Epic Exploration #02: Walking the Osaka Loop Line

Most major cities have extensive rail systems, and a feature of 26 of the larger metropolitan areas in the world is a line running in a closed loop.

The longest metropolitan loop line in the world can be found in Seoul, Korea (48.8km, 43 stations) followed by Tokyo’s Yamanote Line (34.5km, 29 stations, operated by JR East).

With a length of 21.7km and 19 stations, the Osaka Loop Line encircles Osaka, Japan’s second largest city. Operated by JR West (West Japan Railways) it’s a bit like the West Japan equivalent of the Yamanote Line.

Earlier this year I walked the entire circuit with some friends. This post shows just a small fraction of what we encountered during the adventure.



Our Osaka Loop Line pilgrimmage was made in commemoration of a friend’s engagement. Something epic was required. It was decided that the 5 of us would drive the 520km from Tokyo to Osaka and then walk the loop. Being a holiday weekend, the highways were jammed and what would normally be a 7 hour drive took us 16. Osaka arrival: 3am.

The journey was already epic even before we began walking.

Stage 1: Tennoji/Shin-Imamiya to Osaka

(by the way, click all images for full-size versions)

Late arrival in Osaka meant a late morning start to the walk.

We decided to do a clockwise circuit starting from between the southernmost station, Tennoji and the next stop, Shin-Imamiya.

Enormous turtle with the landmark Tsutenkaku tower further down the street. The tower is only 103m tall but its distinctive retro style gives it a character of its own.
see it on google maps

A big difference between Tokyo and Osaka is their relative levels of cleanliness.
Tokyo streets are spotless and graffiti is very rarely seen. Osaka on the other hand is much more extensively “decorated”.

The Anatomical Preparation Center complete with dripping ooze.

Rubbish and grime near Shin-Imamiya Station.

Neat but well graffitied car park. This end of town was by far the dirtiest of the circuit.

A funny little nook with nice pipeforms and more graffiti with, strangely, a golf club at the door of a small shed next to the tracks. Note too the curved pieces added to the bottom of the drainage pipe to prevent splashing.

A good spot for sitting and watching passers-by.


Pipes and trapeze under the tracks at Imamiya Station, and a lost bird notice.

Shortly after Imamiya Station and in front of some large apartment buildings was a small sandpit area surrounded by cast concrete seats shaped like animal heads.
see it on google maps

(click any images to see full-size version)

Supposedly to discourage cats from urinating, this owner created a blockage from water-filled plastic bottles. Very neat but forgetting that cats can jump.

Cool geometric lines on buildings.

A slight diversion on the way to Ashiharabashi took us past some interesting sights.

A cool multi-bent pipe similar in style to this one in Toyko.

Osaka’s Loop Line, like the Yamanote in Tokyo, is an elevated line. Along its length businesses and homes sit nestled underneath the tracks, filling most available space. Here we see a timber workshop.

There’s a great book available by Ken Oyama documenting all kinds of interesting establishments under elevated train lines in Japan.
There’s also a great blog here with hundreds of such spots.

Vivid orange beams and the Hanshin Expressway passes overhead.

In fact the Nankai Shiomibashi Line passes under the Loop Line parallel to the expressway.

One one side of the junction a wire fence protects another wire fence which surrounds an empty area of footpath…

……and the other side, the junction is marked with lots of windmills.

Just a few metres beyond, tyres are hooped over posts on a sharp corner. Bizarrely, a small portable trolley is locked to a signpost nearby.

Areas nicely demarcated with white and yellow lines.

A woman tends to plants in front of her home underneath the tracks.

Cool example of stylish kids’ playground sculpture, this “mountain” features multiple access methods.
Next to it an upturned pram with no sign of a child anywhere to be seen.
see it on google maps

But this was lying metres away.

A melange of steel; trusses, joists and stairs. A train-only bridge over the river requires us to make a detour.

Opposite Taisho Station, a beautiful plant-covered house.

More interesting under-track businesses – a restaurant fish tank and fake wood frontage.

The globes of gas outside Osaka Dome. Check out the elegantly curved stairs over the top and the suspended walkways in between. Lovely.
see it on google maps

(remember – all images can be clicked for full-size)

A woodgrain car next to a woodgrain building!

And perfectly aligned anti-cat bottles.

A view from a balcony of vehicles – both for the grown-ups and the kids.

The cool pattern formed by the air-conditioning units on all the balconies of a jagged apartment block.

A huge leg with a heavy metal foot straddles the footpath as the Loop Line crosses the main road on the way to Bentencho Station.

After Bentencho (the westernmost station on the Loop Line), the track curves round to the east in a smooth curve and suddenly crosses another river on another train-only bridge. Another detour for walkers.

In this area the mainland of Osaka has been extended out into Osaka Bay with the construction of many artificial islands. Hence many rivers and bridges.

On the search for a way across, this small building.

Butterflies, birds and balloons to happify a floodgate.

And a retro-styled nature design on an industrial wall.

