Osaka: Japan’s Amazing “Water City” Featured

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Osaka: Japan’s Amazing “Water City”

Osaka, at the mouth of Odo River on Osaka Bay, is not high on the list of most foreign visitors to Japan, primarily because they know little or nothing about the city beyond its reputation as a business center. That is a major loss. Osaka has the richest history of any of Japan’s leading cities.

In the seventh and eighth centuries, some one thousand years before the appearance of Yedo, as Tokyo was then called, Osaka was known as Naniwa. It was the gateway through which the culture and technology of China and Korea flowed into Japan. It was also the port for envoys and commercial travelers to and from other Asian countries.

In A.D. 645, Naniwa became the first permanent imperial capital of Japan. Prior to this, the capital was moved each time a new emperor took over. During this era, huge engineering projects were carried out to control and direct the flow of several rivers that dissected the city. Canals were dug to connect the rivers and enhance the flow of goods and people within the city. Huge warehouses dotted the banks of the rivers and canals. A total of 808 bridges connected the city’s land sites.

Clan wars in 1603 led to the victory of Tokugawa Ieyasu and the founding of the Tokugawa Shogunate in Yedo or Edo, another name for what today is Tokyo. Naniwa/Osaka would have become the shogunate capital if Tokugawa’s opponent, the Hideyoshi clan, had won the civil war.

Now the third-largest city in Japan after Tokyo and Yokohama, Osaka has retained far more of its historical look, feel, and character than either of those two cities. Much of this is reflected in its huge shopping and entertainment districts, where thousands of picturesque shops, restaurants, and bars carry on the traditions of the past. During the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1867), Osaka’s transportation needs were served by a fleet of river and canal boats owned and operated by local families. The whole network was taken over by the city government in 1907 and turned into a public transportation system. During its peak, the system had 31 piers in key areas of the city.

Osaka still has its rivers and canals–they make up over 10% of the city’s area–and it is served by eight piers and a number of private riverboat companies as well as a public company. City-operated river boats average over two million passengers each year.

Osaka Suijyo Bus Ltd. is the largest of the private waterbus services. It offers a variety of regular cruises on boats of different sizes and amenities, as well as charter boats for individual trips that cover a host of areas and attractions in the city.

The glass-covered Osaka Aqua-Liner is one of its most popular boats for visitors because it tours an impressive list of the city’s attractions, from the shopping and entertainment districts and Osaka Castle (built in 1583) to the famous Nakanoshima (Interior Island) business district on a narrow sandbank dividing two rivers. The Aqua-Liner can be boarded from several locations including the Yodoya-bashi Pier, Hachiken Pier, OAP Pier, or Osakajo Pier located near the well-known Osaka Castle. One of Osaka Suijyo’s river boats is modeled after the La Santa María, the ship that Christopher Columbus sailed on his first voyage to the New World in 1492. Entertainment on the Naniwa Tanken Cruise includes performances by rakugo [rah-koo-go] artists—a form of comedic storytelling that goes back hundreds of years.

Other sites on the river and canal cruises include famous temples, such as the Shitennoji, Japan’s oldest Buddhist temple, and landscaped gardens that date from the seventh and eighth centuries, as well as world-class museums and an aquarium that houses denizens of the Pacific Rim waters.

Each July, Osakans stage the Tenjin Matsuri, one of Japan’s three largest and most famous festivals. It is designed to celebrate the city’s rivers and canals. Activities include huge fireworks displays, traditional dancing on the river boats, and bonfires on river floats.

With such a rich history and assortment of activities and festivals on its canals, one can say that Osaka certainly measures up as the Venice of Asia.


The complete article can be found in Issue #280 of the Tokyo Journal.

Boyé Lafayette De Mente

Boyé Lafayette De Mente (1928-2017) was involved with Asia since the late 1940s as a member of a U.S. intelligence agency, a journalist, and an editor. He was a former associate publisher and a regular columnist of the Tokyo Journal. He was a graduate of Jochi University in Tokyo, Japan and Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, Arizona, U.S. In addition to books on the business practices, social behavior and the languages of China, Japan, Korea, and Mexico, he wrote extensively about the plague of male dominance and the moral collapse of the U.S. and the Western world, in general. All of his 60+ books are available from Amazon. com


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