Osaka Castle (ten minute walk from several subway and train stations) is a concrete replica of one of Japan's most famous castles. The outside facade looks impressive and authentic but the inside is a modern, air-conditioned museum with elevators.

Osaka Castle is built on a hill overlooking the modern business district of Osaka and has an eight-story-high, five-level donjon (keep) at its center and stone walls around the hill with colossal stones that weigh up to 130 tons and are size of six-tatami-mat rooms. Around the base of the hill is a wide moat.

Every year Osaka Castle welcomes about 1.8 million people and was regarded as Osaka’ss premier tourist attraction until Universal Studios was built. The observation deck at the top of the keep offers splendid views of the city and the mountains in the distance. It is open to 8:30pm in the summer, which allows an evening view of the city. At night the castle is illuminated with colored lights. Websites: Osaka Castle Site ; Japanese Castle Explorer ; Wikipedia Wikipedia Osaka Castle Map: Japan National Tourism Organization JNTO History of Osaka Castle: The site of battles and intrigues in the James Clavell novel Shogun, the original castle built between 1583 and 1599 on the site of a Buddhist temple under Toyotomi Hideoyishi. Over 100,000 men were used raise in the main structure in three years.

The original structure was destroyed in 1615 when the Toyotomi clan was wiped out. Its replacement was burned down after it was struck by lightning in 1868. The stone walls were largely built during the Edo period (1603-1868) under the Tokugawa shogunate.

Castle view
The present structure was built in 1931, mostly with money donated by 80,000 Osaka residents, and was extensively renovated in 1997. Its design is not based on the castle that burned down in 1665 but rather is based on the image in the background of a famous screen painting of a 1615 siege of the castle. The painting can be seen in the fifth floor of the museum.

Museums and Parks at Osaka Castle: The castle contains art objects, screens, scrolls, samurai armor and documents donated by the Toyotomi family. On the seventh floor there is a display of Hideyoshi's life. On the third floor is replica of the famous Golden Tea Room, small room with walls covered by gold leaf. A film about Hideoyishi, with English subtitles, and a 3-D laser show is shown in the theater on the first floor.

The old castle sits on the hill with the Osaka City Museum, Hokoku Shrine and other small historical buildings. Opposite the outer moat is Osakajo Hall and the modern skyscrapers of the Osaka Business Park.

Osaka Castle Park is large and contains lots of trees, bicycle trails and jogging and walking paths. Cherry trees bloom in April and plum trees bloom as early as late February. Streets musicians and bands sometimes play on the road leading from the Morinomiya JR train line. Many of Osaka's homeless people used to live in park but were kicked out. Osaka Castle occasionally hosts Noh performances


Umeda (Umeda subway stop) is one of the main business and entertainment centers in Osaka. Lively during the day and at night, it has department stores, office buildings, theaters, restaurants, bars and underground shopping malls that are so vast and complex even long-time residents get lost. Umeda is part of Kita Ward.

A Ferris wheels protrudes from the top of the 10-story-high Hep Five shopping mall. It has 56 gondolas and tales people 106 meters off the ground. At the entrance to the shopping area area is a huge red model of a sperm whale. The Umeda Sky Building is a twin tower complex with an indoor observation area and outdoor observation deck that is reached by a dizzying glassed-in escalator that ascends the final five stories to the top, where there is also an expensive Chinese restaurant and bar.

In 2004, the new classy 28-story Herbis Ent shopping complex opened up next to the Hilton. It has a Hermes, Luis Vuitton, Tiffany, Yves St. Laurent, Gucci, Max Mara, Bulagri, Coach and Maserati dealership and is home to the Osaka Shiki Theater and the Shiki Theater Company. Websites: Wikipedia Wikipedia ; JNTO PDF file JNTO Osaka Station Map: Japan National Tourism Organization JNTO

Whity Umeda: see Shopping.

Universal Studios Japan

Universal Studios Japan (JR Universal City Station) is second largest drawing theme park in Japan after Tokyo Disneyland. Opened in 2001, it features rides and attractions as well as animated stars like Snoopy, Popeye and Wood Woodpecker, and is modeled after the two other Universal Studios, the one in Hollywood, which opened in 1964, and the one in Orlando, Florida, which opened in 1990, and have attracted hundreds of millions visitors.

