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A Taste of Osaka

Osaka’s signature dish is takoyaki, octopus dumplings fried in a cast-iron skillet. They are a symbol of the city and visitors can barely travel more than a few yards without finding a stand selling the golf ball-size morsels drizzled with a sweet brown sauce and mayonnaise. Local eateries offer the do-it-yourself experience, where an indented griddle sits in the middle of the table and diners twirl the batter with an ice pick-like device to make their own dumplings. It’s a tricky skill for the uninitiated, but luckily restaurant staff are eager to help. Another local delicacy is okonomiyaki, often compared to a pancake or omelet. A batter of flour, grated yam, eggs and shredded cabbage is used as a base, then any or all ingredients can be tossed in, including beef, pork, shrimp, vegetables, bacon, green onion and cheese. Okonomiyaki, like takoyaki, is sold in both street stalls and restaurants, where diners can flip their own customized versions on a skillet.

They’ve All Come to Look for Amerika

Ripped fishnet stockings, Technicolor hairstyles and Little Bo Peep wannabes abound in the lively neighborhood Amerikamura, or “Amerika Town,” the heart of Osaka’s youth fashion scene and western Japan’s answer to Tokyo’s popular Harajuku district. There’s nothing understated about the region, comprising the backstreets off luxury shopping strip Mido-suji. A miniature Statue of Liberty and giant clown’s head preside over the scene as hip-hop music pulses through the streets. Young people of all persuasions, be they Goths, punks or bohemians, congregate in a triangular park to snack on takoyaki, chat with friends or text-message on cell phones. While the area’s name is a bit of a misnomer for such an intrinsically Japanese neighborhood, some local aspects conjure up a foreign mystique, such as the graffiti-adorned walls and random English phrases in store names like We Go. Small boutiques lining streets stock a vast and eclectic mix, from lacy frocks to vintage jeans and limited edition sneakers.

Dining in a Distant Planet

The Planet 3rd cafe is one of the busiest around on weekends and a prime spot to check out Osaka’s hippest locals and expats. It’s a tough spot to miss thanks to the old refrigerator out front stocked with flyers on local music and club events. Inside there’s a retro feel, offering a mix of both comfort food and fusion cuisine. The menu changes frequently, but includes a range of pastas, curries and seafood dishes such as fried squid and Japanese radish with miso sauce and tuna with steamed vegetables. Outside mealtimes, it’s a cozy spot for dodging a rainstorm by sipping a chai or coffee and leafing through the well-thumbed copies of Japanese versions of Vogue, Dazed & Confused and Nylon.

Where It’s Hot to Shop

The name Elttob Tep hardly rolls off the tongue (it’s Pet Bottle spelled backwards), but it’s worth visiting the Shinsaibashi shopping district to check out the unique retail concept from Issey Miyake. The store, opened last year in a large industrial space, is the only one of its kind in the world, stocking the house’s brands including Issey Miyake, Issey Miyake Fete, Pleatsplease Issey Miyake and diffusion line Me, as well as creations from a rotating roster of emerging designers. The current lineup includes conceptual Japanese label Matohu and handbag craftsman Hikaru Matsumura. Fragrances, watches and CDs are also offered. Miyake’s signature pleated dresses, embroidered jeans and even display shelves hang from the ceiling, creating an ethereal feel. Taku Satoh, who designed the store, added one terrestrial touch: a rusty Ducati motorcycle parked outside one of the dressing rooms.

Getting in the Swim of Style

The Osaka branch of Japanese retailer Aquagirl boasts a girly vibe and intriguing selection of designer merchandise. Its well-stocked displays offer frilly tops from See By Chloé, espadrilles from Christian Louboutin, dresses from 3.1 Phillip Lim and gold Puma sneakers by Mihara Yasuhiro. A canopy bed and crystal chandeliers ramp up the sophisticated feel of the store, and Aquagirl offers a glimpse of ultrafeminine looks many Osaka women favor these days. It also provides a markedly upscale contrast to cheaper fare in nearby Amerikamura. The store is nestled in the trendy side streets of Minami Semba, an area sporting cafes, art galleries, record shops and clothing boutiques.

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