Forget Ginza: Osaka is Japan's real class retail act

Forget Ginza: Osaka is Japan's real class retail act

Japan's second city ditches its grimy, industrial past and takes on the capital’s shopping havens
Osaka shopping
Osaka is as stylish and modern as Tokyo any hour of the day

As huge and sprawling as it is, Kansai’s largest city, Osaka, rarely features in tourist plans. Sure, visitors may pencil in a quick spin round Kyoto or Nara, but the region typically lags far, far behind Tokyo in terms of international recognition.

That, however, could be set to change if the city’s trade bodies and tourist organizations achieve their latest goals of promoting Osaka as the destination they reckon it deserves to be.

Among the most prominent of the newly highlighted attractions is the retail therapy on offer in Osaka’s many and varied shopping districts.

The sheer number of trendy retail areas are a living testimony to the fact that Osaka is a shopping paradise that is slowly but surely becoming as hip as the capital’s.

Considering Osaka’s traditional shopping arcades, like Tenjinmachisuji or Shinsaibashi Suji, each boasting hundreds of stores, there has never been a shortage of great shopping in Osaka anyway.

The latest additions to city’s shopping landscape simply add more spice and update the image a little.

Brimming with living color, green spaces, creative designs and dynamic crowds, these vibrant Osaka districts will whet your appetite to venture beyond Japan’s capital and live a little. Who needs Tokyo anyway?

Osaka Station City

Osaka shoppingOsaka Station -- not what you expected, eh?

Large train stations in Japan are retail strongholds, where malls and department stores take up the floors both under and above the tracks, and Osaka Station in the Umeda district is no exception.

A recent overhaul has turned a once-dreary station into a modern and elegant shopping and entertainment “city” centered on plazas -- green spaces and relaxation areas -- that invite you to hang out, maybe even spend a few yen.

The whole complex is covered with a dome-like roof and shoppers can sip a cappuccino from an Italian café on Toki-no-hiroba (Clock Plaza), which connects the shopping facilities in two high-rise buildings above the station.

There, you can find the JR Osaka Mitsukoshi Isetan department store, the Daimaru Umeda department store, a Tokyu Hands department store and the Lucua mall of specialty shops, as well as Osaka Station City Cinema and Hotel Granvia Osaka.

A must-see for the kids is the Pokémon Center Osaka on the 13th floor of the south building.

After spending all your cash, you might enjoy some quiet contemplation while gazing out over one of Osaka’s best vistas from Kaze-no-hiroba (Wind Plaza). The nearby Umeda Sky Building, one of Osaka’s main attractions, is in full view.

To top that, literally, Osaka Station is probably the only building in the city with a farm on top.

Tenku-no-noen (Farm in the Sky) is an eco showpiece where vegetables and flowers are grown, solar panels and mini windmills generate electricity and there is still plenty of space for you to catch a breath of fresh air and relax.

Osaka Station City, 3-1-3 Umeda, Kita Ward, +81 (0) 6 6458 0212, osakastationcity.com

Access: Directly connected to JR Osaka Station, Osaka City’s main rail terminal in the north. There is easy access by Osaka Loop Line and by a number of subway lines, including the Midosuji and Yotsubashi Lines.

Namba Parks

Osaka shoppingAsk for a few pot plants and look what happens. Over delivering, Osaka style.

Namba Parks, a so-called lifestyle complex with multiple terraces and a rooftop garden is a prime example of “landscape architecture” that makes much-needed greenery easily accessible in the city center.

Eight sloping terraces featuring groves of trees and plants, burbling streams and waterfalls interspersed with rock arrangements and neatly cut lawns give the impression of a nature oasis amid the hustle and bustle of Osaka.

The chirping of birds you hear is real for once and not coming from a speaker.

That lush greenery hides well over 100 stores and restaurants that offer a serious shopping and dining experience.

To unwind after doing the rounds, you might want to find a sunny spot on one of the terraces connected to a café or restaurant to try a bento lunch box, or find yourself a hidden cloister on the rooftop.

Namba Parks, 2-10-70 Namba-Naka, Naniwa Ward, +81 (0) 6 6644 7100, www.nambaparks.com

Access: Linked to Namba Station, a major transportation hub in the south of Osaka City, there is easy access by the Midosuji or Yotsubashi subway lines.

Rinku Town

Osaka shoppingCalifornia? Hawaii? Nope -- Osaka (via South Carolina, admittedly).

Further afield from Osaka City but still in Osaka Prefecture and very close to Kansai International Airport (KIX) is Rinku Town, a city built into Osaka Bay on reclaimed land that offers resort-style shopping and entertainment with an ocean view.

