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Wednesday, 10 April, 2002, 15:10 GMT 16:10 UK
Osaka - A breed apart
The centre of Osaka
Osaka is an economic heavyweight, but fun too
Osaka may be a major commercial and industrial city on the surface, but one of its most famous products is people.

Watch any of Japan's inane comedy programmes on television and the chances are that the star of the show is from Osaka.

Of course, the humour of Japanese TV is lost on most foreigners, but it does not stop a lot of Osakans hitting the big time in showbiz.

It is difficult to say what exactly makes them so hilariously funny to the rest of the population, but many claim it is their gift of the gab.

Area facts
Population: 2.6m
Location: West of central island Honshu
Local team: Gamba Osaka, Cerezo Osaka
Sights: Osaka Castle, Shitenno Temple
Top product: Comedians
It is apparently this skill that makes Osakans good businessmen too and probably explains why this is the most important economical centre in western Japan and the third largest city in the country.

It is a bustling hive of activity and people from Osaka are known as "Kuidaore" among the Japanese because of their ability to play hard at night as well as work hard during the day.

The place, once known as the "City of Waters" because of its many rivers, is brimming with drinking holes and nightspots open to the small hours of the morning.

Like most places in Japan, Osaka prides itself on its cuisine too, but typically it is not an area that does things by halves.

They like to use the phrase, "eat until you drop," and there is no shortage of restaurants at which to do that.

One easy dish that is popular with visitors is "okonomiyaki", which is a kind of Japanese pizza or pancake.

This can be found anywhere in Japan, but many people say you have not eaten okonomiyaki until you have sampled the Osakan variety.

For the culturally-concerned visitors, the area offers a host of traditional Japanese art forms such as Kabuki performances and is the birthplace to many well-known writers and artists.

Downtown Osaka
It is a city permanently bustling with people
As well as the obligatory bundle of temples and shrines to see, the city is home to the famous Osaka Castle and the Shitenno Temple - one of the oldest in Japan.

Of course, if you really want to see ancient Japan, you might consider venturing out of Osaka to the neighbouring city of Kyoto, which was the country's imperial capital between 794 and 1868.

With more than 2000 shrines and temples, it is still considered the cultural heart of the country and the legendary home of the familiar Japanese icon, the geisha.

Osaka may be in sharp contrast to its ancient neighbour, but promises to be an exciting venue for the World Cup.

The city has plenty of football fans and is home to top-flight football team, Gamba Osaka.

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