Osaka, one of Japan’s largest cities, lies on the south coast of western Honshu at the point where the River Yodo flows into the wide sweep of Osaka Bay, which opens out into the Pacific. Its location on the Yodo delta with its network of watercourses and canals spanned by more than a thousand bridges has, deservedly, earned Osaka the nickname of the “Venice of the East.” While the origins of Osaka date back to the mythological early days of the Japanese Empire, today it is undoubtedly one of the most modern cities in Japan.
Osaka Castle (Ōsaka-jō), completed in 1586 in just three years, was ordered built by famed Japanese warrior and politician Toyotomi Hideyoshi and was, at the time, the largest castle in Japan. Almost all Hideyoshi’s military commanders were required to contribute stones for its construction, the largest being the Higo-ishi stone, near the south entrance, standing nearly six meters high, 14.5 meters long, and brought by the celebrated General Kato Kiyomasa from the island of Shodo. After Hideyoshi’s defeat in 1615, the castle was destroyed, only to be rebuilt by the Tokugawa shoguns for reasons of prestige. Again destroyed after the fall of the Shogunate, the castle was reconstructed in its present form in 1931. Highlights include the five-story, 42-meter-tall main tower containing a great museum with exhibits related to the history of the castle and the city.
Osaka’s best-known temple, Shitennō-ji, can trace its roots back to AD 59 and was Japan’s first Buddhist temple. Although rebuilt numerous times through the centuries (the most recent reconstruction took place in the 1960s), this lovely temple remains the oldest such religious site to be officially administered. Highlights of a tour include the site’s five-story pagoda along with a number of other exquisitely decorated buildings including the Golden Pavilion (Kondō) with its fine statues and paintings, the Lecture Hall (Kōdō), and a lovely covered corridor linking three of the site’s gates. Other buildings of note in the complex include the teaching area, a pharmacy and hospital, along with a pleasant garden.
Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan:
Looking a little as if it might be made of giant Lego blocks, the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan is well worth exploring. One of the world’s biggest such attractions, this walk-through aquarium takes guests on a fascinating tour of a number of marine habitats, including the Pacific Ocean and Antarctica, along with the Great Barrier Reef and Monterey Bay. A variety of Japanese marine life is also featured, including freshwater species, as well as native reptiles and mammals. All told, the site boasts 27 tanks, the biggest being nine meters deep and capable of easily accommodating large marine life including manta rays and sharks.