by Wes Lang
Ever overshadowed by its larger cousin Tokyo to the north, Osaka is often written off by tourists as a concrete monstrosity with few distinguishing features. And, at first glance, it may seem that way. However, Japan’s third-largest city is best appreciated for the more subtle and unexpected encounters – such as those you’ll experience with a stroll down Midosuji Boulevard, the “Champs-Élysées of Asia.”
The four-kilometer-long thoroughfare, which runs north-south, links two of Osaka’s legendary neighborhoods: the fast-paced, high-class enclave of Umeda, and the blue-collar, speak-your-mind attitude of Namba. Near the northern end of Midosuji Boulevard, you’ll find a Venanzo Crocetti sculpture entitled Dancer.
The figure has her arms folded across her chest, head pointed with the flow of traffic as if muttering the command: “Carry on, nothing to see here.” There are a total of 37 different works of art placed regularly along the route, from both European and Japanese artists alike. If these sculptures were in any other city in the world, they’d probably be tagged with graffiti, but here they are well taken care of and offer beautiful stops along your stroll. The artwork is on both sides of the street, so if you want to see them all then you’ll need to return on the opposite side.
This area of town is part of the financial hub of the city, so you’ll likely see people dressed in business attire shuffling hastily off to meetings. One thing you will not find, however, is second-hand smoke, as the entire street has banned smoking. Further south, you’ll notice a couple of things. First, is the lack of electrical wires. Midosuji boulevard is one of the only streets in Japan where the power lines have been completely buried, marking a rare chance to snap some clean skyline photos.
The other thing you will notice right away is the sheer number of trees. While the real Champs-Élysées favors the horse-chestnut, here in Osaka the Gingko trees reign supreme. In November the leaves turn a brilliant yellow, creating a breathtaking backdrop against the blue sky on clear days. There are a total of 800 trees lining the entire route, which makes for a bit of a green oasis.
A third thing that may catch the eye of the more observant tourist is the height of the buildings. Just as in Washington D.C., there is a height restriction for all buildings lining Midosuji so you don’t have to worry about the clouds being blocked by skyscrapers.
You will soon see Ferrari showrooms on the right and Lamborghini a little further down on the opposite side of the street. There’s also a small bit of tradition on an otherwise very modern street in the form of Namba shrine. Just behind the shrine is a neighborhood called Minami-Senba, a hip part of town featuring cafés, clothing stores, and even a record store run by the popular musical group, Kyoto Jazz Massive.
Next come the brand-name flagship stores: Hermes, Rolex, Louis Vutton, and Armani are well-represented. Beyond these is the area called Minami, and you’ll begin to notice less and less suit-clad executives and see more fashion-conscious youngsters. A right turn at the Apple store takes you into Ame-mura, also known as the “American Village.” Here you’ll find a lot of clothing stores peddling hip-hop clothing, music, and accessories. It’s a good chance to observe young fashion trends.
Further south on Midosuji itself is a large bridge that leads into the futuristic neon of Dotonbori street. There are literally hundreds of restaurants and bars scattered on the backstreets of the entire neighborhood, which serve as a wonderful start to the night ahead in this underrated, but incredibly vibrant city.