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JAPAN | Saturday, 24 September 2011 | Views [482]

To say that Kyoto and Osaka are not much like says not much at all. Kyoto is a neat and compact city no more than a few hours walk in any direction and bordered on the north by rolling hills.

Osaka sprawls.

It is a port city, and the port itself is cut through by multiple islands. Some are natural. Others, like that which hosts the main airport at Kansai, were dredged out of the bay at almost inconceivable expense.

I went riding today through some of these islands. As elsewhere in urban Japan space is at a premium. The cities do not necessarily build up [this is no New York] but consist mainly of three to five story buildings wedged close together.

Likewise the bridges. To reach the 39 metre clearance needed for shipping traffic first performs three spiral ascensions then shoots out over the harbour, only to descend in a clockwise swirl on the other side. It is a engineering solution familiar to pedestrian overpasses on freeways – those slow ramps that turn the simple crossing of a street into a ten minute expedition at the weakest of gradients.

Of course the scale is enormous. The turning circles and height clearances of trucks means that each spiral rises eight or nine metres. The pylons and support beams are similarly massive, engineered both for the weight of traffic and the redundancies necessary in this earthquake prone region.

Although there is a pedestrian lane only the hardiest of joggers use it. The rest of us queue for the ferry that shuttles forwards and back across the water.

Osaka is not the prettiest of cities. Industry, the port and heavy traffic all combine to give it a grittiness unseen in genteel Kyoto or affluent Tokyo. The supermarket in Dobutseunmae has bargain bins by the front doors, and stacks of ready to eat noodles. The shops in the nearby arcade have seen better days. One sells, or at least displays, walkmans and minidisc players. New. In box.

Outside, by the entrance to the metro, sits a man selling pirated discs to play in these once so fashionable machines.

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