While Tokyo is the capital of Japan, Osaka could be regarded as the anti-capital. It’s a sort of city with attitude and if Osaka could declare its independence from Japan, I think it probably would.

They say that the locals in Osaka are different (eyeroll), that they speak their own dialect (eyeroll), that they have their own special cuisine (eyeroll) etc etc. They say not to use this place simply as a stopover because Osaka is full of hidden charms. It may well be a great place to base yourself when visiting Japan, however I had two days and no more.

Houses in Japan are built on a grid system, and therefore keep to the narrow structure that has remained for centuries. On the way to my hostel I saw one narrow, tall building with a side staircase. I went up to the roof, and the view was great, especially in the evening.

View of the sunset from the roof of a narrow residential building in the middle of Osaka.
Osaka evening sky filled with pastel colours.

The next day I went for a wander around the city. Not by foot, but by bike. Osaka is a bicycle paradise. But the city appeared to be empty, I wondered where all the people were? Oh wait, they were at work.

Woman on a bicycle in an empty street.
Two generations on the same bench looking opposite ways.

Walking around Osaka is like walking around a digital playground, as you pass tall building with glass windows and doors covered with Manga stickers — you could assume it is a game centre. Japan has a strong gaming culture. In fact in the last decade Japan has had the world’s leading electronics industry, and thanks to such giants as Sega and Nintendo it might even be the most dominant video games producer in the world. This is generally because Japan has been at the forefront of consumer electronics for about half a century now.

As I noticed in Kyoto Patchinko gaming centres are sort of gambling clubs for grown-ups, but with no direct money involved. This place is not quite the same, as it’s open to people of all ages and it uses a traditional coin system — use a coin win a toy.

Ted's paradise.

I had heard that digital devices and gaming in South Korea is considered a big issue and closely tied up with the social failure. Whether it a similar addiction problem in Japan is hard to say, as it seems that regardless of spending a few hours a day throwing money away people are quite happy doing it.

Girl trying her luck to win a fluffy Snoopy Dog toy.
Child in pram showing some attitude.

What truly surprised me in these playgrounds was the toilets. Even in god forbidden, dark, smelling of piss places, the toilets were the spotlessly clean. It instantly reminded me of one public toilet in Berlin, when outside it looked like a homeless drug addict shack, inside it appeared to be the cleanest toilet in Europe. So essentially Japanese respect hygiene and lavatory traditions like the Germans. Respect for that.

In the evening the streets were seriously empty, as if a famous band was playing a concert or something and everybody was there and I was missing all the fun.

Dōtonbori canal.

But reality was simple — everyone was actually here in Dotonbori. I never understood the Japanese and their preoccupations. Frankly, I just don’t care. Dotonbori was and will always be the entertainment centre of Osaka — a fun place to come at night, and (I’m going to hate myself for saying it) — to eat. Locals consider the local food to be special and unique (local udon for instance), so it might be wise to try some a few things. Night markets here are top quality.

Dōtonbori covered shopping street.

Historically, Osaka was a merchant city and the economic capital of Japan. In modern Japan, it’s an entrepreneurial hotbed and producer of such global corporations as Panasonic, Sharp, Sanyo, Minolta, Konami and many others. So you can imagine that many designers, IT workers and developers live and work in Osaka. But I don’t care.

Yes, two days is very little time to figure out the vibe of this city, but I simply do not care. It looks the same, smells the same, it got the same people, same hipsters (not people), bicycles, vinyl shops, bespoke tailors, foods, electric shops, aquariums etc. In its origin they are the same, might be a bit different to those in New York or London, but the essence stays the same. I think I am just looking for something completely different and it is not here.

I wandered around the city searching for the night views. People get the best views over Osaka from the paid for Ferris wheel. I got mine from the top floor of a residential block. And it was free.