One of the first things an observant visitor to both Tokyo and Osaka might notice is Tokyoites stand on the left side of an escalator so commuters in a hurry can pass on the right, while Osakans do the opposite and stand on the right. The origin of this right-left split is hotly debated. One theory surmises it stems from the Edo Period (1603–1867), when samurai living in Edo (now Tokyo) are said to have walked on the left side of crowded streets so they’d have quicker access to their swords. Osaka’s merchants, on the other hand, supposedly kept to the right side of the street, close to buildings and walls, to safeguard valuables carried in their right hand or tucked in their right sleeve.
Another reason often cited for the difference in escalator etiquette is Osakans simply wish to distinguish themselves from Tokyoites.
Both explanations seem perfectly plausible. After all, as one of feudal Japan’s most powerful castle towns, Osaka bustled with merchants during the Edo Period, when it served as a major distribution center for rice and goods gathered from surrounding fiefdoms and shipped to the shogun in Edo. But there’s also a longstanding rivalry between Osaka and Tokyo; it sometimes seems Tokyo gets all the glory.
Yet Osaka, the third-largest city in Japan after Tokyo and Yokohama, has long been the mover and shaker of the surrounding Kansai area and reigns as one of Japan’s most important industrial and business centers. Moreover, over the past two decades it has cast off its former gritty and nondescript image and greatly increased its curb appeal with urban renewal and stylish architecture, especially in areas surrounding Osaka Station and the Tennoji/Abeno district. Its tourist attractions include Japan’s tallest building, complete with an observatory; the first Universal Studios outside the United States; a world-class aquarium; and a remake of the famous Osaka Castle.
True to its merchant origins, Osaka also boasts an impressive number of department stores and specialty shops, as well as retail and wholesale neighborhoods dedicated to specific products, from electronics to cooking supplies. Because of its history as a food distribution center, Osaka boasts the nickname “Japan’s kitchen” and is famous for its cuisine. Osaka, modern and hip, also plants one foot squarely in its rich mercantile past.
Osakans are generally characterized as being hardworking, adept at financial affairs, straightforward and outgoing; many of Japan’s most famous comedians hail from the region. Osakans are especially proud of what they consider a close-knit community despite its 2.6 million residents, most of whom descend from families who have lived here for generations, unlike Tokyo, a melting pot of Japanese from all parts of the country.
Named by The Economist in 2015 as the world’s third-safest city (after Tokyo and Singapore), Osaka provides a convenient destination for business travelers. Kansai International Airport, offering everything from rental mobile phones to free WiFi, links to various parts of Osaka in 40 to 60 minutes via the JR Airport Express Haruka line or private Nankai train line.
From Tokyo, the trip by Shinkansen bullet train takes less than three hours to Shin-Osaka Station, but because there’s little of interest here to travelers, it’s best to take the Midosuji subway line seven minutes onward to Umeda, next to Osaka Station, offering many excellent choices in accommodations. Top picks include The Ritz-Carlton, Osaka with its old-world classic décor, and the thoroughly modern InterContinental Osaka, which opened in 2013 in the Grand Front Osaka complex. The complex, the key player in the area’s revitalization, hosts offices, residences, shops, restaurants, green spaces and showrooms for companies like Panasonic to display current brands and prototypes of future products.
Four subway stops farther south on the Midosuji line lies Namba, considered the heart of the city. Swissôtel Nankai Osaka, atop Namba Station, provides easy access to the airport and nearby destinations like Kyoto, but another good choice is Hotel New Otani Osaka, located in Osaka Business Park, just across the river from the huge park that surrounds Osaka Castle. The top place in town, quite literally, the Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel opened in 2014 in the upper stratosphere of Japan’s tallest building, the 50-story Abeno Harukas, and provides eye-popping views over the Kansai plain from its strikingly contemporary rooms.
Many luxury hotels, including those mentioned, feature club floors with a private concierge and lounge offering complimentary buffets for breakfast, afternoon tea and evening cocktails. Hotels prove convenient for power breakfasts, with buffets of both Western and Japanese fare a good choice when meeting Japanese clients. Tavola 36, on the 36th floor of Swissôtel Nankai, provides an elegant setting and outstanding city views in addition to its excellent spread, while Live Kitchen COOKA, a buffet restaurant in the Marriott Miyako Hotel, is more casual, with an airy atmosphere and expansive views.
Hotels provide good options for business lunches and dinners, especially if you feel more comfortable entertaining Japanese clients on familiar turf with Western cuisine. For private business meals, the Marriott Miyako offers six rooms for up to 10 persons, some with mesmerizing views, while the New Otani boasts some of the largest conference venues in town for meetings of all sizes, with views of Osaka Castle a bonus. La Baie in The Ritz-Carlton serves arguably the best French fare in town. Or, for a combination of both Western and Japanese food, Restaurant ZK on the 57th floor of the Marriott Miyako reigns as one of the hottest venues in town for its teppanyaki-style dishes cooked right in front of you.
Enjoy a drink with clients in any number of hotel bars, like The Bar in The Ritz-Carlton with its 150 fine malt whiskeys and live music. But the heart of Osaka’s nightlife beats in Dotombori, a pedestrian lane in Namba that hugs the Dotombori Canal. Celebrating its 400th birthday this year, Dotombori, along with surrounding Namba, pulsates with bars, Japanese-style pubs, restaurants and live-music houses including longstanding Rug Time Osaka with its nightly live jazz and Murphy’s Irish Pub, in business 25 years.
Transportation is a snap regardless of where you stay or entertain via the user-friendly subway network or the JR Loop Line encircling central Osaka. Various passes provide unlimited transportation within Osaka or around the larger Kansai area, including Kyoto. While commuting, perhaps you’ll notice another difference between Tokyo and Osaka: Tokyoites are generally quiet and subdued on trains, while Osakans are talkative and animated. Just remember, keep to the right on those escalators.
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