Universal Studios Japan (USJ) was built on a 54-hectare site at a cost of $1.4 billion. Owned by Universal, which is part of the French conglomerate Vivendi, the Osaka government and a group of 44 businesses, it boasts 18 television- and film-inspired attractions, 21 restaurants and 24 stores. Among the 3,000 employees that work on given day are 300 mostly American stuntmen and actors who shout out English lines.

Universal Studios spent a great deal of time and money trying to figure out what Japanese audience wanted and as a result toned down the violence in some of the live-action shows, dressed Snoopy in a kimono, made sure the water rides didn’t get people wet and gave people raincoats anyway, wrapped gifts in the Japanese way and provided snacks like bean-paste sweets shaped liked dinosaurs for people with Japanese tastes who want an American experience.

Universal Studios Japan was a big success its first year. It attracted 11 million visitors, or about 25,000 a day, three million more than had been projected. The second year the number of visitors fell to 3.4 million as the park suffered from word of mouth that it was last year’s thing. It was also hurt by reports that the water in the water fountains was contaminated, that the restaurant food had expired ingredient and illegal amounts of fireworks were used in the “Hollywood Magic” show.

In an effort to turn things around the president was fired and surveys were taken that showed that women and children were most likely to be repeat customers, not teenagers, and the parades and attractions were altered to be oriented towards them. USJ turned a profit in 2007. It had 8.7 million visitors and revenues of about $650 million.

As of early 2009 USJ was 40 percent owned by a Goldman Sach’s holding company. In March 2009, the remaining 60 percent USJ was sold to a consortium led by Goldman Sachs for $1.2 billion. The deal gave Goldman Sachs 61.2 percent of USJ and its partners MBK Partners, 23.6 percent and Owl Creek Asset Management 15.1 percent. Website: USJ Official Site

Organization of Universal Studios Japan: Universal Studios Japan is divided into nine sections, which are based on U.S. cities or popular Universal movies. In the San Francisco section you can see the Empire Hotel form Vertigo , where Scottie was haunted by his memories of Madeline. In Los Angeles and Hollywood you can visit Rodeo Drive and order and a burger and shake at Mel's Dinner from American Graffiti.

In the New York section of the park you can see the offices of the Daily Planet, where Clark Kent and Lois Lane worked; the balcony from West Side Story , where Maria was romanced by Tony; Louie's restaurant from The Godfather, where Michael Corleone avenged the assassination attempt on his father.

Rides at Universal Studios Japan: The park's most popular attraction is Terminator 2-3D, a live-action and 3-D film show featuring takes offs of scenes and characters from Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Set in a future wasteland, the Swarzenagger cyborg saves humanity form a company intent on blowing up the world. It is the first attraction of its kind in the world, and one the most expensive. It cost $70 million.

Other popular attractions include Motion Picture Magic, with scenes from Universal's most famous films shown on three large screens and narrated by Steven Spielberg; Jaws , a boat ride through model of the bay where the film was set with a large shark popping up at unexpected places; Back to the Future, a high-speed virtual reality trip in a soaped up DeLorean; Jurassic Park, a boat ride past with computer-operated dinosaurs that finishes with 25-meter drop into a lagoon.

Also worth checking out are Backdraft, a live action show with firefighter-stuntmen and a lot of fire and explosions; Waterworld, another live action show, with stuntmen fighting each other on jet skis and diving from great heights; ET Adventure, Snoopy’s Sound Stage Adventure and Snoopy's Playland.

Every night there is a fireworks show above the lagoon. To attract repeat customers the park sponsors special events like a Hollywood-style Christmas celebration and a Halloween parade for kids. In 2004, a 35-year-old woman injured on the ET attraction was given a $14 million out-of-court settlement. The woman suffered from damage to her nerves in her arm muscles and wrists when her wrists got caught in safety bar pulled down by an employee.

Ticket and Shopping at Universal Studios Japan: A full day pass is ¥5,500 for adults and children 12 and over, ¥3,700 for children 4 to 11; and ¥4,800 for seniors. There are discount passes for groups and people with disabilities. There are also yearly passes.

The waits for some of the attractions---including a replica of a great white shark that people like to be photographed next to---can be long. To help speed things along, Universal Express Passes, that allow people to enter attractions at a designated time with a minimum of waiting, can be obtained at kiosks for selected attractions. The only problem is that you have to wait at the kiosks to get the Universal Express Passes.

