Less chaotic and certainly less expensive than Tokyo, Osaka is Japan's third largest city. Thoroughly modern yet also undeniably Asian, the city's streets buzz with activity all day long under the shadows of its skyscrapers. When night falls, the lights come on as thousands of advertisements and signs light up the cityscape.
Covering some 7,800km2, the greater Osaka area is home to more than 17 million people spread over 128 municipalities, including Osaka itself and its 2.5 million inhabitants. Along with Kobe and Kyoto, Osaka is one of the largest cities in the Kansai region, which is located in the southern part of the island of Honshu. Japan's second economic hub and a diversified industrial centre, the city actually features two distinct downtown areas. Osaka's northern downtown surrounds Umeda-Osaka station, while its southern downtown is located around Namba station. Also worth a visit is the historic district that surrounds Osaka Castle, one of the vestiges of the city's glorious and momentous past.
Osaka is considered the gourmet capital of Japan. Visitors will find many different kinds of restaurants here, with patrons enjoying meals at any time of day. The city lays claim to its own culinary specialties, including fugu (puffer fish), hansuke-nabe (eel soup), okonomiyaki (cabbage pancakes), tako yaki (octopus fritters) and udon-suki (a noodle dish).
Several major traditional holidays and annual festivals punctuate the Osaka calendar. The city's most impressive festival, Tenjin matsuri, is held in July and features a procession departing from the Temmangu Shrine, a night parade of torch-lit boats on the Okawa River, and a beautiful closing ceremony with fireworks.