Osaka is Japan’s second largest metropolitan area and among the largest in the world with 19 million inhabitants. The popular expression it is the “nation’s kitchen” (天下の台所, tenka no daidokoro) might well refer to its abundant and diverse culinary offerings in today’s modern city, but the moniker dates back to the origins of Osaka as a warehouse and trading port.
Flourishing during the Edo Period (1603-1868) as a merchant city, Osaka was the commercial and logistical center of feudal Japan. Its convenient geographical location next to the former capital Kyoto, and the fact that a large number of sailing routes converged there, led to a concentration of trading merchants at this strategic port. Wealthy feudal lords started investing in Osaka by building personal warehouses for food and produce storage (most importantly rice, a staple food and also a form of land rent payment). Soon the area was packed with goods from all over the country, which would be further distributed to other areas including the capital, Edo (today’s Tokyo).
Since the common household kitchen is traditionally where you would store all your food, Osaka became the literal metaphor as “the nation’s kitchen”. While its warehouse days may be in the historical past, a walk around the city today confirms that food is still central to the Osaka experience. With an abundance of restaurants, snack stalls, and food markets, visitors still flock to the city for its culinary delights.