Bianca Spender’s Osaka

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Jun 24, 2016

by GENEVIEVE ROSEN, Writer

Bianca Spender is a huge fan of Lost in Translation. “But I didn’t really get it until I went to Japan,” she says. “Travelling is subtle in how it challenges you and opens your eyes.” This month, the Sydney-based fashion designer is returning to Osaka for the third time. Here she shares her must-see attractions in Japan’s third-largest city, where pockets of tranquility sit alongside soaring skyscrapers.

Best spot to refuel

“At the base of all department stores in Japan is a massive food hall and the one at Takashimaya in Namba is my favourite. It’s one big taste sensation. I’ve tried everything from square watermelons to pickled vegies. For me, the stand-out was the tofu. It had almost nothing on it and was so pure and tasty.”

Best place to be seen

“It’s not ‘scene-y’ but everyone hangs out at the Ebisu Bridge, or Ebisubashi, in the Dōtonbori area. It’s completely over the top but it’s spectacular and like an amusement park for adults. Everything is covered in neon signs, including the iconic Glico running man, one of the city’s most well-known landmarks. The area is said to have inspired Blade Runner – with its high-rises and neon, Dōtonbori certainly has a crazy, futuristic sense about it.”

SEE ALSO: Where to See Cherry Blossoms in Japan

Best market

“The Shitenno-ji Temple Market is the place to pick up something really unique in Osaka. You can find vintage kimonos, amazing fabrics, hats and more. Because everything is a one-off, there’s so much to discover. Some people go to department stores to shop but I go to flea markets.”

Best shopping

“The area called Amerikamura – it means America Village – has little vintage shops tucked away at every corner. I couldn’t even tell you where they all are but you just walk around the streets and there will be small signs everywhere saying ‘vintage store’. The shops are usually upstairs because the ground-level real estate is more expensive. There was so much that I coveted in this area – I saw everything from early-century French pieces to dresses, bags and scarfs from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.”

Best coffee

“At Café Elk, they do the most amazing 3D latte art, where they build cats, bunnies and other animals from frothed milk on top of your coffee. They also make delicious pancakes.”

Best local hotspot

“My friends took me to this place located underneath a train line. It doesn’t look like much from the street but when you walk in, it’s like a library. There are rows and rows of records and everyone’s so quiet – it’s quite a studious atmosphere. At night it turns into a club called Night Wax and shakes every time a train goes by.”

Best Instagram shot

“The ‘Church of the Light’, designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando, is in Ibaraki, just outside Osaka. Visit this concrete building in the morning to see sunlight pouring inside through a cross cut out of the wall – an incredible sight.”

Don’t miss

“You have to take a trip to Naoshima – a place I can only describe as an ‘art island’. It’s a train trip and then a ferry ride from Osaka and is one of the best things I’ve ever done. This old fishing community has been transformed by Tadao Ando, who’s designed contemporary art museums that blend into the island’s natural landscape. You’re not just getting an art experience and you’re not just getting a remote island experience – you get a mix of the two.” 

SEE ALSO: Our full guide to Japan