Osaka Remains A Formidable Economic And Cultural Force
Global Traveler|October 2019
Through historic ups and downs, Osaka remains a formidable economic and cultural force.
Angelique Platas

One destination appears on nearly every avid and leisure traveler’s bucket list: Japan. Luckily for business travelers, it’s also a mecca for big industries including agriculture, technology, textiles and manufacturing. Regions that once employed whole towns of coal miners, fishermen and farmers now produce electronics, automobiles, forging machinery, textiles, pharmaceuticals and consumer goods.

As one of the country’s top three cities, next to Kyoto and Tokyo, Osaka is one of a kind within the country. With a storied reputation for rising up, moving forward and adapting when adversity strikes, it boasts a neighborhood feel along with impressive big-city stature and opportunity.

Osaka’s reputation as a hub for outsourced goods and an incredible trade economy is a relatively new concept, as Japan was secluded from the Western world for most of its history. The country only opened to U.S. trade in 1853, after 200 years of warming up to the idea.

Nestled along the Seto Inland Sea and Osaka Bay, Osaka’s positioning with easy river access for water transportation made it a dream-scape for trade. Asian travelers and businessmen have ventured to Osaka’s shores since the fifth and sixth centuries, when the prosperous prefecture represented the political heart of Japan.

Visitors flocked from Korea and China, bringing new ideas such as Buddhism, innovative forging techniques, new technology and manufacturing skills. While Buddhist temples popped up in Osaka and Kyoto and women’s culture ascended on a steady climb, the city ventured into the Heian period. Factions arose, conflicts erupted and hundreds of years went by while the city experienced economic booms, destruction from war, rebuilding periods and political changes followed by times of peace — all bringing Osaka into the 14th and 15th centuries as a stronghold of Japanese culture and political influence. The city proved to be a comeback kid.

The first Westerners who made their way to Japan’s islands for trade were the Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese in the 16th and 17th centuries. After European traders’ attempts to convert the locals to Catholicism, Japan refused trade with nearly all foreign prospects in 1639, only minimally trading with Chinese and Dutch vessels.

The reopening of Western trade with Japan in the 1850s proved not only big business and a political move but also a huge cultural shake-up and touristic undertaking. As Osaka welcomed trade for the first time in centuries, foreign business travelers arrived with the need for dining, shopping and accommodations. Foreign needs quickly turned into a money-making outlet for the city, as establishments boasting authentic Japanese culture and eateries filled the port city, acting as a siren call to newcomers.

Times changed again for Osaka when the Tokugawa clan took control of Japan and moved the political center to Edo, present-day Tokyo. Economic powers followed, leaving Osaka in dire straits.

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