Osaka Area Guide: Tempozan 天保山
The feature that gives Osaka's Tempozan area its name is something of a mountain made out of a mole hill. The end of the Edo Period, in the mid-nineteenth century, was a time of financial crisis for Japan.
Economic reform policies had been repeatedly tried with little improvement. The last of these was named the Tempo Reform. Instituted in 1841, it was the beginning of a four year period of drastic change in Japanese economic and social institutions.
Because of its dramatic nature and because it was the last attempt at recovery before Japan was opened to foreign trade, the time is known as the Tempo Era.
The Tempo Reform was also a failure, but life goes on, and an important channel of Osaka's lifeblood is transportation of goods along the river, Yodogawa. To facilitate that continuing business activity, a section of the river near its mouth was dredged during the Tempo Era and the soil mounded up on the bank. The mounded earth served as a landmark for ships beginning their journey upriver, and was given the name, Tempozan, proclaiming it as Japan's lowest mountain.
The mountain still exists today, in a small park beside a harbor. Its loyal fans have resisted repeated government decisions to raze it. The 4.53 meter summit is crowned with an obelisk that is arguably taller than the mound itself and marked on a map at the entrance to the park.
Since the Tempo Era, the park, let alone the mountain, has been dwarfed by so many modern attractions that you can easily spend a day or two in what is now called Tempozan Village that would be both entertaining and educational. There are a number of hotels with easy access, and plenty of opportunities to pick up distinctive souvenirs.
Tempozan Ferris Wheel
The Tempozan Ferris Wheel is 112.5 meters high. No longer the world's largest, it still offers a view of the entire Osaka Bay area. The lights on its arms that shine at night predict tomorrow's weather. If the lights are orange it means the sun will shine, green means clouds, and blue is for rain.
What makes the biggest splash in Tempozan is another world class sized attraction. Across the plaza that is often dotted with street performers is the Osaka Aquarium or Kaiyukan. While it has lost the distinction of being the largest in the world, it is still an impressive and popular venue that provides spacious viewing areas for panoramic, submarine vistas populated by a host of fascinating residents.
The wait outside can sometimes be long, especially on weekends or national holidays, but it is certainly worth it. The size of the tanks allows the aquarium to keep even the larger species of shark and manta rays in a healthy environment. In some areas the viewers are literally surrounded by the waters these leviathans cruise through. There is also a private suite with a view of the main tank and kitchen facilities that is available for hourly rental.
Tempozan offers experiences of the ocean, not only from far above and deep within, but along its surface as well. The most touted is in the tall ship named Santa Maria. Its construction is loosely based on the ship of the same name that was one of Columbus' fleet, which he steered to the New World.
From the outside it looks much like the original. Inside it much more inviting and oriented towards tourism. The passenger areas comprise three decks. The lower has a collection of documents and information about Columbus and the times in which he lived. The middle deck contains a restaurant area, and the upper is an observation lounge with very comfortable seating. The ship cruises Osaka Bay for 50 minutes during the daytime and 105 minutes at night when reservations are needed.
Between the aquarium and the Ferris Wheel is the Tempozan Marketplace. With over 90 shops it is something of a hotchpotch of souvenirs, practical items, clothing boutiques, and restaurants. It is one of the places in Osaka where you can sample many of the foods that are part of the city's reputation, such as takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and various takes on ramen, accompanied by beers from local microbreweries, all under one roof.
Beyond the aquarium a building of unusual character punctuates the skyline. Designed by the world renowned, Japanese architect, Tadao Ando, it is unlike many of his other creations that burrow mostly underground and have little impact on the surrounding landscape.
Its prominent feature is a wide, inverted cone like an exclamation mark against the sky. Here you can find collections of another kind. The building began its life in 1994 as the Suntory Museum. It was closed in 2010, but has reopened as the Osaka Tempozan Special Art Gallery and continues as a venue for displays of large and striking collections from around the world.
If you are inclined to take home artwork from the area, be sure to visit the Tempozan Art Gallery in the Marketplace. The works of local artists are on display here and nearly everything is for sale. Owing to the venue, the sea is a common motif among the various media on offer.
When you think you have had enough, you can stroll down behind the Special Art Gallery to the southern end of the harbor. You will find, out in the water, a diminutive statue of The Little Mermaid from the story by Hans Christian Anderson, a gift to Tempozan Village from the Karlsburg Company of Denmark. You can sit with her and consider whether you're ready to leave the village behind while she contemplates the loss of her prince.
The Hotel Seagull Tempozan is located in the center of the area. Other hotels are congregated around Universal Studios Japan and near Cosmo Square, the next station along from Osaka-ko.
Access - how to get to Tempozan
Tempozan is south west of Umeda and almost due west of Namba. Osaka-ko Station on the Chuo Line of the Osaka subway is the best station to access Tempozan. By bus take Osaka City Bus #88 from Osaka Station or #60 from Namba Station.