Universal Studios Japan can be reached by a direct JR train from Osaka Station, or JR Osaka Loop Lineor Aqua buses from Tempozan. There are plenty places to buy souvenirs and purchase mainly American style food. Universal CityWalk Osaka is a shopping arcade between the subway station and the Universal Studio entrance. It features an HMV, Bennetton, and Wolfgang Puck's Café.

Osaka Aquarium

Osaka Aquarium (five minute walk from Osakako Station of the subway Chuo Line) is one of the world’s largest aquarium. It is a vast modern facility with a huge tank containing the world's only pair of captive whale sharks, and 18 smaller tanks, arranged accord to areas, like the Great Barrier Reef and Sea of Japan, with 35,000 sea creatures of 580 different species. The giant crabs are awesome. Other stars are the ocean sunfish, sea otters, penguins and dolphins. There is an indoor tropical rain forest and presentations in both English and Japanese.

The male and female whale sharks, named Kay-kun and Yu-chan, are impressive sights but it is little sad seeing them living in such a small place. Efforts to mate the whale sharks have been unsuccessful. The male shark is 4.5 meters long, weighs about a ton and is believed to be about nine or ten years old. He was caught in a net off the coast of Tosashimizu.

The tour begin with a walk through the 11-meter-long Tunnel Tank filled with reef fish and some small meter-long hammerhead sharks. After that you take a long escalator ride to the seventh floor and being working you way down stopping at tanks and aquariums themed by geographical location, starting with 1) the Japan Forest with otters, giant salamanders and trout; followed by 2) the Aleutian Islands, featuring sea otters; 3) Monterey Bay with harbor seals and California sea lions; 4) the Gulf of Panama, with porcupine fish and red-footed tortoises; 5) the Ecuador Rain Forest with capybaras, piranhas and giant freshwater fish such as the piraruca.

In 6) the Antarctica ection there are Adelie penguins, King penguins and Gentoo penguins. In 7) the Great Barrier Reef there are dozens of different kinds of reef fish including butterflyfish and angelfish as well corals, sea urchins and sea anemone. In the 10) Sento Inland Sea you can see octopus and lobster. 12) The Coast of Chile features Japanese anchovies. In the 13) Cook Strain there are porcupine fish and loggerhead turtles. The 9) Pacific Ocean is the aquarium’s huge central tank. Here you can see the two whale sharks as well as manta rays, zebra sharks, bubble-headed maori wrasses, mola mola, spinetail mobula, snub-nosed pompano and at least a half dozen other kinds of sharks. There are special sections with tanks full of different kinds of jellyfish and clownfish. In Japan Deep there are dozens of giant spider crabs.

Near Osaka Aquarium is the Tempozan Harbor Village, a popular waterfront district embracing the restaurants and shops of Tempozan Market Palace. You can also find Tempozan Contemporary Museum, with displays of holographic art and optical illusions. Near the Aquarium is the Tempozan Giant Ferris Wheel and the Suntory Museum with a 3-D IMAX Theater, Sightseeing tours are offered in motorized Santa Maria, Captain Line shuttle boats connect the Aquarium area with Universal Studios Japan, Website: Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan Official Site

Namba and Dotonbori

Namba is busy shopping and entertainment area, containing the Shin-Kabukiza Theater, the Koysan Monastery, Sennichamae nightlife area (noted for its bars, cabarets, shops and cinemas), and Asashiza theater (famous of its Bunraku puppet shows). The Shinsaibashi Shopping Street (the busiest in Osaka, with department stores on one side and many old established shops on the other) is across the Dotombori River and regarded as an extension of the Namba entertainment area.

Dotonbori (southern side of Dotonbori Canal in the Namba area) is a huge entertainment area with restaurants, shops, drunks, game arcades, pachinko parlors, side-alley sex clubs, fashionistas, schoolgirls and gaudy signboards with neon lights. This area is also called Shinsaibashi. It lies in Minami.

Some of Osaka's most well-known landmarks can be seen here. These include the huge, moving mechanized crab above a seafood restaurant, and the illuminated Glico Man runner, the famous sign for a confectionary company. The area is best visited at night when the signs are illuminated.

The Glicoman is best viewed from Ebisubashi Bridge. He is usually decked out in running shorts. Occasionally his outfits are changed to reflect some event such as te World Cup or World Track and Field championship in 2007. During the World Cup soccer tournament in 2002, he was given a Japanese national team soccer uniform. When the local baseball team, the Hanshin Tigers, are doing well he is sometimes clad in a Tigers uniform.

