ALWAYS the bridesmaid, never the bride. Having been passed over not once but twice as Nippon's capital city, this enormous, vibrant and prosperous city refuses to give in to second-place blues.
Once the economic and political haven of Japan, Osaka's luck turned sour when in 1603, the new shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa looked towards Edo to set base. The people of Osaka did not seriously take it to heart because the emperor still reigned in Kyoto - which was just a stone's throw away and located in the Osaka-dominated Kansai district. It may have lost its political clout but it now claimed to be, not just the economic but the spiritual center of Japan as well.
In 1868, the Tokugawa dynasty collapsed to the pleasure of the Osakans. Much to their chagrin though, the new emperor left for Edo and renamed it Tokyo. The rest that followed is pretty much history.
To exacerbate it even further, Osaka is the home base of the Japanese mafia, the Yakuza - basically, drizzling salt in an already open wound. It's a point of doubtful contention that many Osakans would prefer to ignore and not talk about. The added notoriety seemed to leave a bitter taste for the Osakans. It seemed its luck had already ran out. But the story does not end there.
Do not count the Osakans to go quietly into the night. It is neither down nor out. Today, Osaka's factories are booming, its shops are whirring with activity and the gross economic output of greater Osaka surpasses that of some developed countries, and growing exponentially. More investments have been made in Osaka due partly to the opening of the Kansai International Airport built on an artificial island in the middle of Osaka Bay - one of many developments made and decided upon as the Kansai region was rapidly losing trade with Tokyo.
A couple of these developments are the Marriott Miyako Osaka where our party stayed and the Den Den at Nippon Bashi.
Considered the highest building in Japan, the Marriott boasts an observatory deck where the whole of Osaka can be seen. A much cleaner version of our Divisoria market is the Den Den where all electronic gadgets, toys and anime costumes are laid out. Surely, the city is a shopper's paradise.
Dubbed as Osaka's kitchen, we had a taste of authentic sushi at the Kuromon Ishiba area.
While the future seems to have arrived in Osaka, it has not forgotten its past. A gleaming reminder is the Osaka Castle which stands proud in the heart of the city. Destroyed many times before, much of its glory remains in the indelible soul of its citizens. Their respect for everything past and historic is even carried over the Japanese Sunday Mass we managed to attend. Even though we did not understand a thing, the solemnity of the occasion transcended the language barrier.
If the old charm of Kyoto will leave you breathless, the humdrum of progressive Osaka, a mere one-hour train ride from Kyoto, will leave you aching for more 21st century gadgetry and technology.
Loving Osaka is an acquired taste, I might say. I am pretty sure a couple more visits will serenade me into nestling cozy in its peculiar charm. Thank you, Osaka, and thank you for good friends who treated me to this one-of-a-kind Japanese adventure. Mata, ai mashou Osaka.