Osaka Travel Guide
Blithe and edgy Osaka is the hyperactive younger brother of Tokyo. The heart of the Kansai region is a busy metropolis of close to 3 million people and a significant, influential player in the global economy. The industrial and business side of Osaka, however, is unlikely to interest casual tourists. What will undoubtedly entice and cajole is a phenomenal range of bustling commercial districts, tantalizing pedestrian restaurant rows, raucous nightlife, sacred shrines, temples and museums. The drum beat in Osaka is fast and feverish but duly enchants visitors anxious to commune with a dynamic urban swath of Honshu island outside of Greater Tokyo.
The food culture of Osaka gets a lot of attention and rightfully so. The de facto kitchen of Japan is awash with culinary innovators and pioneers. As a shopper's Shangri-La, Osaka has specific areas that cater to every interest, from luxury goods and electronics, to fashion and furniture. For those in need of cultural sustenance, Osaka has it in droves. A slew of historic parks and shrines dot the cityscape and compete with niche museums and a notable theater scene for your attention and time.
Osaka’s Top 10
10. Osaka Aquarium, or Kaiyukan, is fun for kids of all ages and is one of the largest in the world.
5. Osaka Science Museum contains a massive Omnimax cinema and one of the top 5 planetariums in the world.
9. Umeda Sky Building is not the tallest high-rise in Osaka but it is the most distinctive. Worth a tour, from the underground market to the skydeck observatory.
4. Osaka Castle sits on a tract of land that covers 15 acres and many important cultural assets.
8. Amerikamura Triangle Park is the place to observe the unique rituals of Japanese youth subcultures.
3. National Museum of Ethnology makes fabulous use of former World Expo ‘70 digs in Suita.
7. Open-Air Farmhouse Museum in Ryokuchi Park unfurls some truly beautiful period rural architecture.
2. Liberty Osaka, or Osaka Human Rights Museum, was a first for Japan. The facility documents the past and present struggles minority ethnic groups in Japan face to win acceptance and recognition.
6. Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum, in Ikeda, is a bit of a trip but is free kitschy fun.
1. Sumiyoshi Taisha, or Grand Shrine, is the most important and venerable Shinto shrine in Osaka.
- Osaka Castle – Japan’s largest castle when it was built around the 1580s now offers panoramic city views and a museum.
- Sumiyoshi-Taisha Shrine – Built before the prevalence of Buddhist architecture, this shrine typifies pure Japanese design and style.
- Nakanoshima Central Hall – A red-brick, Neo-Renaissance edifice built between 1916 and 1918 with a restaurant and two concert halls.
- Isshinji Temple – A Buddhist temple that was originally a hermitage built by St Honen in 1185.
- Morinomiya Ruins – Historic remains from the mid-Jomon to the Yayoi periods.
Osaka Art & Culture
- Banana Hall – Top-rated concert hall for modern renditions of live Kabuki and Bunraku musicals, as well as multiple genres of Western music.
- National Museum of Japanese History – A great place to get familiar with Japan’s history and culture, with numerous permanent and mobile exhibits.
- Chrysanthemum Festival, Osaka Castle – Held mid-October to mid November, this festival displays more than 12,000 chrysanthemums and 350 potted species.
- Osaka Maritime Museum – Showcases Japan’s maritime past and houses unique nautical art exhibits, a theatre, restaurant, souvenir shop and more.
- Tsutenkaku Tower – An imposing, century-old tower stands 100 meters tall and offers spectacular vistas of Osaka city.
- Umeda – One of the biggest shopping districts in Osaka, with miles of thrift shops, malls and arcades.
- Shinsaibashi Suji Arcade – A 600m-long covered arcade offering upscale brands, top boutiques, multi-cuisine restaurants and more.
- HEP-5 Mall – The city’s swankiest mall, situated near Umeda station for the best in shopping, dining, entertainment and a rooftop Ferris wheel.
