From Busan, I took a 73-minute, US$103 Peach Aviation flight to Kansai International Airport. From the airport, it took more than 100 minutes to arrive at the Airbnb, via a combination of walking and train.

 

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My first street food experience in Osaka, which gave an indication of how expensive the city is, as even a small sampling cost US$5.

Osaka city-proper has a population of nearly 3 million, the second largest in Japan. However, its metropolitan area is 19 million, ranking it #14 in the world. Tokyo metro area is #1 at 38 million.

 

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道頓堀

Osaka regularly makes the lists of both the most expensive and the most livable cities in the world. The city is extremely safe and clean, with hardly a sign of dirtiness or even an indication that crime could occur. Surprisingly, push bicycles are used everywhere, coexisting with automobiles and pedestrians without as much fuss as in other densely populated regions.

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Roy Lichtenstein mural on the side of a building

This having been my first experience in Japan, I immediately noticed the ubiquity of canned drink vending machines and unmanned parking for both cars and bicycles. Osaka seems so safe that one could simply leave bicycles anywhere without much fear of theft. I reckon the parking is more to satisfy laws than to guard against theft.

 

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Soba noodles at a small Michelin-star restaurant

Famously, Japan’s economy suffers from deflation. Its currency is the yen. When I started my world tour in November, the U.S. dollar was equal to 106 yen. As of this writing, it is 119 yen, an appreciation of 12%. Given how expensive this country is, I welcome this fortuitous currency swing. The ¥500 coin is widely used is the most valuable one in regular use in the world, being worth US$4.20. I carry more change here than in any other country since the smallest note is worth more than US$8, which is probably a record for the most valuable minimum note.

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Osaka Castle, built 1583

Despite its huge size and proximity to the sublime tourist cities of Kyoto and Tokyo, there is not too much to do in Osaka itself. Dotonbori is world-famous for its massive crowds and neon billboards, Japan’s version of New York’s Times Square or London’s Piccadilly Circus. In addition to Osaka Castle, other sights include a few temples.

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View from the top of Osaka Castle

At night, there is no shortage of hustlers dressed in suits and young ladies. While there is clearly some prostitution involved, most of the salesmanship is for clubs where it is culturally accepted to entertain with drink and young women, catering toward businessmen. These clubs are not cheap, with expected charges of at least US$100 per head. I did not try one. The women stood at intersections, but they were not aggressive at all. Maybe they thought the product sold itself.

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Protesters in the middle of Osaka

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Dinner setup before the Wagyu arrives

Perhaps the best experience of Osaka was my first Wagyu meal. I have had Kobe beef before, although even then, the meat has to travel thousands of miles in an airplane before arriving in select U.S. steakhouses. Here, the killed cow is as near and fresh as can be. As with many luxury goods, there is some myth involving the geography, breeding techniques, and care of the unusually marbled beef. The cows are quenched with beer and massaged.

The Wagyu beef we had was specifically Matsusaka beef, which along with Kobe and Yonezawa are considered the three best. As can be expected, the meat was extremely expensive. There was much hype as to how the meat would taste, but it was as good as one could expect. It hardly required chewing, as it melted onto one’s tongue like a slab of butter on a warm pan. If you eat meat, then I would definitely recommend a Wagyu dinner as an imperative item when visiting Japan.

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Wagyu. 7500 yen (=US$63) for 280 grams

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Like Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong, Japan is one the most materialistic countries in the world.