Osaka the new destination
Lydia Castillo (The Philippine Star) - February 10, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Why Osaka? We were asked as the family planned an R&R trip to Osaka, Japan in the Kansai district, which we believe can be a new destination for tourists from the Philippines.

We remember going to Osaka on company business many years ago. It was then emerging as a business center. Osaka is located in the main island of Honshu, in the Kansai region, with a population of 2.8 million.

Today it is a high ranking business hub, and has evolved to become an attractive place to spend a holiday.

Tokyo, of course, is the great come on. But Osaka – although one may not realize this – offers great fun for the young and not-so-young, with its varied attractions from food to entertainment. It is less harried and less polluted.

The Japanese are a sturdy lot, as evidenced by the many elderly men and women walking along the streets by themselves, without alalays.

The fashionable young ladies stroll in their minis, in spite of the cold (temp went down to -3ºC), under their top coats and shawls, while the gentlemen were elegant in their dark suits. Not to ignore the little ones, all bundled up in winter clothing.

Japanese too are a smiling people, one gets the friendly greeting from the airport to the hotels, etc. They are very creative – look at the way they package their products! Enterprising, too.

The food

Most of us are familiar with their food, what with all the Japanese restaurants that have mushroomed all over the country. But there is nothing like sitting on a low table with bare feet under, in typical Japanese manner, to really catch the ambiance and the natural flavors of unagi, sashimi and grilled meat or seafood with their special sauce, mostly soy based.

The variety is infinite and the visitor must try savoring each of the small dishes – from octopus to grilled salmon – rolling continuously on a revolving buffet.

Their cooking technique is simple, the food is never smothered with elements like sauces or enhancers. But everything is fresh.

We were amazed at their version of our tortang repollo (cabbage omelet). We went to this dining place which for the last 60 years has served okonomiyaki, supposed to be one of their most popular dishes.

The waiter brings a stainless bowl of shredded cabbage with freshly boiled yakisoba noodles, thin slices of meat, and mayo. The mixture is turned over on the hot plate, leveled to make a nice looking omelette, let to cook, then a special sauce is poured on it.

The shopping

We hazard the guess that what a tourist finds in Tokyo is also available in Osaka. Department stores like Hanshin and Kailan are huge, consisting of several floors, and one can spend a whole day just browsing (or buying). What would always elicit a “Wow!” are  the Rinko Premuim Outlets, located about 10 minutes away from the Kansai International Airport. If one has a few thousand/million yen left, this is the place for all the signature brands.

On a less intimidating buying spree, there is what they call the Longest Shopping Street, a 2.6-kilometer span of shops and eating places downtown.

The sights

Osaka has some of the most interesting places that focus on the history of Japan. There is the Museum of Past and Modern Living, which shows models of house interiors in the Edo Period against the modern edifices of today.

There is the magnificent Osaka Castle, formerly known as Osaka-jo which, unless one has sturdy legs, can be simply viewed halfway through the bridge. There is the Tower, constructed to look like that of France.

And then, Universal City! A great fun place for the young and the not-so-young. Our four-year-old Belynda had a glorious time cavorting with Sesame Street characters and Shrek, but most of all at the luxurious all-pink bedroom of Hello Kitty.

Other fun places are the giant ferris wheel at the Hep Tower and Billiken, a Buddha look-alike, believed to be the “God of Good Luck” who is supposed to grant wishes when one’s palms are rubbed on his.

Whatever it was, our little apo was overwhelmed, for on our fourth day, snow started falling. She wished for more and indeed it snowed again the following day and on departure at the airport. Locals say it  hardly snows in Osaka.

Osaka apparently has not been spoiled by foreign tourists. We hardly saw any. But the Japanese from neighboring prefectures are the main visitors in this island city. They come in groups, making the hoteliers happy.  

Transportation by bus or rail is efficient. But please bring and read the map well. You will be walking a lot, so wear comfortable shoes. Locals hardly speak English, but you will get by.

So there, to borrow a phrase – there is fun in Osaka. We refrained from listing the addresses of the places we visited, because the handouts are all in Japanese.


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