Just before Nishikujo, more playground concrete, a sweet, vaguely elephantlike little double-slide.
see it on google maps

Superb extended pipework…

…and superb crooked pipework shortly after Noda Station, with happifying barricades again.

Continuing northeast to Fukushima Station, where a completely inexplicable fake wood structure stands in the middle of the road.

Shortly before Osaka Station we encounter the Hanshin Expressway once more, but this time in its remarkable passage through the middle of a building.
see it on google maps

The Gate Tower Building is justifiably famous for this bizarre bit of engineering.

Some great photos here.

Stage 2: Osaka to Tennoji/Shin-Imamiya

The parts of Osaka we’d walked up to this point seemed distinctly less metropolitan than the centre of Tokyo. Light industrial zones, rivers, the bay.

Arriving at Osaka Station was like arriving back in civilization. Crowds, intensity, diversion. After happily spending a while in the local area we began following the elevated train line once more.

(click all images for full-size)

Graffiti all the way, a nice grunge alternative to Tokyo.

We encountered these cool markings on the road by the tracks. The 3-toned “arrows” make a 3D illusion to approaching cars, causing them to brake.

Very similar to (although superceded by) the road paintings in this previous post which I do think have a far greater 3D effect.

Within a couple of minutes of passing this point (and due no doubt to a combination of not carrying any maps and the cumulative effect of warm-weather refreshments), it became apparent that we were walking along the wrong train line.

But the 4km diversion proved worthwhile.

Little dogs with clothes taking their afternoon walk along the riverside park. The brown dog’s mouth looked uncannily humanlike.

The LEA LEA (or as the sign says, “LEA squared”) building. The correspondence of the name to the “CLEAN CLEAN” sign outside was interesting.

Heading back to our original destination, Tenma Station, along another train line, many cool features were spotted.

A simple way to protect an oversized car in an undersized garage.

Wonderfully complex intertwined piping system!

Rubber hoses and washing machines in the street.

Clothes lines and pegs opposite.

A beautiful pattern of wires against a darkening sky, great abstract forms and complexity.

Temma Station on Tenjinbashisuji shopping arcade, 2.6km in length, the longest in Japan.

Sushi doesn’t like smoke!

Nature in the middle of the urban commuter passageway deadzone, Kyobashi Station.

The line runs along the side of the grounds of Osaka Castle. Night views here.
Near Morinomiya, a playground at night. There are a bunch of climbing structures made of loops and tubes of metal, something like big hollow caterpillars.
And a long semicircular rollerslide…
see it on google maps

Inside the ticket hall of Morinomiya Station, some blockages had been made and signs had been placed to advise people not to leave bicycles there, presumably as they’d be…a blockage?

In the shadows of night interesting things were harder to spot, although darkness does tend to add a touch of drama. A tangle of filthy pipes near a lighted window on a dark side-alley.

This final part of the journey is recommended only for the strong-willed. A long, straight stretch of a single road running next to the tracks.

5 kilometres. 5 stations. Almost 2 hours.

By night the walk took on a repeating pattern: 1 km of nondescript darkened buildings followed temporarily by small and vibrant pools of activity near the stations.

Tsuruhashi and Momodani had a quite welcomingly traditional feeling – food smells wafting from late night restaurants, small busy bars in alleys, some chatter around roadside stalls and a generally old-school atmosphere. By day very promising!

Typical moody pipes and wires along the line.

And some small creatures emerging from the ground in a little local kids’ playground.

Perseverance paid off. Around midnight the epic walk was complete as we passed Tennoji Station and headed hotel-ward.

an alternative loop!

Interestingly, the Osaka Tourist Guide also documents a trip around the Loop Line, describing what can be found near each station. Their journey of course is by train, not on foot, and they focus on typical tourist stops.

They began at Osaka Station and like us went clockwise. Their report is in 2 parts, the second of which starts at Tennoji Station (the station before my starting point).

To replicate our walk from an alternative viewpoint, read Part 2 first followed by Part 1.

You’ll notice (and I’m delighted that) those reports and this post seem to describe completely different places!

more links

Further JapanGasm epic journeys:

Epic Exploration #01: Toden Arakawa Train Line
Epic Exploration #03: Yamanote Line, Tokyo (coming soon)

The Metrobits site is a fascinating and comprehensive resource on the world’s metro systems.
Here’s their rundown on circular lines from around the globe.

~ by JapanGasm on 29 December, 2011.

4 Responses to “Epic Exploration #02: Walking the Osaka Loop Line”

  1. You got a very excellent website, Glad I discovered it through yahoo.

  2. I thought Japan was graffiti free years ago? Looks like the authorities have no idea hoe to control it now. Despicable.

    • Osaka definitely has a slightly different character than most Japanese cities. For example where Tokyo is often considered more organized and formal, Osaka is more relaxed and friendly. Tokyo is more rule-bound whereas Osaka is more loose, etc.

      Perhaps this sensibility makes for less concern about graffiti and people feeling freer to make it. It’s still generally unattractive though!

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