The economic capital of the Kansai region, the city of Osaka Japan is the third largest and second most important city in the country. Historically significant as the country's first capital, today Osaka Japan is a bustling port city of 2.5 million that offers tourists an interesting contrast between the ancient (though newly refurbished) Osaka Castle, and the ultra-modern Umeda Sky Building. Besides its ability to meld the past and present, Osaka Japan is known for neon lit nightlife and laid-back, beer and fried octopus loving locals.

Long before Edo (Tokyo) became the capital of Japan, Osaka (then known as Naniwa) was the first true capital city. In the sixteenth-century feudal lord Toyotomi Hideyoshi chose Osaka Japan as the location for his capital. In 1583, under the watchful eye of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, construction of the Osaka Castle began. The Osaka Castle was to become the center of a unified Japan under Toyotomi's rule, however, a few years after his death the castle was razed, and though subsequently rebuilt, was struck by lightning in 1665 and burnt down. The present day Osaka Castle was built in 1931 and, thankfully, escaped damage during WWII. Today the Osaka Castle is a museum dedicated to Toyotomi Hideyoshi's life.

Before you embark on a sightseeing tour, make sure to you get your accommodations in order. Like all major Japanese cities, Osaka is flush with top-flight hotels. The Hotel Hankyu International is the most luxurious hotel in Osaka Japan. Vaulted ceilings, enveloping sofas, and marble bathrooms combine to create a veritable Eden of a hotel in Osaka Japan.

After checking into a hotel in Osaka , you should begin your tour of Osaka at the National Bunraku Theater. Bunraku is traditional Japanese puppet theater, which differs from western puppet theater in that the puppeteers are visible on stage and manipulate puppets that are two to four feet tall. During Bunraku's early years it remained mainly an art form enjoyed by the common public, especially in rural village theaters. Today, Osaka's National Bunraku Theater is one of the few places to view the art form, and a perfect nighttime activity as you tour Osaka. English programs and earphones are available. Performances are held six times a year for two weeks each.

Next up as you tour Osaka is the Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine. One of Japan's oldest shrines, and the most famous Shinto shrine in Japan, the Taisha Shrine is an interesting stop for ancient history buffs. The Sumiyoshi Taisha enshrines kami, or Shinto gods believed to protect fisherman, travelers and other seafarers.

Last but not least, if you plan to tour Osaka you will want to visit the fabulous Umeda Sky Building. Also known as the New Umeda City, the Umeda is a 173-meter-tall building rising over the Osaka's Kita district. The building's two main towers are connected to each other by the Floating Garden Observatory on the 39th floor. From atop the Umeda Osaka spreads out in all directions below. Indeed from the Umeda Osaka is best observed and provides a great vantage point for anyone about to embark on a walking tour of the city.

A flight to Osaka from Tokyo is about 19,000 yen, but the savvy traveler will shop around for a discount—readily available, even at the last minute—and shouldn't pay more than 13,000 Yen for a one-way flight to Osaka from Tokyo. The flight to Osaka takes about an hour, and usually departs from Tokyo"s smaller and mainly domestic Haneda Airport.

So even though Osaka seems to offer few tourists options at first glance, the city's laid back style and it combination of ancient and modern history and architecture, make it a perfect two or three day getaway from the crowded crush of Tokyo.

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