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Japan's third largest city, the industrial metropolis of Osaka lies just 26 miles (42km) south of Kyoto. Osaka is an ancient city, powerful in the days of the feudal lords and samurai. Now the city is a commercial hub, focused on making money and having a good time: it has a reputation in Japan as one of the best places to eat and drink.
It is worthwhile visiting the city just to see the magnificent Osaka Castle. Osaka's castle dates back to the 16th century, built by the powerful lord Hideyoshi Toyotomi. It was rebuilt following World War II, renovated in 1997, and is today a national treasure.
The city has a number of other attractions, including museums dedicated to science, wood-block printing, peace, and even ramen. There are also a number of beautiful temples, and the famous Bunraku Puppet Theatre. Other attractions in Osaka include an impressive aquarium and Universal Studios Japan, a theme park focusing on the American movie industry.
Osaka offers many of the same hardcore shopping opportunities that Japan's other major metropolises do, with the most famous shopping district, Shinsaibashi, offering a mixture of department stores, fashionable boutiques, and Western stores. Nipponbashi is the best place to go for electronics.
Osaka has a distinct cuisine, putting its unique stamp on everything from sushi to (street food). After dinner, head out for some fun in one of the karaoke bars. The liveliest nightlife is found in Dotombori.
Osaka has a humid subtropical climate with four distinct seasons. Winters (December to February) are fairly mild, with temperatures ranging from 37°F (3°C) to 54°F (12°C) and little precipitation. Snowfall is rare but there are occasional light flurries. Summers (June to August) are quite humid and hot, with temperatures ranging from 68°F (20°C) to 92°F (33°C); summers are also the wettest season in Osaka, with around 10 rainy days per month between May and September. Spring and autumn are good seasons to visit Japan, when the weather is mild. Those who visit in late March or early April should see the spectacular sight of cherry blossoms in full bloom, while the trees will be wearing their autumn colours in October and early November.
Visitors to Osaka will find it incredibly easy to get around, as the city boasts a highly developed public transportation system that spans the entire area and is particularly accommodating of foreigners.
A lot of the travel information in Osaka, such as signs, maps, and noticeboards, is presented in English, which can make the difference between reaching one's destination quickly and hours of bewildered wandering.
Osaka's extensive subway network provides easy access around the city with its discernible colour-coded lines. The Osaka metro is generally open from 5am until around midnight, and many of the lines have English as well as Japanese announcements for each approaching destination.
Visitors in Osaka can also use over-ground trains to get around the city. The JR Osaka Loop Line circles the main city districts and can be useful for getting across Osaka while avoiding the crowded central areas.
A further transport option for travellers in Osaka is the city's dense network of public buses. While inevitably being susceptible to heavy traffic, buses do allow visitors to enjoy the sights and sounds of the city as they travel. Ferries are also a fun and scenic way for visitors to travel along the coast of Osaka Bay, stopping at several popular tourist attractions.
Most residents in Osaka get around by bicycle, as the city is flat and easily navigable. There are numerous places throughout the city where visitors can rent a bicycle, however it may be easier and cheaper to simply buy a second hand bike for the duration of one's time in the city. This can be done either online or at a bike shop. Prospective cyclists should note that they are technically required to register their bike with the local police.
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