- Tenjinbashi Suji Arcade – With its laidback ambience, low prices and limitless shopping options, this 2.6km-long arcade is irresistible.
- Nan Nan Town – The birthplace of Japan’s underground shopping frenzy offers a casual shopping and dining ambience.
Gay & Lesbian Osaka
- Doyama-cho – This area of Osaka offers myriad gay, lesbian and mixed bars, clubs, cafes, discos and colourful nightlife.
- Lupu – A friendly gay and lesbian bar with a relaxed atmosphere, where the fun goes on from 8pm to 5am.
- Explosion – A large dance club helping the gay, lesbian and straight mingle and make merry from dusk to dawn.
- Bar Bacchus – Featuring unbelievably low-priced drinks and snacks and Chanho, the friendliest host gays and lesbians can find.
- Jelly Fish – This women-only bar has drink prices that don’t sting and no cover charges.
- Nagai Botanical Garden – 24.2 hectares filled with multiple varieties of seasonal flowers and about 1,000 tree species.
- Sumiyoshi Park – Opened in 1873, this park retains much of its old-world charm and is a must-see for international visitors.
- Universal Studios – Osaka’s most popular theme park.
- Oizumi Park – A serene getaway from bustling, neon-lit Osaka features a pond, walking trails and lush greenery.
- Tempozan Ferris Wheel – This gigantic wheel rates a ride for its breathtaking vistas of the ocean, the city and the mountains.
- Watch high-voltage sumo wrestling at the Osaka Prefecture Gymnasium.
- Cycle or jog around the winding trails of Osaka’s Maishima Jogging Island.
- Rent a yacht or dinghy and sail the waters of the Hokko Yacht Harbour.
- Go surfing, jet skiin, or play beach volleyball at the Nishikinohama Beach Park.
- Catch live football or rugby action in the 20,000-seater Kincho Stadium.
Osaka proper is home to 2.7 million people. The central part of the city is split between Kita (north) and Minami (south), with Midōsuji boulevard as the major axis. Kita envelops Umeda and Minami is home to the Namba, Shinsaibashi and Dōtonbori districts. The traditional financial and business districts of Osaka, Yodoyabashi and Honmachi, reside between Kita and Minami as well. In all, Osaka has 24 wards (ku).
Asahi-ku has a famous covered shopping street in Sembayashi Shōtengai and points of interest like Shirokita Park and the Osaka Municipal Space of Art.
Chūō-ku is a busy economic, commercial, transport and consulate hub, with landmarks like Osaka Castle, Shinsaibashi-suji arcade, the Amerikamura retail and entertainment precinct and perhaps the most popular tourist pulse point in Osaka, Dōtonbori. The vibrant artery of restaurants and shops, once a seedy red-light strip, is now much more famous as a requisite pilgrimage for global foodies.
Higashisumiyoshi-ku is home to Nagai Park, Nagai Botanical Garden and the Osaka Museum of Natural History.
Ikuno-ku’s Tsuruhashi district is a famous hub for Korean food.
Kita-ku is the ward of Umeda, the downtown or central business district of Osaka and home of Osaka Station, numerous skyscrapers, malls and department stores.
Minato-ku has a few notable points of interest, such as Osaka Aquarium, the Modern Transportation Museum and the vast Port of Osaka.
Naniwa-ku is another commerical hive of activity and home to Nipponbashi (Den Den Town), a major area for electronics and manga. Other important landmarks include Namba Parks, Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium, Shinsekai district and the Osaka Human Rights Museum.
Nishi-ku is home to the Osaka Dome and Utsubo Park.
Suminoe-ku has several impressive attractions, from the Osaka Prefectural Government Sakishima Building to the Osaka Maritime Museum.
Sumiyoshi-ku is the eponymous home of the Sumiyoshi Grand Shrine.
Tennōji-ku contains some remarkable temples and green spaces, such as Shitennō-ji and Tennōji Park and Zoo.
