Also, the Osaka Insider guidebook will be up for sale shortly, so keep an eye on this site for information soon! Meanwhile, check out the Guidebook Maps page, to be used in conjunction with the book itself.
Long before the city of Osaka existed, there was an imperial capital called Naniwa. It first served as the seat of the emperor and his grand palace in 645, and for the second time in 744 (capital cities tended to move regularly as new emperors took power). Thanks to its strategic location, Naniwa developed into an important seaport for trade and cultural exchange not only between different regions of Japan, but with Korea and China as well. Even after the first permanent capital was established in 710 in Heijo-kyo (modern-day Nara), and in 794 in Heian-kyo (modern-day Kyoto), Naniwa acted as the seaport for imported customs and traditions that Japan integrated with its own to form the civilization we know as Japanese.
Besides sea routes, Naniwa was the trading hub for overland routes, much as it remains today. Militant Buddhist influence was be strong here, centering on the Honganji sect, but would finally be violently crushed by Oda Nobunaga in the late 16th century, and in the 17th century Toyotomi Hideyoshi would establish the great merchant’s capital of Osaka.
The name “Naniwa” remains in place names, such as Naniwa-ku (Naniwa Ward), Naniwa-bashi (a bridge on Nakanoshima island), Namba (the famous entertainment district, whose name is a modern reading of the same kanji characters (難波) for Naniwa).
Naniwa-no-miya, which was built two times on two different sites, was one of the grandest palaces in ancient Japan, and when its role as the imperial government center had ended, it served as a diplomatic meeting and lodging place for high-ranking overseas dignitaries visiting Japan. Only a small portion of Naniwa-no-miya remains, which can be seen in a small park adjacent to Osaka Castle Park. Next to the ruins is the Osaka Museum of History, which is the best museum in Osaka and one of the most enjoyable museums I have visited period. It is not only informative but engrossing, as it appeals not just to history buffs but average people who may not know anything about Osaka’s deep history. Additionally, you can enjoy a spectacular bird’s-eye view of the grounds of Osaka Castle and the Naniwa-no-miya remains from the tenth floor of this building. Both of these can be accessed from Tanimachi 4-chome Station (Chuo and Tanimachi Subway Lines).
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.
Hub British Pub (英国風ハブ) is a chain of friendly bars where you can meet people, whether you are from Japan or abroad. I have met more people from other countries at the Hub than anywhere else. There is fairly tasty food, as would be expected of a pub, especially the Hub Premium Cheeseburger (comes with fries) and the spinach gnocchi. But most of all, the drinks are good, and they don’t rip you off by using cheap liquor. The long island iced teas are delicious and perfectly balanced, and the original cocktails are superb–I personally like the “Tarantula,” which has quite a kick despite its smooth taste, and the one-liter tower of beer is always fun. Happy hour, which goes until 7:00 pm every day, means cocktails as cheap as 190 yen each, which is probably the lowest price I’ve seen outside of Blue Moon Bar. Hub Pubs are generally open until around 1:00 am on weekdays and 2:00 am on weekends. They can be reserved for private parties, and they often show sports events involving local or Japanese national teams (with soccer being shown most often). Most of all, the atmosphere is casual and relaxed.
Despite being a large chain, the Hub provides consistent quality and good times, and whether you are new in town, looking to meet new people, or just searching to a place to kick back after work, check out on of Osaka’s four branches (two in Namba, one near Shinsaibashi, and one in Umeda’s Chayamachi district).