During large celebrations such after Japan’s victories in the World Cup and Hanshin winning the pennant revelers gather and jump in the filthy Dotonbori Canal. Ar one celebration 800 people leapt into the canal. On another occasion, a man who was pushed in died.

One of the fixtures of the Dotonbori is Cui-daore Taro, a drum-playing robot clown that had stood in front the Cui-daore restaurant since 1950. In 2008 the restaurant closed and Taro was removed. A big deal was made about his departure and what should be done with him. In the end he was brought a year or so later and placed in front of new restaurant not far from his former home. Websites: Wikipedia Wikipedia ; JNTO article JNTO ; Namba Map: Japan National Tourism Organization JNTO

Amerika-Mura: See Shopping.

Nostalgia Museum (in Amerika Mura) contains an extensive collection of toys and kitsch items collected by a single man, Tatsuyuki Fuji, President of a toy retailer. Among the items on display are numerous items connected with Astroboy, Ultraman and Godzilla, antique Barbie dolls, Star Wars figures, tin toy robots from the 1940s and other stuff. Website: Travel Channel

Tsutenkaku Tower (near Dobutseun subway station) is modeled after the Eiffel Tower and decorated in multi-colored neon lights. Rebuilt in 1956 are being damaged by a fire and dismantled in 1943, it stands 103 meters tall and has become a symbol of “Deep Osaka.” There are good views from the observation deck. The tower also features a statue of the pointy-headed Billiken god. In Deep Osaka there are lots of good small restaurant and food stalls.

Shrines and Temples in Osaka

Temmangu Shrine (northeast of Nakonshima Park) was founded in 949 to honor Michizane Sugawara, a noted scholar of Chinese literature. The present shrine was rebuilt in 1845. Today many mothers come here to pray for success in their children on the university entrance exams.

Sumiyoshi shrine
Shitennoji Temple (Tennoji station) was the first Buddhist monastery built in Japan. Founded by Prince Shotoku (574-622) in 593, it contains a treasure house with 500 objects, various statues and shrines, as well as a stone torii gate, usually found at Shinto shrines, not Buddhist temples. The original structures were built in 1294. Most of the present buildings are concrete reproductions rebuilt after World War II. There is more gravel than gardens.

Zuikoji Temple in Higashi-Yodogawa Ward in Osaka contains a unique bridge made of whale bones. Rebuilt in 2006, it is three meters wide, six meters long and is made from jaw-bones and scapulas of three whales. The first bones used to make the bridge were donated by fishermen expressing their thanks for a bountiful harvest. The first bridge was made in 1756 and rebuilt with new bones in 1829, 1923 and 1974. the reconstruction in 2006 was done with the bones of three 12-meter-long minke whales.

Tennoji Park (southwest of Shitennoji Temple) is the home of the Municipal Art Museum, "Keitakuen" Japanese Garden, Botanical Conservatory, Municipal Zoological Gardens and other cultural and sports facilities. Tennoji Map: Japan National Tourism Organization JNTO

Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine (Sumiyoshi Taisha station) is where navigators traditionally prayed for safe passage to the deities of the sea and sea travel. Among its features are a torii gate, a humpbacked bridge in a park and 700 stone lanterns donated by sailors and shipowner throughout the centuries. According to legend the shrine was founded by Empress Jingu in the A.D. 3rd century to offer thanks to three gods for their protection on a journey to Korea. The current structure was built in 1808.

Brothels and Birds in Osaka

Tobita (15 minute walk south of Kintensu Abeno station) is Japan's last traditional brothel district. Covering an area of nearly 12 blocks, it is discreet places with rows of Kyoto-style teahouses that offer a variety of services in their back rooms.You won't find flashy soaplands or image rooms here. Maps generally don't even have Tobita on them.

Nobody is sur exactly when Tobita was established. In the Meiji period, it provided jobs for impoverished farm girls who came to Osaka in search of work and wives fleeing abusing husbands. After World War II, several thousands women worked in the district and U.S. first lady Eleanor Roosevelt even toured the area to check on the women's heath.

There are currently about 100 brothels here. Prostitutes charge about $120 for 30 minutes. The younger ones are on the west side of the district and with the prostitutes generally getting older as you move east. Foreigners are generally not welcome.

