Photograph of the week: Pedestrians, Osaka, Honshu, Japan


Could this one day be a scene that will once again be familiar to us all? The current state of emergency in many parts of Japan, including Osaka, is due to remain in place until the end of this month, but is also due to be reviewed tomorrow.

Osaka is a bit like Betty to Tokyo’s Veronica. Where the latter receives the bulk of the attention, courtesy of glitz, glamour and all-around buzz, the former is vastly underrated. Equally as gorgeous, almost as buzzy (and most certainly bouncier!), and far, far friendlier.

Take this picture for example. You could be forgiven for mistaking it for the famed Shibuya Crossing, located in the Shibuya ward of Tokyo. Frequently photographed in all its glorious frenzy, Shibuya is rumoured to be the busiest intersection in the world, with over 1000 people crossing at peak times, coming from all directions. This particular image though? This is a pedestrian scene in Osaka. The same technicolour frenzy, yet if you were to try speak to someone on this crossing, they’d very likely answer, instead of scurrying ahead, unseeing, at top-Tokyo speed.

Pedestrians, Osaka, Honshu, Japan

Osaka is still the third largest city in Japan, with a population of over 2.5 million people in its greater metropolitan area. It is still known as the ‘Nation’s Kitchen’ – courtesy of the gastronomic wonderland that is its food district Dotonburi, with out-of-this-world takoyaki and okonomiyaki at a myriad of restaurants, street food stalls, and bars. And it is still, undoubtedly, a quintessentially Japanese experience. But there is something markedly friendlier, more relaxed, more easy going, about this city.

Formerly known as Naniwa, Osaka was once the capital of Japan, indeed the first one ever known, with Japan’s first full-scale palace, Naniwa-no-Miya Palace, built here in 650. (You can visit the site of the palace, which is maintained as a park, located south of the current Osaka Castle.) Today, though, in spite of the obvious history and cultural significance to be found in the city, Osaka is better known as a charming, relaxed neighbour to bustling, business-like Tokyo, with a reputation for fabulous food, fun and nightlife.

Just a short shinkansen ride from Tokyo, this city, with its vastly different personality to Japan’s modern-day capital, is home to a number of other attractions worthy of Veronica-esque buzz. The Tempozan Ferris Wheel, one of the tallest and largest in the world, offers up see-them-to-believe-them views of Osaka bay, the whole city and the surrounding mountains. The Osaka Kaiyukan Aquarium is the second largest aquarium in the world. And the underground shopping complex, Whity Umeda, located in Osaka’s central district Umeda? Yes, there’s fabulous shopping to be had here with more than 190 shops in a unique subterranean location, but pay attention to your surroundings for something quite priceless: it actually has fossils from the Jurassic to Cretaceous periods on show, right there in its very walls.

Perhaps it was its demotion from capital to mere city which turned Osaka easy going, perhaps it was just a quirk of fate. Whatever the reason, today Osaka is lauded by many as the very soul of Japan. Home to the most outgoing, friendly, people in the country. A laid back escape from Tokyo’s polish, and price. But with more than enough buzz and bustle to keep any visitor entertained and entranced.

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Comments (7)

  1. Alistair Syme says:

    I’m looking forward to the streets of Japan bustling again! The cities lose their charm and vibrancy under lockdown.

  2. Nicholas Gibson says:

    It does indeed remind me of the Shibuya Crossing. I like how a slightly longer exposure has been used for the photograph, giving that slight blur and sense of action. Great shot!

    • Paul Johnson says:

      Thanks for dropping by, Nicholas… at a time when social distancing wasn’t common parlance also. Exposure settings aside, I’m sure there are lots of people that are not two metres apart in that shot. I wonder how things like that will be managed when lockdown is eased.

  3. Ian Collins says:

    The photo also begs the question of how people will go back to crossing streets, riding public transportation — the packed like sardines train video comes to mind where people were pushed with a stick by station employees — and going to work or school. I would think twice about crossing such a busy intersection. I would be very wary of bumping into people as well. The new normal seems to be saying, “be anti-social”, which would be so hard to do when with people you know. I would definitely miss the buzz of big cities. Sometimes you just never know what you have until it’s been taken away from you.

  4. Jenny Simons says:

    It’s hard to fully appreciate just how densely populated Japan is if you’ve never been and have lived your life in a smaller city or town in the UK. Osaka having 2.5 million people and Shibuya alone seeing 1000 people at peak times just seems manic. I like the photo and the blurred effect, it generates an idea of the energy and the hive of activity that it sees there. I wonder what it’s been like during the quieter periods of the coronavirus crisis. I bet a lot of the more touristy areas and attractions have seen a considerable lull as the rest of the world locks down too.

    Japan is my number one most want to visit destination so I’m hoping one day I’ll be able to see all of this for myself!

    • Tom says:

      I had a slightly different take from the picture. I’m actually surprised that Osaka is the third-largest city in the country. At 2.5 million people, I thought it would be much higher. I’m from the States, specifically in the northeast. So this seems like a small number to me. But for most of the world, it’s a bustling city. When compared to the rest of Asia though, there are many more wild cities in terms of population density.

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