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O On the main island of Honshu, Japan, in the center of the Kansai region, lies Osaka Prefecture and the third largest city in Japan, Osaka. Throughout the city’s 1500-year-old history Osaka has always been a place of great cultural, as well as political and economic significance. Japan’s first capital city was established in Osaka Prefecture, and the city of Osaka would later become known as the “Nation’s Kitchen”. Osaka is the second largest prefecture in Japan boasting a population of 8.8 million people and attracts almost as many tourists every year. Thanks to the Naniwa-zu port in the Osaka Bay, 5th century Osaka became the cultural hub of Japan.  Foreign influences reached Japan through Osaka and quickly spread to all corners of the country. In the 7th century, the capital of Japan was established in Kyoto, a mere 14-minute bullet train ride from Osaka city. Despite the capital’s eventual move to Tokyo, the Kansai region has continued to thrive unhindered for nearly a millennium. In the 16th century, Toyotomi Hideyoshi set out to finish the quest of unifying the country. He chose Osaka City as his center of operations, and in 1583 he built the magnificent Osaka Castle. The castle was destroyed and rebuilt several times before its final restoration in 1931. The castle can still be enjoyed today sitting atop a large hill in the heart of the city. This iconic symbol of Japan is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the area. In the 17th century, the region became known as the “Nation’s Kitchen” as most raw materials and commodities were manufactured in Osaka and subsequently distributed throughout the country. The region experienced major setbacks in the 19th and 20th centuries, during the Meiji Restoration and WWII, but Osaka regained its strength and grew into what is now one of the largest industrial centers, in the world. The Floating Garden Observatory on top of the Umeda Sky Building is a must-see modern marvel. Osaka is also home to one of the largest aquariums in the world, as well as the first Universal Studios theme park opened outside of the U.S. Despite having transformed into a modern metropolis, Osaka never forgot its past, and that is why it’s such a popular place among tourists. Shitennoji, the oldest Buddhist temple in Japan, Hozen-ji Temple, Namba Yasaka Shrine and the previously mentioned Osaka Castle are only a few examples of historic architectural wonders in the area. After sightseeing, tourists can visit one of the city’s many shopping districts for a bit of retail therapy, take a picture with the iconic Glico Man, or walk along Dotonbori Street and find out why Osaka is referred to as the “Food Capital of Japan”. Osaka is where to find traditional Japanese culture, great food, modern entertainment and the friendliest people in Japan.

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