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This famous area is named after the canal which runs parallel to its streets. Lit up on all sides like rides at a fairground, the busy shopping and dining areas here are home to a number of giant, moving creatures and foodstuffs which hang from the sides of buildings, including enormous crabs, takoyaki and hands holding pieces of nigiri sushi. Wandering around this area at night brings to life the Osaka of most people’s imaginations. Leading on from the canal side streets are tiny alleyways such as Hozenji Yokocho – cobbled areas with an old-time feel and countless doorways that open to delicious encounters. Dōtonbori is most easily accessed from Namba Station.
Another loud and lively area of Osaka’s central district, this district is home to Shinsaibashi shopping street – a covered arcade of hundreds of shops, from international chains through to local character shops, Osaka souvenirs and plenty of sweet treats. On a walk from Shinsaibashi to Namba station visitors will encounter Amerikamura, a centre of youth culture filled with nightclubs, quirky fashions, vintage clothing shops and ice cream parlours claiming to sell the tallest ice creams in the whole of Japan.
Translated as “new world”, Shinsekai is a district in which the atmosphere of neon-lit bars and restaurants is a wondrous assault on the senses. Make sure to stop off for kushikatsu, a Osaka street food favourite, which involves deep fried yakitori skewers dipped in a delicious sweet, brown sauce. This is another area of Osaka which is best visited at night, when the bright lights draw in fun-loving crowds like moths to a flame.
Like Tokyo, Osaka is often considered a city of districts and atmospheres rather than one filled with distinctive cultural monuments. Yet one historic building not to be missed is Osaka Castle, a regal, pearly-white castle sitting at the centre of a series of stone walls and moats. The castle has been rebuilt countless times, suffering various attacks throughout civil conflicts since its origins in 1583. Though not in its original form, the castle is nonetheless an attractive nod to Japan’s past, and is a popular spot for hanami (flower-viewing) parties during the cherry blossom season each April.
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Watch Sumo Wrestling
Japan’s national sport is often most closely associated with Tokyo, yet its six major annual tournaments are dotted around all over the country. In March each year the tournament arrives in Osaka, taking place over a period of fifteen days at the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium. Though unimpressive on the outside, the stadium’s interior contains all the historical features of a classic sumo arena – including a hanging canopy above the ring, modelled on the roof of a shrine to signify that the origins of sumo lie with Japan’s indigenous Shinto religion.
Keep an eye out for the stomping of the yokozuna – the highest ranking sumo – as this stylised dance wards off evil spirits; it’s one of the many mesmerising elements of this ancient sport, thought to date back 2,000 years. Most tickets go on sale one month prior to the start of each tournament, and typically sell out on weekends (although on-the-day tickets are often available).
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Cycle Osaka’s eat, drink and cycle food tour is a three-hour rendezvous that takes in the best backstreet bites and bistros that most visitors would be hard-pressed to discover from a simple wander. The tour guides vary each route depending on what may interest guests most, taking groups through temples, shopping arcades, markets and suburban areas to hunt down sushi, Korean pancakes, wagyu beef, kushikatsu skewers and other must-try morsels in the country’s food capital. En route, they usually stop off at Shitennoji Temple – the oldest of its kind in Japan – and throw in a knife demonstration to boot. Each tour costs 8,000 yen per person (around £61) all inclusive.
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Every village, town and city in Japan has its very own festival, and Osaka, as the country’s second city, is home to several of its most famous. In late July each year the Tenjin Matsuri sees thousands of people flock to the streets to carry lavishly decorated wooden floats, while the rivers are awash with longboats and white-costumed festival rowers. The best lookout spots to catch the boats in action are between Tenjinbashi Bridge and Temmabashi Bridge. Stroll along the water as the sun goes down to catch the festivities as lights from the boats’ lanterns start to flutter on the water’s surface.
In mid-September the Kishiwada Danjiri Festival sees 600,000 people visit the city to nervously look on as one of the country’s most dangerous festival performances takes place. Large, wooden carts are swung around street corners and driven at lightning speed through the city streets during this injury-inducing festival. The carts are elaborately carved and decorated and often see the head carpenter – as though any more risk is needed – dancing on top.
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