Only one week remains until Osaka’s biggest festival, the Tenjin Matsuri. Millions attend this epic event, known as one of the three great festivals of Japan, and also as the greatest boat festival in the world. It reflects Osaka’s mercantile, canal-centric history as Japan’s “city of water.” The Tenjin Matsuri’s history reaches back 1,000 years, and is dedicated to Sugawara-no-Michizane, who is enshrined and worshipped as the Tenman Tenjin, the god of learning and the arts. Needless to say, it is an important time for Osakans, and is a huge part of Osakan culture.
Along with a tremendous fireworks display, over 100 boats and 3,000 people take part in the festival, and spectators from around Japan and all corners of the world flock to Osaka, clad in yukata and geta for a summer experience they will never forget. The festival technically takes place throughout the month, but the main events are on July 24 and 25. It starts at the Tenmangu Shrine (link to Japanese-only site), and proceeds first by land through the streets and then by water down the Okawa River. Bunraku performances and other events take part throughout Osaka, and of course there are plenty of food stalls and alcoholic beverages for sale along the riverbanks. The boats going down the river is the highlight of the event, with hypnotic rhythms throwing people into a dancing frenzy as the decorated, lit-up vessels cruise down the river and circle the bonfire blazing atop the water’s surface.
Once again, that’s July 24 and 25, 2010. For more information, as well as footage and shots of this spectacular event, check out at Osaka-Info’s website.
Yes, I know it’s been awhile. Osaka Insider has been swamped. But since you were all so patient, I have decided to debut my Ramen Guide a bit earlier than planned. The Ramen Guide is a new, permanent page on this site (you can see it in the menu bar above and to the right), featuring Osaka Insider’s recommended ramen in Osaka. As always, my advice is based on experience and research–I have personally eaten at all of the ramen shops listed. I have kept the list moderate because, let’s be realistic, how many bowls of ramen can one person really eat? And because I never get tired of trying new things and seeing new places, you can be sure new shops will make the list as I discover them.
Take a look at the new guide now!
This lovely little soba shop, crammed into the back streets in the heart of Namba, serves a variety of delicious, natural dishes, including some of the best soba you will find in Osaka. The shop is called Genji (源氏), and their goal is to provide customers with trustworthy ingredients that will contribute to their current and future health. Genji’s management personally selects only the finest suppliers of raw ingredients: soba noodles from Fukui, Ibaraki and Nagano Prefectures, rice and daikon giant radish from Okayama Prefecture (grown using little or no pesticide), and fresh spring water, a vital ingredient in good soba dishes, from Fushimi in Kyoto Prefecture. This blend of quality ingredients, consideration toward customers, a unique shop design with a rustic feel, and a wide variety of traditional and original dishes make Genji a must-try in the Minami district.
Genji is just a 3 min. walk or so from Namba Station on pretty much any line except JR–a map to can be seen here. Tabelog’s page in Japanese can be found here, and they can be contacted at 06-6633-5402. Store hours are from noon until 3 pm, and 6 pm to 11 pm (last order at 10 pm). They are closed on Sundays (except during holiday weekends).
Blow Bar is a reggae bar tucked away in the heart of Minami。 It’s ideal for going out with friends in groups of any size, and also for parties. The laid-back island atmosphere will put you at ease, and the reasonably priced food and drinks won’t empty your wallet. Blow’s only disadvantage is that it doesn’t provide a good atmosphere for solo bar-hoppers, at least on non-event days. Keep an eye out for DJ events, live music and seasonal parties, which are held often at Blow. If you are thinking of dropping by for the first time, check out their 16th anniversary party this coming weekend (April 2-4, 2010).
Blow Bar is a 5 min. walk north from exit 25 of Namba Station (subway), or a 5 min. walk south from exit 7 of Shinsaibashi Station: walk along Midosuji until you reach the Midosuji-Mitsuderacho intersection, walk one block west, turn left, and the bar will be right in front of you. My Google Maps directions are here. Blow is open 6 pm to 5 am every day, and their phone number is 06-6211-4300. You can also view their website here (some parts, including the menu, are in English).
