I’m on the top of the world looking down on creation, and it’s the only explanation I can find.
We make headway for another Osakan landmark in the south central district of the city. Despite its role in the Keihanshin, and its sphere of influence, the city itself embodied a curiously small town vibe. It’s never intimidating nor overwhelming like its larger East Asian counterparts. It might be a stretch of the imagination, but hiking across the city seems peculiarly imaginable. Make no mistake, Osaka, like Tokyo, is also rail centric in development, but it is the ubiquitous bicycle that appears to claim second place for intra-city commutes. It helps that unlike the deceptively hilly capital, Osaka is largely flat.
Meaning “tower reaching heaven”, Tsutenkaku commemorates its centennial this year. Like the anti-climax of Osaka-jo, I was slightly dismayed that the current tower was once again, not the original. The official story is that thirty-one years after the Eiffel Tower doppelganger was erected as part of an adjacent amusement park, the structure was struck by fire – the damage allegedly so great, that it was taken apart. The ruins were then conveniently used to assist in the war effort. The one standing right now was completed in 1956 after much lobbying by many Osakans. In what appears to be a twist of Shyamalan proportions, a doll, and an American one at that, was enshrined in the tower. Is it an expression of some closet paganism, or is it just age-old superstition? Enshrining Billiken, which is, for what it’s worth, an American toy, seemed to me a tad too much. I try to reserve my judgement. Aren’t we all, in some way, guilty of idol worship, be it Billiken, Super Junior, or luxury material comfort you’re obsessed about. Nevertheless, Osaka, and Japan as a whole, is seeing a revival of sorts as the place to visit. Looking at Singapore numbers alone, visitors to Japan jumped an astounding 140%. So, perhaps placing a coin in the box and rubbing the soles of Billiken’s feet for good luck doesn’t sound that ignorant after all?
Tsutenkaku was designed by Tachu Naito, dubbed the “father of towers”, and for good reason. The engineering genius was one of the pioneers of earthquake-proof design – Japan, and much of the world would’ve to consistently rebuild cities if it weren’t for this hero. Physically, he designed many broadcast towers across the country, ranging from the short and stout Beppu Tower, the second Tsutenkaku and Nagoya TV Tower, to the more dramatic and iconic Sapporo TV Tower and Tokyo Tower. Enshrouded within the Kansai urbanity, the 103 metre tower yields poorer views than its cousin at Osaka Castle, with poorly maintained glass limiting visibility even further.
After the fairly alright views, we grab some lunch at the nearby Ebisu district. The Osaka Subway’s Osaka Unlimited Pass offers free entry to many of the city’s attractions, including the Tsutenkaku; discounts to other attractions, and rebates at certain restaurants. One of the recommended eateries is Shodai Ebisu. Located literally steps away from Tsutenkaku, and distinctly recognizable by its huge red facade with a huge doll, it’s allegedly an Osakan institution famed for its kushikatsu and okonomiyaki. Normally, I don’t fancy Osakan cuisine classics like takoyaki and okonomiyaki – I can’t seem to appreciate the tangy flavors and the octopi when I have them in Singapore. Nevertheless, I make an exception for the city itself, and have those – not that it’s any better, but when you’re in Osaka, you’ve gotta eat like the Osakans do. So, we place an order for several Osakan favorites.
Cooking our own okonomiyaki was quite the experience. I feel like, anytime you can play with your food – go hands-on, using your fingers or getting grimy and oily – as long as you’re in good company, will be a good time. It wasn’t perfect, but hey, you can look at it and go, “I can cook”.
Literally every Asian region has its own iteration of the skewer dish. And in every region it’s different, in terms of flavors, seasoning and taste but that’s where the differences end – it’s a communal course, it brings people together. Keihanshin is no different. While the Kanto plain over at Tokyo grills its skewers and smacks them in teriyaki sauce, Kansai breads them and serves a tangy soy sauce as a dip.
Some delicious Yakisoba