Since the 17th century, Osaka has been Japan’s hardworking city of trade, manufacturing and business. Its prosperous merchants created a culture that supported the arts, particularly Kabuki and Banraku theaters, and celebrated the pleasures of the table -- Osaka is still considered one of Japan’s centers of fine cuisine and traditional performing arts. The city grew up around Osaka Castle, built in 1585 to protect local warlords. After successive expansions, including moats and vast stone battlements, the castle remains at Osaka’s center, amid 15 acres of gardens. Osaka’s harbor is still one of the busiest in Japan, and it is home to Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, Japan’s largest aquarium.
Tokyo may get the attention and notoriety, but in Japan, Osaka rivals it for size and economic muscle.
It's a massive city of some nine million and is a bullet train ride southeast from the capital. It's set against mountains and fronting on Osaka Bay, which runs out to the Pacific. Long a conduit for the island nation with mainland Asia, trade has forever fluorished here. These days, it's chemicals and heavy industry that drive the economy.
But it's hardly all business and bustle; Osaka is also known as one of Japan's old and ancient cities. It's a modern city, but there are traditional shrines and buildings sprinkled about -- most notably Osaka Castle, built by a famed warrior. There's also Tondabayashi Jinai Town, an area of period buildings where time seems to have stood still.
Cultural roots are also deep here. Osaka's Tenjin Festival -- with its boats, great drums and fireworks -- is one of Japan's top annual summer festivals. And traditional Bunraku puppet and Kabuki plays are cultural mainstays.
Visitors here can catch glimpses of everything from industrial might to a harbor village marketplace and resort where an oversized replica of Columbus' Santa Maria offers cruises on the bay.