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.
Last weekend was the big one for cherry blossom viewing (hanami) in Osaka, but in case you missed it, grab your picnic gear because there is still time left. I mentioned the cherry blossoms of the Mint building and Osaka Castle Park in a recent post; this time I will list a few more scenic places in Osaka to go for hanami.
- Shitennoji Temple: The grounds of this beautiful old temple complex, rich with the culture of Osaka past and present, is a lovely way to take in the sights of spring. Shittenoji is located just a few minutes on foot from Shittenoji-mae Yuhigaoka Station (Tanimachi Subway Line).
- Kema Sakuranomiya Park: This park, located to the northeast of Tenmabashi and the northwest of Kyobashi, stretches along the Okawa River. Beautiful under ordinary circumstances, the scenery here is fantastic at this time of year with fluffy pink and white flowers reflecting off blue waters. You can get here most easily from Sakuranomiya Station (JR Osaka Loop Line).
- Banpaku Kinen Koen (Expo Commemoration Park): This is one of the best sites in Osaka thanks to its superb facilities, beautiful natural scenery and imposing Tower of the Sun. It’s even better during cherry blossom season. Located in Suita, this park can be reached via the Osaka Monorail (get off at Banpaku-kinen-koen Station).
- Daisen Park: Here you can take in cherry blossoms in Sakai, surrounded by the ancient tombs of emperors past. The Sakai City Museum is located just steps away, in case you are interested in learning about the local history. Daisen Park is only a short walk from Mozu Station on the JR Hanwa Line.
For information on other parts of Japan, check out japan-guide.com’s cherry blossom forecast!
Amidst moans and groans about rainy spring weather, talk about budding flowers is increasing day by day. This can only mean one thing: cherry blossom season is almost here! As many of you probably know, one of the biggest seasonal activities of the year is hanami: a chance to have a picnic outside after a long winter, surrounded by fragrant pink and white flowers. Sure, you have to fight stifling crowds, put up with pushy obaasan jabbing you with umbrellas, and patiently wait for some guy with a fancy camera while he takes 20 minutes to snap a picture of a single flower. But in the end, the cherry blossoms of Japan are so beautiful, it’s worth it every single year.
The Osaka Mint Building is the best place to see cherry blossoms in Osaka City. Since the 19th century, the Mint has a tradition of opening its garden to the public for one week a year when its cherry blossoms are in full bloom. There are about 350 trees of 120 varieties, and they are even illuminated during the evening to create a romantic feel. The 2010 event will be from April 14 to April 20, open from 10 am to 9 pm on weekdays and 9 am to 9 pm on weekends. This is the best place to see cherry blossoms in Osaka.
If it’s picnicking you’re after, you can hop over to nearby Osaka Castle Park. The cherry trees here are also gorgeous, and if you look around for a while, you will most likely be able to find a patch of grass or dirt to lay your blanket out on (I highly recommend an early arrival to stake out a spot if you are serious about picnicking here). Trees may come into full bloom here a little earlier than at the Mint Building, although the periods will most likely overlap to some extent.
The best way to get to either location is by walking from Tenmabashi Station. There are also a number of cruises operating along the flower-lined Okawa River at this time of year from Hakkenyahama Pier, located just behind the station on the riverfront.
General cherry blossom info for Japan can be found (in English) at Japan-Guide’s Cherry Blossom Forecast 2010. According to them, the best time for hanami this year will be late March and early April. You can also see live updates of the “cherry blossom front” every day by watching weather reports on TV.
Access: Both the Osaka Mint Building and Osaka Castle Park are a short walk from Tenmabashi Station (Keihan Lines and Tanimachi Subway Line). The Mint can be reached by crossing the river (follow the signs and crowds), and the castle can be reached by heading in the general direction of Osaka Business Park (OBP).
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, so I have decided to compile a list of romantic spots around town for those who may be in need of such advice. This can also be used as a White Day reference.
