Osaka is the second largest metropolitan area in Japan and economic powerhouse of the Kansai Region.
Osaka has been an important port and mercantile city in Japan since the early Edo Period and before since Toyotomi Hideyoshi founded Osaka Castle in 1596. Osaka supplied goods such as rice, sake, ceramics and fineries from Kyoto to the capital in Edo (Tokyo) by sea. Osaka, like Tokyo, is divided into distinct areas each with their own unmistakable character. Nakanoshima is the cultural and administrative center of Osaka located on an island in the Yodogawa River, Den-Den Town (an electronics shopping area in Daikokucho and Osaka's equivalent to Tokyo's Akihabara), Umeda, Shinsaibashi and Namba are the places for shopping and nightlife. The new developments near Osaka Port on the coast at Tempozan including Osaka Aquarium and the nearby Universal Studios have become the new reasons to visit the city. The southern part of the city around Tennoji, which includes the historic temple of Shitennoji, Shin-Sekai (New World) and Osaka Zoo has its own particular draw.
Osaka Castle is one of Osaka's main attractions and the large park on the castle grounds has bands and other cultural and music events in the grounds on weekends. Umeda Sky Building is a 173 meter high building formed of two separate tower blocks connected at the top, somewhat reminiscent of the Grand Arch in La defense, Paris. Completed in 1993, it was designed by architect Hiroshi Hara who is probably best known for the new Kyoto Station. Temples and shrines in Osaka of interest include the ancient Shitennoji Temple in Tennoji, nearby Isshinji Temple, the Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine and Imamiya Ebisu Shrine. The National Bunraku Theater holds performances of traditional Japanese puppet theater and is the best place in Japan to catch this unique art form.