Oh okay, I admit. My first impression of Osaka bordered on peevish disappointment. The arrival area at Kansai International was smaller and grayer than Narita.
I arrived on a wet and windy September afternoon to attend a regional conference and I took a look around and told myself, "Well Toto, we're not in Tokyo anymore."
Getting out after immigration and customs, it took a while to find the limousine bus counter, which was located outside the airport and had no signs pointing the way.
And yes, while there was limousine bus service to the city, it involved a more convoluted process -- you had to know where you were going, you had to buy your ticket from a vending machine, push the right buttons and with ticket in hand, you had to find the right bus stop and stand there and wait.
Aside from that minor bit of inconvenience, the girl manning the ticket info booth who gave me these directions was also quite rude and brusque.
Wait, did I fly into Beijing? Am I not in Japan where everyone is usually so polite and helpful, with all those little bows and soft murmurs?
Who was this woman practically shooing me away from the counter?
So, second impression of Osaka -- people are rude! Where was the gracious and sophisticated air of the Tokyo native when you needed it?
The ride into the city took a little over an hour. Since Osaka is by the sea, we passed through seaside roads. Most of the roadside scenery was industrial with warehouses and factories that looked a bit older, a bit run down. No green rice fields or farmlands as you see when you take the bus into Tokyo from Narita.
Third impression of Osaka -- everything seemed just a little bit more tired and worn out.
After the bus ride, the taxi ride to the hotel was uneventful enough. The taxi driver was cheerful and helpful with the baggage. Score one point for feeling better about Osaka.
Score two more points after settling into the hotel and being shown to a spacious and large room with a an equally huge bathroom and a great river view.
"Hey Toto, the hotel rooms in Tokyo never looked like this!"
Walking around the portion of the city between the hotel and the office yielded some quirky curiosities and details that told me that this was a place that would grow on me. There was a more casual and open air, not as rushed and harried as Tokyo. People seemed to take their time and didn't seem as if they were all running late for something.
I enjoyed all the small details like the simpler design of the buildings. Not too many skyscrapers here which added to the relaxed feeling about Osaka.
Taking a cab ride in the evening along Osaka's high end shopping drag Mido-suji, I noted the trees that lined the wide avenue -- which imparted a more premium, upscale feel. Channeling Champs Elysee!
Osaka's informal, lively and boisterous personality can be felt front and center by taking an evening stroll through Dotombori and Shinsaibashi.
The former is a well renowned food and eating street where Osaka's specialties, okonomiyaki and takoyaki can be enjoyed and the latter is a kilometric plus covered walkway that is the brightest, loudest, most crowded celebration of shopping, fashion and over all happy vibes that I have ever encountered in all of my travels.
Amidst the glowing neon billboards, art pieces unto themselves, Osaka natives and tourists walk, shop, congregate, mingle, talk, and over all have a rip roaring good time.
I was having more fun in this one evening than I had ever had in any of my night time forays out into Tokyo!
Since I was at a regional meeting after all, I did have to go to work. The walk to and from the client's office, to the Dentsu Kansai building also yielded some surprises. We walked through quite a number of pedestrian only bridges, through tree lined streets and quiet intersections. The Dojima River runs through the business district and strolling through it, I was reminded again of Paris and how many similarities I see with this city.
A little boat toot-toots through the clean and green waters of the Dojima. Passing under concrete spans that bring traffic to and from the city.
It was my last afternoon in Osaka. My meetings were all done and I stood here enjoying the mild afternoon sun and the peaceful and scenic river view.
All my first impressions had been negated -- indeed, Osaka is not Tokyo ... and thank goodness for that.
Oh Osaka -- I love you more than Tokyo!