Yodogawa-ku’s Jūsō is a gritty red-light enclave of the city with noisy, unfussy bars and restaurants that local hipsters covet and frequent on weekends.
Osaka Eat & Drink
The Osakan appetite for food and drink is legendary and while the reputation may come with some embellishment, the city is a boon for gourmands. The old proverb "dress (in kimonos) till you drop in Kyoto, eat till you drop in Osaka" is apropos. From iconic bar snacks to Korean, staples like takoyaki and okonomiyaki to luxurious sushi, the culinary scene in Osaka is a tasty patchwork.
Mogami (Shinsaibashisuji 2-2-10, Chūō-ku) is a kushikatsu institution in Osaka.
Usagi (Shinsaibashi, Chūō-ku) has delectable otsumami (small bites) to accompany a fine sake list.
Bar Tachibana (1-9-19 Dōtonbori, basement of Osaka Shōchiku-za) is a microbrewery that specializes in tofu.
Kani Doraku (Dōtonbori, Namba) is a foremost restaurant landmark in Osaka. The giant red crab makes it impossible to miss.
Masamichi (Kohashi 1-1-15, Higashinari-ku) is a superb craft beer, sake and shochu pub.
Uoman (Nanbanka 2-10-70, Nanba Parks 7F) is a chic, compact izakaya with a premium sake menu.
Isaribi (downstairs from Umeda station) is a first-rate robotayaki and yakitori joint.
Shijan (Nanbanka 2-10-70, Nanba Parks 7F) is one of the most authentic Korean restaurants in Osaka.
Kinryu Ramen (Dōtonbori, Namba) is a choice spot for a noodle and broth fix.
Tsukasa (Kakudacho 8-47, Hankyu Grand Bldg 28F) serves excellent Tosa cuisine from the island of Shikoku.
Osaka is dynamic with or without festivals. Indeed, several conspicuous areas of the city resonate with a carnival-like atmosphere on a near-nightly basis. The event calendar is chock-full, however, for those who want to take in local culture.
Osaka Asian Film Festival showcases cinematic talent from the continent every March.
Tenjin Matsuri has a history of more than 1,000 years and is one of the most venerable annual events in Japan. Held on July 24 and 25, the festival takes place at Tenman Shrine and features theatrical performances, costumed parades, boat processions and fireworks.
Aizen Matsuri is a love, luck and matrimony temple festival held from June 30 to July 2. The festival features colorful processions of girls in traditional yukata summer dress.
Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri is the most famous cart festival in Japan. Held in Kishiwada city, about one hour south of Umeda by subway and train, the Shinto harvest festival is over 300 years old and features elaborate, boisterous cart parades in September and October.
Tōka-Ebisu is a lively luck and prosperity festival held in January at Imamiya Ebisu Shrine in Naniwa-ku and throughout Osaka. Inherent events and processions lure as many as 1 million people.
Osaka Dome is the home stadium for the Orix Buffaloes of Nippon Professional Baseball’s Pacific League.
Traditional kabuki is on hand at Shin-Kabuki-za and Osaka Shōchiku-za, two of the better theaters in Japan.
The Sumo Spring Grand Tournament takes place in mid-March at Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium.
When To Go
Osaka has a four season humid subtropical climate. Summer swelters with a temperature range of 68°F (20°C) to 91.5°F (33°C). Factor in the humidex and it often feels much warmer on a June or July afternoon. The months of May, June, July and September feature a lot of rain as well, though no time of year is immune from a downpour in Osaka.
Weather-wise, October, November and April stand out for overall comfort, with temperatures between 50°F (10°C) and 73°F (23°C).
What To Miss
Shinsaibashi is Osaka’s crown jewel commercial and retail district and has all the telltale hallmarks of a shopper’s paradise. From the uber youth culture trendsetter Amerikamura to the electronics emporium of Nipponbashi, the Chuo-ku district is decidedly must-see. Few areas, however, highlight just how costly Osaka and, indeed, Japan, can be for international travelers. The city is seldom not at the top of annual expensive city indices and Shinsaibashi shops drive the point home.
