Last month my partner and I took a visiting friend to Kyoto. But instead of staying in Kyoto proper, we decided to stay in Osaka. Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe are like Manhattan, Brooklyn and Jersey City/Newark in that they comprise one collective megalopolis. So staying in Osaka means that Kyoto is just a thirty minute elevated train or subway ride away.

Osaka is the butt of many jokes here in the land of putting your hand up over your mouth when you laugh. Tokyo is the federal government, banking, commerce, fashion, architecture, art and culture in general. Osaka is a freewheeling port city inhabited by pushy people and gray buildings. At least that’s what Tokyoites would have you believe.

When you ask Tokyoites about Osaka, they have nothing nice to say but say it politely–this is Japan after all.

“The people in Osaka are berry coroful.”

Translation: The people act like animals, worse than even your fellow Mexicans.

“Osaka was the firs city to open self to world.”

Translation: Osaka was forced open by those sons of bitches in Europe.

“The people in Osaka say ‘Are you making money?’ instead of herro when they greet you.”

Translation: They’re a bunch of greedy assholes who have been contaminated by the West and would trade their own mothers in for a better price on rice.

“Many famous comedians come from Osaka.”

Translation: A bunch of clowns! Osaka is filled with a bunch of fucking, low-life clowns!

When I lived in Chicago, people had nothing nice to say about Milwaukee. Before I traveled there one weekend for work, my colleague told me, “Milwaukee is a beige city. Beige.” All I could think of was Laverne and Shirley and Boo Boo Kitty. How bad could Milwaukee be?

Turns out it wasn’t bad at all. The people were cheerful and the city had not been burned to the ground by Bessie the Cow so several buildings predated the Chicago fire. The expansion of the Milwaukee Art Museum designed by Calatrava had just opened and some of the seedier neighborhoods near downtown had great Mexican food and if you can believe it, friendly gay bars. I returned to Chicago and told my colleague that I had had a good time. She said I suffered from low expectations. Bitch! OK, maybe she was right. I returned to Milwaukee a few months later and had an even better time.

Osaka has several wide boulevards lined with trees. Much of the city is built on a grid so it’s easy to find your way. The Yodo River is integrated with city life and the Dotonbori district is like an enormous carnival without the thrill rides but even more neon lights. The mountains that nearly ring the city are visible from the higher floors in most buildings. All of this contrasts with Tokyo and its winding, treeless streets, neglected Sumida River and mountains obscured by a thick haze and smog.

Sure, Osaka lacks Tokyo’s grace and charm but it’s not the shithole everyone says it is. I’m putting Osaka on my list of Not So Bad Cities: Genoa, Kuala Lumpur, Milwaukee–cities that often get treated unfairly but have a lot to offer if you don’t heed the hissing.

Advertisements