops south, the Midosuji subway line will bring you to Shinsaibashi, the center of Osaka's youth scene. Be sure to stop by Triangle Park in the center of Ame-mura (American Village). The park itself is unremarkable, but it is the starting point for exploring the clothing stores, record shops, cafes, restaurants, bars and clubs, knick-knack stores, and of course, the hip youth that give this area its special color.
Go a little further west to Yotsubashi-suji Street and Naniwa-suji Street, two boulevards running parallel to Midosuji (all suji run north-south and all dori run east to west). On and between these thoroughfares and running north up to Minami Semba you will find an array of newly established boutiques, jewelery stores, health shops, ethnic shops and bars, cafes and restaurants that cater to a more chic and yuppie crowd.
The east side of the tree-lined main boulevard of Midosuji is dominated by Daimaru department store. Behind Daimaru is the famous Dotombori Bridge, also known as Nampa-bashi or Hikkake-bashi (that is, "Pick-Up Bridge") in reference to its reputation as a place for liaisons. You will recognize it by the legendary Glico Man neon sign, and the equally well-known crab shop Kanidoraku Honten located at its southern end. Almost in front of you, at the bridge, you will see another famous landmark, Shin Kabukiza , Osaka's main kabuki theater.
Namba is the next subway stop south, and by walking just a couple of minutes further down, you will get to Nankai Railway's Namba Station with its gigantic, brown, modern Swissotel Nankai . The Nankai Line heading south of here runs on top of a long shopping mall that offers a staggering array of goods and services. Also, behind the station on the next east-west road to the south is the Hard Rock Cafe Osaka , and a little further south is the grunge nightclub Club Rockets .
If you walk southeast from Namba to Sakai-suji, or take the Sennichimae subway line one stop to Nipponbashi, you will arrive at Osaka's discount electronics mile, the place for cameras, computers, stereos and electrical appliances. At the end of Sakai-suji is Osaka's rather clumsy but nationally famous answer to the Eiffel Tower, Tsutenkaku Tower , which was the tallest structure in Asia at the time of its construction in 1912. The surrounding area of Shinsekai ("New World") is about as unsophisticated as you can get, but it is pleasantly punctuated by the snazzy amusement complex Festivalgate and the adjoining Spa World.
The next stop south is Osaka's southernmost hub, Tennoji, which is home to a large concentration of places to shop, eat and drink, both ancient and modern. These include Kintetsu Department Store , Mio shopping building, the Apollo Building, Lucius, Avetica underground shopping/dining complex and the shops that line Abeno-suji, a street that boasts the city's last remaining tram line. For high-class Japanese dining there is Kai, and for a cheap, friendly neighborhood pub try Tin's Hall .
Nearby are Tennoji Park, the city's newly refurbished Zoological Gardens, and the National Art Museum . On the slope between Matsuyamachi-suji (think motorbike shops) and Tanimachi-suji is the main concentration of shrines and temples. Do not miss the avant-garde Isshinji Temple and the grand Shitenno-ji Temple , reputedly the nation's oldest. Mixed amongst these you will not be able to ignore the scores of love hotels, often notable for their far-fetched and wacky decor.
For some more ancient history, visit Osaka Castle, the seat of Japan's unifying lord, Hideyoshi Toyotomi. Nearby is Kyobashi, home to Osaka Business Park. A walk around the river between Kyobashi and Tenma is worth it for the peaceful riverside paths and the elegant old buildings.
Finally, for a day of fun with a bit of sea air there is the newly developing harbor area of Nanko, where the main attraction is a very modern aquarium.
The Japanese have a special term that sums up the people of Osaka: kuidaore, which literally means "eat till you drop." This is good news for visitors. Whatever tickles your fancy is available here, whether it be a local specialty or something from one of the far off corners of the globe. In Osaka you can dine on the tightest of budgets or splurge and spend a month's wages on one meal. The choice is yours!
Okonomiyaki, a thick savory pancake made of shredded cabbage and diced seafood or meat, is a famous Osaka dish that has now spread throughout Japan. It is often grilled by diners at their tables and usually topped with a brown sauce, a sprinkle of dried seaweed powder, and shaved bonito flakes. Check out Kiji Umeda to sample some of the best of this local favorite.
Then, of course, there's sushi, but although you will find many restaurants serving it, such as Kakiyasu in the Hep Navio shopping center and Daidaiya , you should also make a point of trying some of the regional flavors, such as Kagoshima-style noodles from Kamitora , where they make them fresh by hand. For a substantial meal at rock bottom prices, there is an amazing selection of restaurants specializing in noodles here, and if eating them while enjoying a fantastic view of the city sounds good to you, try out the soba and udon noodles at Kineya . Or for something really special, try chanko ryori, the staple fare of sumo wrestlers in training, at Gomasuri Chanko .
The top Japanese restaurants in Osaka, such as Kanidoraku Honten , serve kaiseki ryori. Be prepared to pay top prices in these restaurants, but what you get for your money is a total culinary experience. Waitresses in kimonos will serve you a gorgeous selection of seasonal seafood and vegetables, including sashimi, tempura, boiled vegetables, pickles and soup, artistically laid out on exquisite ceramic platters. Not to worry though, you can still get great, authentic Japanese food without the high price tag and elaborate service at such comfortable, yet traditional places like Wakamatsu .For something even less formal but just as delicious, try the okonomiyaki at Sennichimae Hatsuse , which has been making the local speciality since 1945.
Osaka is also blessed with European restaurants that cover just about every country on that continent, and Chuo-ku is one of the best places to find your favorite international cuisines. If Italian is what you're after, the seasonal menu at Pietra Santa is sure to please, or for tastes from the Asian mainland, sample Thai at Krungtep or indulge in Indian cuisine at Bombay Kitchen Shinsaibashi , a popular local spot. England ( Pig & Whistle ) and Ireland ( Key Point ) are also well represented in the form of pubs that serve pub fare accompanied by British and Irish beers.
One of the biggest attractions in Konohana-ku is Universal Studios Japan , and like its American counterparts, the Universal Citywalk Osaka is a great place to go to find some favorite, albeit more Western, flavors like BubbaGump Shrimp , a chain familiar to many Americans. Wolfgang Puck Cafe offers the celebrity chef's signature style of California-style cuisine to tourists visiting the Citywalk, and Kua' Aina is the place to go if you're craving a burger and fries that have a Hawaiian flair. For those not headed to Universal Studios, the Hard Rock Cafe is another well-known option in Konohana-ku, where hopeful visitors may have the chance to catch a glimpse of some of their favorite celebrities from both the music and movie industries.
If you had to name just one thing not to be missed during a visit to Osaka, it might just be the food. From the foreign to the downright familiar, it's all available here, and it's everywhere. So whether your preference is to lounge in a fine restaurant, or snack on a local specialty from the cart of one of the city's many ubiquitous street food vendors, there will be no shortage of options in this fantastic food-lovers paradise.