Tobita customers are asked to abide by certain rules and follow a certain etiquette. They are, for example, supposed to ask for "company" not "sex" and not inquire about what they get for their money until the bedroom door is closed. Those that ask for "sex" or ask what is available are refused admission. Websites: 21 or Over,com ; Japan Times article Japan Times

Nanko Yacho Koen Bird Sanctuary (near the Hyatt Regency and Nakafuto Station) is a surprisingly serene and pleasant retreat built on land reclaimed from a former industrial park. Near the International Exhibition Center you can borrow a bicycle for free to explore the area. And yes there are birds here. A variety of seabirds and waterfowl can be seen year round. Migratory bird make brief stops on their way north or south.

Port Town lies off of Osaka in the middle of four artifical islands. Christal Whelan wrote in Daily Yomiuri: of the four offshore artificial islands–Sakishima, Yumeshima, Maishima and Phoenix Island--- Sakishima is the only one of the group built for human habitation; the others are related to waste disposal. The island center---known as Port Town---filled with condominium high-rises, has a population of 26,000. Through the center of town flows an artificial river. A variety of mushrooms now grow in the soil and on trees. In the 30 years since its completion, the vegetation has become luxuriant, a tribute to the persistence of life. The expression "trash-island" used to describe Sakishima often leads to a common misunderstanding that the island is somehow made up of cartons, bottles, old bicycles, and car wrecks. But the foundation of this island is a mixture of fine and gravely ash, essentially what remains after incinerating huge quantities of garbage.

Maishima Incinerator and Water Treatment plants look like something out of the Arabian Nights. The two minarets crowned with golden onion domes are actually the chimneys of the two plants. The incinerator handles 900 tons of trash per day from just two districts in Osaka. Christal Whelan wrote in Daily Yomiuri: “ Maverick Viennese architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser designed the exterior of these buildings. While not a Metabolist per se, Hundertwasser shared many of the movement's ideas, especially its insistence on organic design and its criticism of Modernist sterility. He ranted against "window apartheid," the compulsion not to mix windows of different shapes and sizes in the same building. Not only was utilitarian and functional architecture uninhabitable, but it was immoral by his standards. Since straight lines and identical objects do not exist in nature, Hundertwasser incorporated curved lines into his shapes by crowning rooftops with trees, placing planters against walls, and adding uneven floors and nonlinear tables.

If what humans most yearn for in their lives is variety and a beauty harmonious with nature, Hundertwasser gave it to us in this building. The Maishima Incinerator is a boldly life-affirming structure from an artist with a buoyant spirit bent on creating happy habitats wherever humans happen to live or work. >Maishima Incinerator Plant, 1-2-48 Hokko Shiratsu, Konohana-ku, Osaka 554-0041, Inquiries: Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-noon, 1-5 p.m, Tel: (06) 6630-3353, Reservations required for visit

Tall Buildings, Water Tours and Ferris Wheels

Umeda Sky Building
Tall Buildings in Osaka include the 256-meter-high WTC Osaka World Trade Center, the highest building in Osaka, the 255-meter-high Rinku Gate Tower Building (near Kansai Airport), the second highest buildings in Osaka; the 252-meter-high Cosmos Tower with a 55th floor observation deck; the mammoth Asia-Pacific Trade Center; and Intex Osaka, an international exhibition area, with six halls and nine zones.

Sightseeing on Water: Osaka Suijo Bus conducts 60 minute river cruises from Osakajo Pier and other locations around the city, offering views of Osaka castle and Nakoanoshima, the city’s economic and cultural center. The Aqua Liner offers a 60 minute boat tour on the Yodo River, which includes views of the Town Towers and Nakaonshima Park. It departs from Temmabashi Pier and Yodoyabashi Pier. The Osaka Bay Cruise on the Santa Maria departs from Tempozan Harbor Village. Tours of the Okawa river in the area of Kemasakuranomiya Park are offered in an amphibious bus with tires for land and screws for water propulsion.

Ferris Wheels include the Hep Five on top of a shopping complex in the Umeda area. It is 75 meters in diameter and has 52 gondolas, which reach a height of 106 meters above the city. There are great views of the Umeda entertainment district. There is also a 100-meter-in-diameter Ferris wheel with 60 four-person gondolas in Tenpozan, and a 100-meter-in-diameter one at Biwako Tower with 64 six-person gondolas in Otsu, north of Kyoto.