Namba Parks: This fantastic shopping center is connected directly to Nankai Namba Station and the Namba City building, and connected underground to subway, private and JR train lines. On the roof is a fantastic garden–or park, if you will–cascading down the terraced building, with numerous woodsy walking paths and romantic nighttime views. There is a movie theatre inside Namba Parks, as well as a wide selection of great restaurants. This tends to be a popular dating spot all throughout the year, so expect to wait (or make reservations) if you plan to pass the evening here. There are many love hotels on nearby Yotsubashi-suji, too. Access: You can get to Namba Parks using any train or subway that stops at Namba.
Hankyu 32-bangai and HEP FIVE: While the HEP FIVE shopping center itself is generally popular among students, the red Ferris wheel atop the building is a great nighttime attraction and will make your date that much more magical. I recommend starting out with dinner at Hankyu 32-bangai, a high-rise gourmet area (“Sky Gourmet”) where almost all establishments feature stunning, expansive views of the surrounding Umeda downtown area. Toho Cinemas is right next door in case you want to pop in for a movie, and the area of Chayamachi surrounding Loft, illuminated by blue lights, makes a great spot for a nighttime stroll. Access: The nearest stations are JR Osaka Station, Hankyu Umeda Station and Umeda Station (Midosuji Subway Line).
Tenmabashi and Vicinity: There are some great restaurants on the top floor of Keihan Mall with romantic views. After eating here (there is a wide variety of options), you can either proceed down to the newly renovated Okawa Riverfront–nighttime river cruises are an option here–or walk 10-15 minutes to Osaka Castle Park, where the soft murmuring of water and the warm glow of the illuminated castle at night will create an cozy atmosphere for the two of you. Just in case your forgot the chocolates, check out the basement level of Keihan Mall, where Godiva and other chocolate brands are for sale. Access: Temmabashi Station on the Tanimachi Subway Line or Keihan Lines.
Universal Studios Japan: This one is only for those who don’t mind ridiculous crowds. For men who follow traditional Valentine’s Day customs (in Japan, women take men out on Valentine’s Day, and men take women out on White Day), your girl will definitely love a visit to USJ. There are some nice hotels right next to the park, too, if you feel inclined to fork out a little extra cash. Nighttime-only passes for the park are also for sale if you don’t intend to spend the whole day there, and special Valentine’s Day plans are available on the 14th as well. Access: Universal City Station on the JR Yumesaki Line / JR Sakurajima Line.
Run by the Keihan Group, this sightseeing boat company operates various cruises around the city of Osaka, long known as “the City of Water” due to the historical and importance of canals and rivers in the city. In fact, during the Edo Period (1600-1868), when Osaka was the economic center of Japan, storehouses of the powerful domain lords were in Osaka, as was the futures trading market, and the best way to get between the market and the storehouses (as well as just get around town) was by using the city’s network of canals. Seeing Osaka from the water is one of the ways to truly understand that character of the city, and because cruises feature refreshments for sale and explanations of passing scenery, residents and tourists can also have fun. Furthermore, cruises can be easily integrated into a city-center sightseeing itinerary, as the river routes connect some of the most popular spots in Osaka.
There are a variety of tours available. The Aqualiner services operate quite frequently every day, and they provide river sightseeing cruises that make stops at Osaka Castle, Tenmabashi, Yodoyabashi, and OAP (Osaka Amenity Park). Aqua Mini services cut north-to-south through the narrow Yokohorigawa River canal connecting the Okawa and Dotombori Rivers, and stop at Osaka Castle, Dazaemonbashi (in the center of the Dotombori entertainment district), and Minatomachi (a port near OCAT in Minami). The Himawari service is a restaurant ship that departs from OAP and goes along the Okawa River. The Santa Maria is a replica of the ship of the same name, and it provides sightseeing cruises around Osaka Bay, departing from Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan. The company also offers charted cruises and special event cruises.
While the Santa Maria and Aqua Bus tours operate every day, other tours may not. Please check the official website for departure times, days of operation, prices, and other details. Tickets can be purchased at the ticket offices at any of the ports.
This was floating in the Okawa River, near Hakkenyahama pier (Tenmabashi station area). A huge duck. I’m not really sure why, to be honest.
The city has been doing a lot of urban renewal efforts focused on Osaka’s rivers, and I suppose this is one of them.
This site has some great pictures of the duck.