“Osaka is a magnificent metropolis unlike any other. Renowned for its food and neon-lit nighttime entertainment districts.” Culture Trip
After a couple of nights staying in the more traditional Kyoto arriving in Osaka was an assault on the senses. Japan’s third largest city is a bustling, vibrant place with a neon-lit network of streets interspersed with historical landmarks.
We stayed right in the heart of the chaos in the Shinsaibashi district, surrounded by shops, restaurants and bars. The Shinsaibashi-suji covered arcade (shotengai) is one of the the city’s longest shopping streets offering every kind of retail outlet you could possibly imagine that attracts a constant stream of people. Loads of dining options too with both Japanese and International cuisine on offer, if you are craving a burger and fries there’s a huge Shake Shack.
The nearby Dōtonbori river cuts through the centre of Osaka, the busy illuminated Dōtonbori downtown area that surrounds the river is a mass of colourful billboards and signs all vying for your attention. You have to stand on Ebisu-bashi bridge to fully appreciate the crazy, colourful vibe; look out for the famous Glico running man sign and the animated crab on the Kani Doraku Honten restaurant. The Tombori Riverwalk, a promenade that’s awash with restaurants, bars and entertainment, offers alfresco dining overlooking the water. River cruises provide the best views of all the lights and sights as well as the nine bridges that cross the river.
Tachibana-Dori aka Orange Street is a ‘hip’ neighbourhood for those looking for overpriced streetwear, sneakers, speciality coffee shops and bars. It’s a great place to wander and enjoy coffee and cake in one of the many cool street cafes. The area was once famous for furniture production and there are still some homeware shops here along with many multi-concept stores that house clothes, shoes, accessories and cafes all under one roof. Plenty of secondhand and vintage shops here and in the neighbouring Amerika-mura district which also has many bars, tattoo parlours and even a Statue of Liberty.
Away from all the shops and chaos lies Osaka Castle (Osaka-jō), a monumental eight storey green and gold structure built by the famous Japanese warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi as a display of power. The castle sits high in the centre of a large moat and manicured gardens, boat trips are available around the moat. This area is a huge green space in the city that’s now surrounded on all sides by Osaka’s skyscrapers and shopping malls. Go at night to see the castle and grounds illuminated.
Tsutenkaku Tower in Shin-sekai is a famous landmark with an observatory on the fifth floor. The neon-lit steel frame tower, known as the Eiffel Tower of Osaka, sits at one end of an old-school street that’s lined with cheap bars and restaurants, apparently this is the best place in Osaka to sample kushikatsu (deep-fried skewered meat and vegetables).
Osaka is known as the ‘Kitchen of Japan’ and classic dishes include takoyaki (savoury cakes shaped like balls), kushikatsu (as mentioned above) and the most famous, okonomiyaki (savoury pancakes which we tried in Kyoto). My fellow travellers finally got to have sushi here which they thoroughly enjoyed, except the octopus which didn’t go down so well. Seafood fans should head to the Kuromon Ichiba Market for the fresh catch of the day. Carnivores are also well catered for here with an abundance of wagyu and kobe beef on offer. Vegetarian dining was a little more tricky but there is lots of pizza.
Other places to explore in Osaka include Hozenji Yokocho, a narrow and picturesque old street that leads to Hozenji Temple (pictured above), Shitennoji Temple (the first Buddhist temple in Japan) and Nambayasaka Shrine (huge lion head structure). For panoramic views over the city visit Harukas 300 (tallest building in Japan with a three floor observation deck) and the futuristic Umeda Sky Building (two 40-storey towers connected at the top by a ‘floating observatory’) designed by Hara Hiroshi who also created Kyoto Station. Other attractions included Kaiyukan Aquarium, Tempozan Giant Ferris Wheel (the world’s tallest ferris wheel) and for those who love amusement parks, Universal Studios Japan (USJ). Watch a sumo tournament or a practice session at the sumo stables where the wrestlers and trainers live. We took a day trip on the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Hiroshima from Shin-Osaka Station as we couldn’t be in Japan and not visit the historical city.
You can literally shop til you drop in Osaka (as the men in our party did, yes the men not the women) and eat and drink until you can’t move, in fact the city’s slogan kuidaore translates to ‘eat until you drop’. Little did we know that this vivid, some may say gaudy, city was purely an introduction to the bigger and brighter craziness that awaited us in Tokyo.
Top Tips for visiting Japan
- Purchase a Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) for use on the trains available in 7, 14 and 21 day denominations. Purchase online before your trip and pick up upon presentation of your passport at the airport when you arrive. We bought the Green pass (first class) where you can reserve seats in spacious carriages for easy and comfortable travel. Using the JR pass is easy, just show your pass to the guard at entry and exit points rather than using your green tickets in the machine. Be aware that trains are ALWAYS on time.
- Purchase a data-only sim on arrival at the airport for unlimited data during your trip (kiosk opposite the JR desk at Nagoya airport).
- Buy a PASMO travel card for use on the Tokyo Metro (like the Oyster card in the UK) and buses. Cards can be purchased at station ticket machines and credit must be loaded in cash. English and International instructions available so it’s pretty straightforward.
- Cash is king although most places do accept credit cards.
- Consider using a luggage service (wish we had on parts of the trip). Luggage is collected and sent to your next destination so you can travel lighter on the trains.
- Carry your passport with you to avail of tax free shopping for purchases over ¥5000. Receipts are stuck in your passport and removed by custom officers at immigration on departure.
- Convenience stores, such as 7/11 and Family Mart, are on every street and sell everything from hot and cold takeaway food, fresh fruit, baked goods and alcohol to medical supplies and toiletries. Be mindful that while it’s not illegal to eat and drink in the streets it is frowned upon. Bins are few and far between so keep your bags for rubbish.
- Some hotels offer complimentary HANDY smartphones in your room that you can use for FREE throughout your stay. It offers unlimited 4G internet access, local calls and guide to the city you are staying in. Use it for google maps and restaurants recommendations etc.
The views in this post are all my own based on my experience. Unless otherwise stated all photos © Jo Brett 2019. All rights reserved. Glico photo used with courtesy of theculturetrip.com and Hozenji Temple photo used with courtesy of www.japan.travel/