Osaka has somewhat of a reputation of being a little rough around the edges. A city not usually known for its design, yet one with a distinct culture, we at STORIED fell in love with this vibrant metropolis as a place that doesn’t take itself too seriously - where the conviviality of the locals welcomes you with open hearts… and over open bottles. Here are our favourite places to shop, stay, drink, and dine in the city.
Where to shop: Osaka is and will always be a merchant’s town. The locals have it in their blood, that warmth and friendliness, a yearning to never alienate a potential customer, it’s ingrained. You can feel it in the city, an air of amiable openness, so it’s no surprise that the city’s modern ateliers ooze that same distinctly Osakan draw.
My first stop in Osaka is usually the Shibakawa Building. Built in 1927 the brickwork façade is an early Showa era masterpiece, accommodating a selection of independent stores that have a wonderful connection to craft and design. Yumiko Iihoshi porcelain sits seamlessly next to glassware store Ricordo and homewares-store-come-café Dieci. The refined setting of industrial iron staircases and enticing natural tones makes for an exciting group of stores with a seriously cool selection of goods.
For another curated collection of homewares, seek out Hitofushi, a shop selling ‘traditional Japanese living tools’. With a selection of beautiful and useful items, from bamboo baskets, to ceramics, small leather goods and jewellery, we love the varied array of Japan-made goods. Just around the corner from Hitofushi is Velvet, a modern casualwear and lifestyle store. Products here include relaxed tailoring for men and women from both Japanese and international designers, alongside wearable accessories, fragrances, plants, and pots, their greenery brightening the store’s cool, minimal aesthetic.
If you have more of a sweet tooth when it comes to choosing where to part with your yen, Mochisho Shizuku Shinmachi serves up some very pleasing wagashi, (traditional Japanese sweets), specialising in mochi (pounded rice cakes) made solely from selected organic Japanese ingredients and prepared in the traditional way with an antique pounding machine. The owner, Yoshihiro Ishida, was inspired to found the store after the sudden death of his father and battle with depression. He believes that the human mind and body have miraculous powers that cannot be elucidated by simple nutrition and medicine and so by focusing his efforts on creating the finest mochi with the best ingredients, he wishes to stimulate these powers and help others that may be struggling. The pared down design by acclaimed Japanese architect Teruhiro Yanagihara, reflects the ephemeral nature of the products sold.
Where to eat & drink: You will never be short of dining options in Osaka. Known as ‘the nation’s kitchen’, the city has everything from compact standing bars to three Michelin star fine-dining. Much of the attraction lies in venturing down secret side streets, happening upon a place for yourself, though be sure to sample some of the local delicacies during your exploration of the city; takoyaki (small balls of deep-fried batter filled with octopus pieces) and okonomiyaki (a savoury pancake containing a variety of ingredients). For a slightly upmarket version of the former, Takoriki pairs it’s delectably light battered-balls with a side of champagne.
For those with a pining for noodles, Shuhari Soba supplies some of the city’s best. Shuhari has three locations, each store designed so as to show the entire process of soba (buckwheat noodles) making, from milling to cooking. Each location, by Design Ground 55, is an ode to traditional Japanese technique with modern flare; natural materials carved into refined lines, earthen walls in rich tones and minimal moss gardens ensure that the setting is as good as the food.
For a taste of tea, Wad (pronounced wa-do), the name coming from the Japanese cultural concept wa which is usually translated into English as harmony, and do which is usually translated as ‘the way of’, is the sister store to Mitomi. A pared back café and gallery where you can enjoy the spirit of the tea ceremony alongside the vessels and materials that would normally be used, but in a more modern, relaxed setting. The tea at Wad comes from Wazuka, Kyoto and Makinohara, Shizuoka and is served alongside carefully created wagashi.
Where to stay: FYLGDU MÉR OSAKA is a three-storied space on a suburban street in Nishi ward - its attention on wellness, organic cuisine and environmental sensitivity. Encouraging the idea of living simply, the venue (which features a restaurant, treatment rooms and a one-bedroom suite) is the magnum opus of restaurateur Ryo Kobayashi from Fukuoka, where he opened his first restaurant of the same name. The design was by Osaka-based Teruhiro Yanagihara, who has created a space of visual quietude rounded off by subtle lighting and organic materials in a muted palette.
What to do: The National Museum of Art is an architectural sensation. Located mainly underground, the breach point with street-level is an impressive glass and stainless steel sculpture that creates a dramatic landmark among the more mundane high rises of Osaka. Designed by architect Cesar Pelli, the structure is meant to resemble reeds along a riverbank or the stalks of a bamboo grove. Venture inside to see an impressive collection of Japanese art.
Often mistaken for a part of nearby Universal Studios, the Maishima Waste Disposal Plant is eye-catching to say the least. The design of the building comes from Friedensreich Hundertwasser, renowned Viennese artist and architect whose work focuses on environmental preservation. Foliage spreads across the roof, around the windows, and through the periphery, creating a green landscape that completely encompasses the building. Planning is currently underway to plant a forest in the area around the building, enveloping it in green. The whimsical structure was built on a reclaimed island that was originally earmarked to host the Olympics, though sold off after Osaka’s unsuccessful bid. Tours are offered throughout the week, aimed at highlighting what it means to coexist with nature, though reservations are required in advance.
Despite its size, Osaka is ideal to explore by foot taking in the sights and sounds of the city. We love to lose the map and get lost amongst the architecture.