If you have ever lived in Osaka City, then the mere mention of Super Tamade is sure to bring forth either a smile or a grimace. At any rate, it will invoke some kind of feeling. Perhaps that feeling when you ate their “super” meat and spent a super-swell evening bent over the toilet. Perhaps it is a memory–a memory of the time you first saw Super Tamade and said, “Wait, that’s a supermarket?” Yes, it’s garish exterior, brighter than Disneyland, a pachinko parlor, and the sun combined, will shock you.
This is the store that lives up to its claim of having gekiyasu (ultra-low) prices, with one-yen sales and the lowest prices you will find on any food item in the city, even beating out the penguin-emblazoned Don Quijote stores (well, in prices, not in weirdness).
But be warned: even if you speak Japanese, you can expect most employees to speak nothing but Chinese in response to you. Along with Super Tamade’s suspiciously low-priced octopus and suspiciously colored meat, you will find a suspiciously high number of non-Japanese working suspiciously long hours for (possibly) suspiciously low wages. But I suppose that’s how they achieve gekiyasu prices.
It’s not surprising that Super Tamade was founded in 1992, coinciding with the final decline of the Yakuza, in the south part of town where the Yakuza held considerable influence. Perhaps they just moved from prostitution, smuggling and gambling into the supermarket business instead.
Whatever the case may be, Super Tamade is worth at least one visit. Oh, and don’t even thinking of eating their ready-made meals. Not if you value your health.
Photos by Wikicommons
I am often asked what I like about living in Osaka. And because I have also lived in Tokyo, I am also asked whether I prefer Osaka or Tokyo. Besides the fact that my job and life are here, there are four primary reasons I prefer to live in Osaka over any other place in Japan:
1. The People
This is the number one reason Osaka is the most livable place I have found in Japan. People here are the most open-minded (including their attitudes toward foreign residents), are willing to help out strangers, and are basically warm and approachable. It is easy to strike up a conversation with a stranger almost anywhere you go, and if you need help because you are lost or unsure of something, just ask someone nearby and you will almost never be ignored. The “people” factor is not only my top reason for staying here; ask anyone here and you will likely hear the same thing.
With a metropolitan population of approximately 3 million, Osaka City is big but not too big, and despite the tri-city metro area population of approximately 20 million, it does not (for the most part) have the hellish commutes, snail-like traffic and infuriating crowds of cities like Tokyo or Seoul. There are many of small shops and businesses mixed in with department stores and chain stores, so you can easily find something that suites your tastes — the inexhaustible number of hidden places to explore is one of the city’s best features. Unlike its historical rival, Tokyo, Osaka is planned well, so you won’t get lost wondering the streets (I dare you to try explaining the order behind the urban planning and subway system of the capital). The cost of living is also more than reasonable in comparison. Finally, Osaka has many well-designed parks and waterfront spots, making for a pleasant urban environment. Despite its past reputation as a dirty, industrial city, Osaka has become a massive commercial center and one of the cleanest and most livable cities you will find.
3. Rich Culture and History
Osaka has played many roles throughout its history, including that of the imperial capital (as Naniwa-kyo), an important trade port and point for importing cultural innovations, a diplomatic host for Chinese and Korean visitors when the capital moved first to Nara and then Kyoto, the base of Toyotomi military power, the prime economic center and site of the world’s first futures market during the Edo Period, a major manufacturing center during the early modern period and period of high-speed growth, a temporary capital when Tokyo was burned to the ground in the fires of the 1923 earthquake, a primary commercial and trade center since the postwar period, and now an increasingly international city and central hub for Japan and East Asia. This rich history has given rise to a unique culture and a number of rich, deep-rooted traditions. Osaka is also the transportation hub of Kansai, the cultural center and birthplace of Japanese civilization, so you can reach places such as Nara, Kyoto, and Himeji in no time.
4. The Food
Osaka is historically known as “the nation’s kitchen” for its role in supplying and acting as a hub for the food industry. It is also famous for its cuisine — not luxury cuisine, mind you, but “B-level” (B-kyu) cuisine. The quality of okonomiyaki, takoyaki, ramen, soba, kushikatsu, sushi, and other foods people eat on a regular basis is outstanding. In addition, the large number of non-Japanese living in the city means there is a huge selection of international cuisine, too — Korean food in Tsuruhashi, for example. Delicious food at surprisingly low prices is definitely one of the city’s strongest points.