Whenever I ask students at my English school, Smith’s School of English, Kawanishi スミス英会話川西校, which cities in Japan they would recommend for a visit by overseas visitors, they invariably say Kyoto 京都, occasionally adding Nara 奈良市, and even more rarely, Tokyo. Only one has ever suggested Osaka 大阪市, which is also my choice. Why? Well, to me, tucked away (phrase) between the skyscrapers is the real Japan, the old, often slightly shabby, but authentic parts of this fascinating country: the magic of Tenjimbashisuji 天神橋筋, longest shopping arcade in Japan, but also with a real flavour of old Kansai (and delicious sushi), and even to me, the old world charm of Shin Sekai 新世界 (“New World”??).
But I have found some of the newer parts of Osaka really very lovely and worth a visit. One of my students had mentioned to me that there was a German style Christmas market at Umeda Sky Building 梅田スカイビル, so I suggested to Megumi, my wife, that we pay it a visit. We had always enjoyed these types of market in London before we moved to Japan.
So on a recent beautiful autumn Sunday afternoon we set off to Osaka 大阪市. The Christmas market was OK, but what really took our breath away was the view from the top of the building. Seldom has a destination more than lived up to expectations as this one. I have seen the building many times over the years that I visited Japan, always from the window of the Shinkansen 新幹線, and more recently, as a landmark on my numerous visits to Umeda 梅田, and I have always wanted to visit it. I find it a beautiful cross between architecture and engineering. Close up the design is staggering; it really works – and I don’t often say that about modern structures. On the day of our visit the morning had been foggy, but the afternoon was lovely with a gentle mist giving the sun a golden glow.
The ride to the top is quite dramatic. First an elevator to the 40th floor, and then an escalator ride suspended almost 200 metres above the ground takes you to the Floating Garden Observatory. This comprises two levels, one indoors with restaurant, coffee shop and seating areas to enjoy the view. This is very much aimed at young couples with many “Love Seats” where they can sit in their own world and enjoy the views, which are amazing. On the lovely day that we chose to view Osaka , it could compete with any modern city on Earth for the beauty of the view.
The upper level of the observatory is open air, and as the sun sank low the view became breathtaking. As sunset approached many people arrived, most of them armed with cameras, to capture the images that unfolded. I found both the building and the view, and sometimes a combination of both, kept me taking photos until it was dark. This truly was a memorable day, and I am sure that this will not be my last visit to this landmark.