I have a favorite story about Osaka. In 1985, the local baseball team, the Hanshin Tigers, won the Japan Series. The fans, overjoyed at their first Japan Series victory, celebrated in downtown Osaka in a way that can only be described as unique. The fans shouted out the names of the players who had finally delivered the national title to the most passionate fanbase in all of Japan, and those in the crowd who looked like the players who were being called out dashed forward and jumped into the Dotonbori Canal.
Just one little problem. The star of the team was an American named Randy Bass (who eventually became a state senator in Oklahoma). However, there was nobody who resembled Bass in the crowd. Frantically searching for someone, anyone to throw into the river, the fans found the perfect person. Or the perfect statue of a person. They found Colonel Sanders. That’s right, the guy from KFC. In their mad excitement, they snatched a statue of the Colonel from a nearby KFC restaurant and dumped it into the river, where it promptly sunk to the bottom of the river.
The Hanshin Tigers have yet to win a national title since, as legend has it that until the statue was recovered, the team was cursed. It was recovered in 2009, but the Tigers still haven’t managed to win it all since.
I like this story because it illustrates what Osaka represents to me. We’re not the biggest city in Japan. Tokyo is. When new, exciting foreign things come to Japan, it’s always to Tokyo first, not to Osaka. When the Olympics come to Japan this summer, events will be held all over northern Japan, skipping Osaka and the rest of the country.
Osaka being overlooked is not a new experience. Even in one of our main industries, tourism, it can feel as if it is treated as a transit spot to another prefecture. After all, we don’t have as many as elegant temples and shrines of neighboring Kyoto or Nara (although we do have some pretty nice ones). Osaka, from personal experience, seems to be relegated to either being a convenient transport hub to the neighboring prefectures, or a good place to go shopping (although some people just head straight to Kobe City in Hyogo Prefecture, another one of our neighbors, for that as well).
This view is far from being true. Osaka, with its rich and storied history as a place for merchants to gather, has more than its fair share of attractions. Osaka Castle (more specifically, the fall of it) was key to the unification of Japan under the Tokugawa shogunate. The aforementioned Dotonbori area is famous for shopping or eating (Osaka has been called “the kitchen of Japan). Recently, a cluster of keyhole-shaped ancient tombs (or “kofun”) in Sakai have been designated for inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List. And unlike Tokyo, which claims to be home to Tokyo Disneyland (it’s located in Chiba Prefecture), Osaka’s Universal Studios Japan theme park is actually in Osaka.
The greatest attraction above all, as clichéed as it may sound, is its people. Osaka is famous for producing comedians, possibly because of its more informal, casual culture, with people as colorful and boisterous as the regional dialect. In a time when it feels that the political, social, and economic pull of Tokyo grows stronger, Osaka should remain confident and proud of its distinct culture and traditions, the strength of it which can be seen in the current tourism boom.
In 2025, Osaka will play host to the World Expo for the second time. It will be held on the artificial island of Yumeshima (“Dream Island”). Just as the central government hoped that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics would introduce a new Japan to the world, I hope that the World Expo will do the same to show the world what Osaka is right now, and what it could be in the future. Although change in the future may be unnerving to some; especially in these uncertain times, one thing is for certain. Some things will never change, especially the vibrancy of the locals and their undying love of the Tigers.