The many streets of Osaka

Commuters ride through a small shopping district near Kawachi Hanazono station.

Commuters ride through a small shopping district near Kawachi Hanazono station.

Osaka has its own entry in the City Planner’s Guide to Urban Sprawl (How To Avoid This In Future). Like most metropolises, Osaka is a layered cake, hiding many of its more delicious qualities beneath an icing of concrete, neon and unsafe motorbike riding practices. With the 7th largest land area in the world, there is a lot of surface to scrape off (or, for the unfortunate pedestrian or cyclist, to be scraped off of) and bodies to see past before finding Osaka’s surprisingly calm and charming backstreet world.

A truck sneaks across the zebras despite the determined cyclist.

A truck sneaks across the zebras despite the determined cyclist.

Pedestrians and slow riders find safe haven in the arcades near the station.

Pedestrians and slow riders find safe haven in the arcades near the station.

Despite the freedom from not being crushed in a train at peak-hour, a bike ride-able distance to work comes with its dangers. Two-wheeled transport is very popular in Osaka – bicycle congestion is almost as thick as automobile, and swarming scooters make everyone’s lives more exciting as they weave through any available, though not necessary legal, thoroughfare.

While riding the most direct route to work along the main streets, my mind with frequently preoccupied with the following:

Things That Will Kill You In Osaka

  • Impatient scooters mounting the footpath.
  • Oblivious/determined, black visored grandmothers riding against the traffic with parasols clamped to their handlebars at the perfect height to bounce other riders off their path.
  • Stay inside your house! levels of PM2.5 air pollution.
  • Oblivious/testing God, old men who cross roads, exit blind corners and fail to stop at stop signs, not caring that cars, bikes, babies in prams etc could be in the way – though amazingly, they never are.
  • Multitasking bike riders trying to light their cigarettes, text/play Candy Crush Saga, study for an exam, apply eye make-up, read a book, or attempt a mix of these.
Scooters line up for the lights. Riders often take advantage of their small size, ducking alongside traffic, skimming the centre line, or taking the (illegal) footpath short cut whenever the way is blocked.

Scooter riders often take advantage of their small size, ducking alongside traffic, skimming the centre line, or taking the (illegal) footpath short cut whenever the way is blocked.

Commuting is rarely enjoyable, but this was terrifying.

As often happens though, in the last few weeks before my time in Osaka was over, I chanced the tangle of backstreets, and discovered a safer, sweeter world of roads too narrow to easily accept cars, and too twisty to appeal to scooters. Vertical gardens are tucked away along with all the other details of a vibrant, settled community that is generally unseen behind the car dealerships and family restaurants.

A couple cycle between brick apartment blocks and houses and the gardens running up alongside them.

A couple cycle between brick apartment blocks and houses and the gardens running up alongside them.

Small, dead-end streets within the maze.

Small, dead-end streets within the maze.

Inner city rice field

A rice field is hedged in by houses and office buildings.

Gardening

Even in the centre of industrial Higashi-Osaka, farmers tend plots of land, that become overrun with summer vegetables.

Read Osaka by its streets and you will understand the full nature of this giant city.

It never stops moving, is a deathtrap on spokes, full of cross-roads, short-sighted road planning, and determination to cross RIGHT NOW!

It is a settlement of centuries, with a surprisingly abundant level of vegetation, comfortable in itself, acceptant of houses decorated entirely in clocks and full of nooks where deep fried katsu, takoyaki and beer can be found on the way home from work. 

The many streets of Osaka are friendly, curious, crowded, terrifying places, that are only occasionally impatient with those attempting to drive them.

Construction workers fixing up a new karaoke shop smile at a passing photographer.

Construction workers fixing up a new karaoke shop smile at a passing photographer.

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