Grand Escapes: Stylish and Underrated Luxuries of Osaka

There is a certain romanticism associated with Japan’s third largest city, Osaka, a name that evokes the alluring wonders of distant Japan. In reality, Osaka is a bustling metropolis of sparkling skyscrapers, flashing storefronts and three million souls, a concrete jungle. And yet, there is real elegance. In Osaka, we find the luxury of a fully modern Japan, intimately shaped by its majestic past.

Among today’s Japanese, Osakis have a reputation for being straightforward, down-to-earth, and generally inviting. In Osaka, it is not uncommon for a traveler asking directions to a passer-by to be invited for a drink or a meal of okonomiyaki, a roasted cabbage patty and an Osaka street food specialty. Despite their hectic life and their imposing size, the Osakians are warm.

Their friendliness perhaps stems from a long history of interacting with foreigners as one of Japan’s largest shopping malls. A seaport interspersed with rivers and canals, this “water town” has been an important axis of trade in the Pacific Ocean since at least the 16th century. Specializing in food, Osaka has long been known as the “cuisine of the nation”. Economic historians identify the world’s first futures trade with the Dōjima Rice Exchange, opened in 1697. Today, the port of Osaka remains one of the five largest in Japan and its culinary scene remains rich in history.

TO STAY

For classic luxury and a prime location, there is the Ritz Carlton Osaka in the bright and busy district of Umeda. Inspired by an 18th-century English mansion, with fine woods, sparkling chandeliers and a lobby with a fireplace straight out of Knightsbridge, this grand hotel is in the center of the beating heart of Osaka, steps from Osaka Station, the city’s main terminus; it is the go-to link for exploring Osaka’s many interesting satellite cities such as Kobe, Nara and Kyoto.

For a Japanese touch, dine on excellent Michelin-starred premium sashimi and sake Hanagatami Restaurant. Don’t miss a green tea at the 34th-floor Club Lounge, which offers breathtaking views of the city.

For accommodation in a quieter area, consult the St. Regis on Midosuji Boulevard, Osaka’s main north-south artery, lined with ginkgo trees. Boasting a plethora of luxury outlets – Armani, Louis Vuitton, Chanel – the multi-story street is known as the Champs-Elysée in Osaka. This 160-room St. Regis boasts a world-class spa and super-attentive “butler” service. Outside its high-ceilinged 12th-floor entrance hall is a charming garden terrace and rock garden, or karesansui, overlooking the trendy Minami district.

To escape the hustle and bustle of the city together, embark on a 30-minute journey shinkansen fast train to Kyoto and spend a night lounging in your own onsen at the Hotel Suiran (buy a rail pass here.) Situated along the peaceful jade green Hozu River next to Kameyama Forest, this small retreat in the upscale Arashiyama district tastefully merges traditional Kyoto aesthetics with elegance and modern amenities. Guests can enjoy a free drink every evening at their riverside restaurant, Kyo-Suiran, a former summer residence built during the Meiji Restoration in the 19th century.

Osaka is a bustling metropolis of sparkling skyscrapers, flashing storefronts and three million souls, a concrete jungle.

Kit Ko, Unsplash

EXPERIENCE

In Osaka, one of the first places visitors go is Dotonbori, and for good reason. A long and frenetic stretch of casual dining, shopping and entertainment along a scenic canal, Dotonbori is best visited at night to fully appreciate the light show of flashing neon storefronts. Many feature giant animatronic mascots, such as the iconic orange spider crab drawing passers-by above the Koni Daraku restaurant. Pro tip: Dip down one of Dotonbori’s many narrow lanes to find a less touristy restaurant to try.

The next morning, take a leisurely stroll through the opulent Osaka Castle, one of Japan’s most iconic archaeological treasures. Built in the 16th century, it sits behind high ancient walls on a beautiful island surrounded by a wide moat. Numerous gardens, a small museum and trendy gift shops provide plenty of exploration opportunities for the visitor.

Osaka is a popular starting point for day trips nearby. The closest landmark of interest is the Temple City of Kyoto, one of Japan’s most charming municipalities, with 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and only half an hour away by car. shinkansen. Its 1,600 Buddhist temples are a main draw, as are its many elegant tea rooms. Recommended is shiny gold Kinkaju-ji, the subject of Yukio Mishima’s poignant novel, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, based on an actual arson attack at the site in 1950.

The Michelin-starred Hanagatami restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton Osaka.

Ritz Carlton Hotel

EAT DRINK

Osaka is one of the greatest food cities in the world, although not many people outside of Japan know it. Gastronomy in particular abounds and the metropolis is littered with Michelin stars. A restaurant with three of these famous stars is Fujiya 1935. The small, sparse restaurant offers a seasonal, ever-changing menu of inventive Euro-Japanese dishes that are as colorful as they are succulent. Think of a ginkgo nut pancake with Pacific saury and lime, or chestnut pudding with rum-flavored coffee jelly.

Another three star must-have is Koryu, the brainchild of chef Shintaro Matsuo, who was born and educated in the culinary arts in Osaka. With room for only a handful of diners, there is no menu; Matsuo-san uses the freshest ingredients on this day. Expect lots of raw fish and a friendly hello from the brilliant chef.

After dinner, head to To bark, a small, dimly lit basement underground bar in the Kita Shinchi clubby district. With an impressive collection of single malt Scotch whiskey, this is one of Osaka’s best drinking bars. They also make what might be the best mojito you’ve ever tried. For gin lovers there is Juniper bar, an elegant and classic place with nicely dressed bartenders and a rich selection of gin varieties, some over a century old.

The writer was hosted by St. Regis, the Ritz Carlton and the Suiran.

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