The best view over Osaka Bay is to be had from the top of the large Ferris wheel at Rinku Pleasure Town Seacle, a shopping and entertainment complex.

Or you could try the upper floors of the 256-meter-tall Rinku Gate Tower Building, the second tallest skyscraper in Japan after Yokohama Landmark Tower.

Views aside, the main attraction for shopaholics is Rinku Premium Outlets -- one of Japan’s biggest malls, featuring over 150 stores in what is supposed to look like the American port city of Charleston, South Carolina.

Post-shopping wind-down options include Rinku Town’s very own onsen, Rinku-no-yu, or a stroll along the waterfront on Marble Beach while admiring the huge 3.75-kilometer Sky Gate Bridge R that connects KIX with the mainland.

We love Osaka to bits, but what is it with the weird place names round here anyway?

Access: Take the Nankai Airport Line from Osaka’s Namba Station and get off at Rinku Town. www.pref.osaka.jp/rinkai

More on CNNGo: New Michelin rankings boost Kansai past Tokyo

America-Mura

Osaka shoppingAmerica-Mura has a reputation as a nightlife center, but its boutique-filled streets lend it an unusually stylish air.

Osaka’s mecca of youth fashion, from eclectic street fashion to designer chic, is “American Village,” a cluster of small alleys that lead to Sankaku Koen (Triangle Park), the heart of this must-visit area for fashion freaks.

Since the 1970s, Kansai fashion trends have been born here in the hundreds of small boutiques that line the alleys. American street fashion flirts with Japanese urban chic, designer vintage with ethnic clothing and Rasta-style with punk trash.

A replica of the Statue of Liberty high up on a building sets an international tone amid the seedy-looking backstreets that are also home to droves of live clubs and dark basement haunts where insiders, including Osaka’s foreign residents, hang out at their favorite bars and pubs.

America-Mura, Shinsaibashi 1-chome and 2-chome, Chuo Ward.

Access: Take the Midosuji subway line, get off the train at Shinsaibashi Station and use station Exit 7.

Tachibana-dori

Osaka shoppingMeet you on the corner of Orange Street and Hipster Junction?

The absolute insider-tip for shopping in style is Tachibana-dori.

Nicknamed Orange Street (tachibana is a kind of citrus fruit native to Japan), this 1,000-meter stretch of backstreet lined on both sides with fashionable boutiques is hot on Osaka’s trendiness barometer.

Think of Tokyo’s Ura-Hara (Harajuku’s backstreets) and you get the idea -- lots of different styles crammed into hundreds of small, perfectly turned out apparel stores.  

Traditionally, this has been Osaka’s furniture district, but nowadays the remaining furniture shops mainly sell overpriced home-interior items mixed in with some retro pieces and dubious antiques.

For pit stops, check out the spacious Café Contempo, which looks like a designer home-decor outlet but which sells tasty coffee and pastries instead. Best of all, you don’t pay extra for the stylish setting, as you would in many other Osaka spots.  

The Tachibana-dori scene really includes the entire area around Minami-Horie Street, Nishi Ward, horie.ne.jp/orangestreet

Access: Take the Yotsubashi subway line and get off the train at Yotsubashi Station. Walk for a couple of minutes.

Shinsaibashi

Osaka shoppingShinsaibashi -- where the seriously loaded come to shop (and walk).

If top designer brands are on your shopping list, then make your way to the Midosuji Boulevard and Nagahori-dori intersection in Osaka’s Shinsaibashi district.

Where the two streets cross is Osaka’s international luxury brands area, populated by the likes of Christian Dior, Rolex, Chanel, Cartier, Armani, Louis Vuitton -- you name it.

The chains’ Osaka flagship stores jostle for attention on a single strip here, lending a touch of the Champs-Élysées to the place.

There are about 40 brand-name boutiques all told, and if you walk a little south, there’s also the venerable Daimaru Shinsaibashi department store, the area’s traditional landmark.

This building dates from 1922 but the main Daimaru department store was founded in 1728 -- now that’s shopping cred for you.

Midosuji Boulevard is a tree-lined, four-lane road running north-south through the center of Osaka. It’s walkable between Namba Station and Osaka Station, making for a fine afternoon shopping stroll.

Access: Take the Midosuji subway line and get off at Shinsaibashi Station. Take Exit 4A or 4B and then walk up the street towards the intersection.

More on CNNGo: Tokyo’s shiny new eco shopping mall

Alena Eckelmann is a German freelance journalist and researcher who lives and works in Japan’s Kansai area.

Read more about Alena Eckelmann
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