Other Places of Interest in Osaka include the 103-meter-high Tsutenkaku Tower, built in 1912, modeled after the Eiffel Tower, and dismantled before World War II and rebuilt afterwards; Nakanoshima, a large civic center located on a small delta in the Yodo River with many office buildings; and Osaka Port, the third largest port in Japan after Yokohama and Kobe and the embarkation point for sightseeing boats headed for the Inland Sea National Park.

Tsuruhashi Korea Town (Tsuruhashi station on the JR Loop Line) is the largest Korea town in Japan. It main attraction is its restaurant, including many original yakuniku (Korean-style barbecues). The shopping is also good.

Koshien Stadium is the home of the Hanshin Tigers, a major institution in Osaka. Try to see a game if you can. The park is nearly always filled and the fans are fanatic as Red Sox fans except they pound plastic thunder sticks and do organized cheers throughout the game and set off balloons en masse in the seventh inning. Koshein is Japan’s oldest extant stadium. Built in 1924, it also hosts Japan’s main high school baseball tournaments, spectacles in themselves that can be viewed for free in the spring and summer.

Museums in Osaka

Art Museums in Osaka include Osaka Contemporary Art Center (near Osaka City Hall in Nakanoshima), Osaka Municipal Museum of Art (Tennoji Park) Chikatsuasula Museum, Idemitsu Museum of Arts, the National Museum of Arts, Umeda Museum of Modern Art, Hashimoto Museum of Art, Daimaru Museum Umeda, Kubosi Memorial Museum of Art, Itsuo Art Museum, and the Navio Museum. The National Museum of Modern Art reopened in November 2004 at a new location in Nakanoshima in a building designed by American architect Cesar Pelli.

Other Museums in Osaka included the Osaka Maritime Museum (Suminoe Ward), with displays of old boats and hands-on simulators that let you try sailing a yacht to guiding a river boat; Sumai no Museum (Kita Ward), embracing 11 structures, including a doll shop, watchtower. cosmetics store and fire watchtower, that collectively recreate an old Osakan street; and the Osaka Human Rights Museum (Liberty Osaka), which is dedicated to the hardships endured by the Burakumin people.

Among the others are the Wine Museum, Suntory Museum (near Osaka Aquarium), Tempozan Contemporary Museum (near Osaka Aquarium), Osaka City Museum (next to Osaka Castle), Museum of Oriental Ceramic (near Osaka City Hall in Nakanoshima), the Osaka Science Museum (near Osaka City Hall in Nakanoshima), with a planetarium, and the Osaka Prefectural Museum of Yayoi Culture in Sakai. In Sakai there is also the remains of a burial mound built by 800,000 workers.

The Hirakata-Shuki Kagiya Museum in Hirakata contains restorations of Edo-period inns, restaurants and tea houses. There is a life-size replica of a merchant boat and a depiction of a procession of a daimyo.

Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum (Ikeda, Osaka) contains a reproduction of the wooden shack where instant noodles were invented by Japanese businessman, Momofuku Ando, in 1958. Also on display is a special vehicle used to bring noodles to victims of the devastating Kobe earthquake in 1995.

Opened in November 1999, the two-story museum occupies 1,624 square meters of floor space. There are screens showing famous noodle television commercials and displays of noodle products and noodle vending machines. On the second floor, visitors can try their hand at making their own Chikin Ramen. Admission is free. Websites: Nissin Noodles ; Japan Visitor

Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum (in Takarazuka in Hyogo) has an exhibit devoted to the creator of Astroboy. On the real date of April 7, 2003---the date that Astroboy was born in the manga series---more than 1,000 people showed up at the museum to watch Astroboy being born. Websites: JNTO article JNTO ; Site about the museum

Kansai Airport

Kansai International Airport (Kansai official site 15 miles outside downtown Osaka) is the world's most expensive airport and one of the most ultra-modern ones. Built three miles offshore on a 1,250 acre artificial island at a cost $14 billion, it opened in 1994 as was declared one of the greatest engineering achievements of the 20th century by the American Society of Civil Engineers along with the Empire State Building, Panama Canal and Golden Gate Bridge.