Though some guidebooks and locals exhort visitors not to set foot in Shinsekai, Osaka’s early 20th century tribute to New York City and Paris, the old ‘hood is a lot safer than in years past. While urban revivalism has not completely rid the area of poverty and red-light pachinko parlor grime, Shinsekai is worth a walk-through. Preferably in daylight, however.
Osaka has some tourist traps that deserve a pass. Tsūtenkaku is the most conspicuous landmark in Shinsekai but the Eiffel-ish observation tower is not worth the time and effort. Universal Studios Japan is undeniably popular but the amusement park feels counterfeit and lifeless. Much more critical, however, is the fact that it sits on top of a toxic industrial waste site. If you want to have fun with the kids in Osaka, Dōtonbori is a wild, authentic ride.
Spa World, also in Shinsekai, combines the venerable Japanese onsen with the scale of a theme park. The result is not necessarily blissful. A lot of people love the place but more tranquil and genuine thermal resorts reside in Kansai.
Kansai International Airport was built on a man-made island in Osaka Bay in 1994 to alleviate pressure from Osaka-Itami International, which was at capacity and could not logistically expand. The latter now serves as the primary domestic hub for the Kansai region, with up to 20 million passengers a year. Kansai International handles up to 15 million passengers a year, with service to the likes of New York-JFK, San Francisco, Honolulu, Seattle-Tacoma, Beijing-Capital, Hong Kong, Shanghai-Pudong, Busan, Seoul-Incheon, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Paris-Charles de Gaulle, Cairns, Sydney, Bangkok, Delhi, Hanoi, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Manila and Singapore.
Kansai International connects to Osaka by rapid rail and the trip is fairly easy to navigate. Osaka-Itami has a monorail and suburban rail line to the city but most visitors take the more convenient airport limo bus. Taxis can be prohibitively expensive.
The train is the way to travel in Honshu, Japan and Osaka is duly easy to get to via shinkansen (or a host of other options for Japan Rail Pass holders) from the likes of Hiroshima, Kobe, Kyoto and Tokyo. Moreover, countless bus operators ply routes between every major and minor city in Honshu and the Osaka International Ferry Terminal has regular service to Busan and Shanghai.
Transport in the Keihanshin Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto megalopolis benefits from a high degree of development and sophistication. The Osaka Municipal Subway is one of the busiest metro systems in the world, although with 2.2 million daily passengers, has only a quarter the ridership of the Tokyo subway. The Midosuji Line is the primary conduit in the subway network. In order to negotiate the hodpodge of commuter rail lines and municipal trains throughout Keihanshin and Kansai, consider the five-day consecutive limitless Kintetsu Rail Pass the best bet.
Osaka official guide
Frenetic Osaka is like the boisterous younger brother of Tokyo - in the eyes of some at least. With a busy population of under 3 million, the notable city of shops, bars and restaurants is an absolute gem. The food culture for one, is unlike any other in Japan. Osaka has a reputation as the nation's kitchen and culinary innovations in the vast city seem to know no limits. From udon noodles to okonomiyaki bars and octopus balls, the endless parade of local treats will cause both eyes and stomach to bulge.
As a shopper's paradise, Osaka has specific areas that cater to every interest, from luxury goods, electronics, fashion, mange and anime and much more. For those in need of cultural substance, Osaka has it in spades. A number of historic parks and shrines dot the cityscape and compete with superb museums and a notable kabuki theater scene for tourist's attention.
Attractions & Activities
Restaurant & Nightlife
With wet, hot and humid summers and typhoon season in September and October, the best time to visit Osaka may be the mild spring.
- Winter (December to March) 2.5-15°C
- Spring (April to May) 11-26°C
- Summer (June to September) 21-34°C
- Fall (October to November) 11.5-23°C
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