Osaka is Japan’s second largest metropolitan area, with a population of almost 20 million, and the third largest city in Japan (after Tokyo and Yokohama). I spent a few hours last week walking and exploring the area south of Namba station, a major transportation hub in the southern part of the city.
I started by walking from Namba station to Hozen-ji Temple. This is a very small temple, but apparently a popular one. The local deity, Fudomyo – god of fury, is believed to protect people from evil. The statue sits behind a water fountain, and believers walk up and pour water over the statue. As a result of the popularity of Fudomyo and the watering practice, the statue is entirely covered in moss.
The area immediately behind Hozen-ji Temple is known as Hozen-ji Yokocho Alley. It is a short and narrow alleyway, packed with restaurants and bars, and is apparently very popular among local celebrities. It used to be a theater district back in the 17th century and retained its stardom fame. As is the norm now almost anywhere in Japan, the alleyway was packed with tourists from China and Korea…
From Hozen-ji I walked south through Nipponbashi “Denden Town”. This is the electronics shopping district of Osaka (for those familiar with Tokyo, it’s the local version of Akihabara). The word “Denden” is derived from the Japanese word for electronics: Denshikiki. Aside from the various stores offering electronic goods, the area is also known as “Otaku heaven”. Otaku is the Japanese term for those people obsessed with anime and manga, the ubiquitous animated cartoon industry. So lots of shops offering books, DVDs, accessories, toys and much more. I also saw a couple of maid cafés, with the inevitable tout standing outside practicing her kyakuhiki (solociting) skills in a maid uniform…
My next stop was Shitenno-ji Temple, the oldest Buddhist temple in Japan. Although it burned down and was reconstructed several times, this temple dates back to the 6th century. In the short shopping street leading to the temple, many locals were lined up to have their prayers and names written out in beautiful Japanese calligraphy. When ready, these prayers were taken inside the temple, where they were given to the Buddhist priest, for him to mention them in his interminable drone of prayers (and the occasional pinging of the bell).
While leaving the temple I was called over by this Buddhist monk, who spoke pretty good English. He is a Japanese living in California, currently on a money-gathering tour in Japan. He asked me where I was from, and upon hearing I was Israeli, he asked whether I was Jewish. My positive reply prompted the following statement: “Jews control America”. I smiled (politely avoiding rolling my eyes) and asked how exactly, and he said “with money, of course”. According to my new Buddhist friend, Jews never tire running after money and their aim is to control countries through buying stuff. They were successful in America, but less so in China and Japan (though not for lack of trying). After we got through this rather tiresome stereotyping tirade, we had a good chat about Buddhism and Judaism, the meaning of life and afterlife, and other such lofty matters. We parted as friends.
From Shitenno-ji I headed to the tallest skyscraper in Osaka, Abeno Harukas. This 60-storey building stands 300 meters tall, which is about half of the tallest structure in Japan, the Tokyo Skytree. I skipped the observation deck as the line to get tickets was too long for my liking.
Heading west from Abeno Harukas I walked around Tennoji Park and the local zoo to get to my final destination, the Shinsekai (new world) neighbourhood. This area was developed a century ago to mimic Paris and New York. At the center of the neighborhood stands the Tsutenaku Tower (sponsored by Hitachi), a rather sad replica of the Eiffel Tower. The area was destroyed in WWII and lack of attention and redevelopment from the local government resulted in it becoming one of the poorest areas of Osaka, with a reputation of being dangerous. I didn’t feel any danger whatsoever, although admittedly I did not stay much after dark. In fact, I saw a lively place with many eateries and shops and families walking around enjoying themselves. I had a late lunch at a local Sushi place (right by the tower), where I was greeted upon entering and departing by a chorus of okini, the local version of arigato gozaimasu (thank you).