The artificial island was created by sand mined from sites in the airport area and carried to the site by special hopper barges that dump the sand on the sea bed or feed it to barges that dump it on the island or into dump trucks the spread the sand around, Eight large sand piling barges---designed for deep sea operation---drove 1.2 million tons of sand into the sea floor before the island was produced to improve drainage and firm up the sea floor about 20 meters below the surface

The mile-long arched terminal at Kansai Airport was designed by the famed Italian architect Renzo Piano. It features huge drapes on the ceiling that direct air though the airport, a large multi-level shopping area, glass elevators and suspended walkways. Across from the terminal is hotel. A 3,750-meter-long double decker bridge connects the Osaka with the airport. The upper level is for vehicles and the lower level is for electric trains.

The airport sinks at a rate of one millimeter ever day; keeping it level is a web-like network of enormous hydraulic jacks. Between 1987, when construction began, and 2001 the ground beneath the airport had subsided 38 feet and is expected to sink another three feet before it stabilizes. As of 2001, the airport operator had spent $2.21 billion on repairs, including a concrete wall in the terminal's basement to prevent seawater seepage. To pay for all this the airport charge some of the world’s highest landing fees and departure taxes ($22).

Even though Kansai handles about 20.5 million passenger a years. This is far less than expected. As a result of this and debts accrued from construction and repair had cost the airport about a $1 billion a year. Kansai airport turned a profit for the first time in 2004 but only managed that with government subsidies.

The new 4000-meter-long second runway---the longest in Japan and considerably longer than Kansai’s first 2,500-meter-long runway---opened at Kansai in 2007. Built on a new reclaimed area about the size of the first, it has been criticized for being too expensive and too far away from the terminal. Requiring planes to taxi for six kilometers and 10 minutes to reach the terminal. Construction of the second terminal to go with the new runway has been delayed.

Landing fees at Kansai are the world’s highest, and 50 percent higher than those at Narita. Some airlines---including American, United and Air Canada---have discontinued routes to Kansai. To make up for a lack of passengers Kansai is trying to market itself as cargo delivery hub and attract more planes from Asia, particularly China.

The second runway has been infested with locusts. There were worries that large insects could be present a potential hazard for aircraft landing or taking off. A major eradication effort was launched to get rid of them before the runway opened, A similar problems occurred when the first runway opened and it was temporarily closed because of airlines complaining about insects getting sucked into engines and splattering on the cockpit windshields.

Transportation from Kansai Airport to Osaka: Kansai International Airport has a JR station at the airport (tickets are around US$10 to most destinations). Airport limousine buses, costing about US$8, run regularly to hotels and other destinations in Osaka and taxis cost about US$40. Website: Kansai Official Soite Transporation

Parks in the Osaka Area

Expo Memorial Park (Suita, a western suburb of Osaka) is a popular recreation area and home to the Japan Folk Crafts Museum, the National Museum of International Arts, the National Museum of Ethnology, the Garden of Nature and Culture, a Japanese garden and other facilities.

Expo Memorial Park was the sight of the 1970 World Exposition, the first ever World Exposition held in Asia. It attracted 64.21 million visitors, almost three times number that visited the Expo in Aichi in 2005 . The massive Tower of the Sun statue near the entrance is the symbol of the park. Designed by Okamoto Taro, the metal and concrete structure is considered by many to be ugly monstrosity. There are lots of cherry and plum trees in the park..

The park is reached by a monorail which offers impressive views of suburban Osaka and the nearby mountains. Expoland, a nearby amusement park with several rollercoaster, was closed in 2008 after people died in a roller coaster accident. Paramount plans to build a new theme park at the Expoland site.

Open Air Museum of Old Japanese Farmhouses (Ryokuchi-koen Park, Suita, a western suburb of Osaka) is a group of nine thatch-roof farmhouses, each representing a different regional style.

Mino (30 minutes from central Osaka by train) is a waterfall park with monkeys. Sights include 100-foot-high Mino waterfall; Ryuanji Temple, founded by an ascetic who liked to stand under cold waterfalls; the Insect House, with displays of dead and living bugs; Saikoji Temple; and Katsuoji Temple. The Mino Tourist hotel at Mino Onsen has two indoor segregated baths and an outdoor one for women only with spectacular views.

Mino is a popular destination in the autumn. There are many beautiful maple trees. Restaurants sell deep-fried maple leaves as a snack. The spring is cherry blossom-viewing time. There are lots of hiking trails in the Mino area. The are awesome views of Osaka from the tops of some mountains.

Image Sources: 1) 2) 5) Ray Kinnane 3) 7) 9) Wikipedia 4) 6) 8) Osaka Visitor's Guide

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

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