Guest contributor Tiffany Cu (aka “Tiffy” of AsiaTravelBug) has visited Japan at least six times; she’d visit Japan over Paris in a heartbeat! Here, she shares what she loves about Osaka.
Why do you want to visit Japan: To see bustling Tokyo? Or romantic Kyoto, heart of Japan’s geisha culture?
What about Osaka? Is it worth visiting? Well, don’t overlook the city.
With a rich history dating back some 1,500 years – and popular for its nightlife, food and shopping – Osaka should also be on your list of “places to see in Japan.” It’s the third largest city in Japan (population 2.7 million) behind Tokyo and Yokohama , so you won’t be able to get to it all in a short trip. But you can certainly get a good taste of the city in a few days.
Here’s why you want to visit Osaka on your next trip to Japan:
Tantalizing, tempting, tasty food!
Known as the “Nation’s Kitchen,” Osaka lives up to its reputation with restaurants and food guaranteed to tickle the tastebuds of even the most discerning of foodies. There are so many restaurants, you could eat out once a day for three years – and still never hit the same place twice!
Sample soups like Miso soup or Kitsune Udon (a thick classic Japanese noodle soup topped with seasoned, fried tofu). If you’re a lover of sashimi or sushi, you won’t want to leave Osaka; it has some of the greatest fresh sushi restaurants in the world. And don’t miss trying takoyaki (octopus fritters).
Some of Osaka’s best restaurants include:
- Mizuno – It’s the oldest known Japanese pancake restaurant, and its signature dish, yamaimo-yaki (pancake stuffed with pork, scallops, vegetables and the like) is a Japanese soul food that lures in the crowds. The dough is made with yam instead of flour, making it crispy on the outside but soft and slightly sweet inside.
- Soba Takama – Check out the affordable Michelin-starred restaurant’s cold soba (buckwheat noodles dipped in a sweet sauce), served on a bamboo plate and topped with seasonal veggies.
- Fujiya 1935 – This restaurant’s signature dish is spaghettini made with locally caught crab, beans and mimoretto. Seriously delicious…
Puppet theater and more…
Osaka’s downtown area, or Kita, is the business area, but Minami, uptown, is Osaka’s famous entertainment district – and where you want to be.
Osaka is the birthplace of Bunraku, traditional Japanese puppet theater.
The National Bunraku Theater in Minami is a good place to watch the creative performances of the “little humans” set against a backdrop of music and storytelling.
Each puppet for a major character is manipulated by three puppeteers – one who controls the head movements (sometimes opening and closing of the eyes and mouth too) and movements of the right hand, and two assistants who maneuver other parts of the puppet. You even see the Bunraku puppets as you walk down the streets. While in North America, puppetry is mainly geared to children, in Japan, the historical or romantic plays performed by the eerily lifelike Bunraku puppets appeal to adult sensibilities.
Over at the Kaiyukan Aquarium, gape at some 30,000 sea creatures – from Pacific dolphins, manta rays, penguins and jelly fish to giant whale sharks. As one of the biggest public aquariums in the world, it’s a real crowdpleaser, noted for how it recreates the natural environment of the various species.
And don’t forget Universal Studios Japan. One of four such theme parks in the world, its attractions include the hit “Wizarding World of Harry Potter.” Enter Hogwarts, then fly on a broomstick as you’re strapped to a bench in a floating candle-lit room. The state-of-the-art 4K3D technology makes it a magical ride for muggles of all ages.
A beautiful view of the skyline
That striking high-rise structure of glass and steel you see rising in the north part of the city – actually two 40 story-high skyscrapers joined at the top – is the Umeda Sky Building. Many of the floors are designated as office space, but you can take in splendid views of the city from its rooftop observatory. To get there, you take a high-speed elevator up to near the top, then a glass-enclosed escalator which stretches diagonally across the wide open space to the observatory.
Not for those with a fear of heights…
The nightlife in Osaka is busy, fun and bright. Many bars, clubs and restaurants stay open late – whether hip-hop or swing, you can dance the night away. Club Joule is wildly popular. For karaoke, head to the Moonshine Bar Osaka, which mixes Southern American and Japanese-style karaoke.
Shop till you drop
Your credit card’s going to get a workout if you love to shop. Said to be the longest street in Japan, the Tenjinbashisuji Shopping Street is a covered arcade stretching for over a mile-and-a-half. More than 600 stalls and shops tempt you with their colorful wares – everything from fresh produce and kitchen utensils to books and tourist knick-knacks.
Fashion boutiques are concentrated in department stores like the Hanshin Department Store and Hankyu Men’s Osaka; the Hankyu Department store focuses on luxury goods.
Popular souvenir to take home? Bâton d’or – a chocolate-covered pretzel. Be forewarned: It’s highly addictive!
Travel back in time to the Edo Period at the Museum of Housing and Living in Kita. The Edo Period between 1603 and 1868 is when Japanese society was organized around castle towns ruled by shoguns. Rent a kimono at the museum and wander through recreated buildings and alleys – public bathhouses too – showing everyday life at the time.
Another interesting museum on the history of Osaka and Japan is the Open Air Museum of Old Japanese Farmhouses. Here you find 11 old farmhouses with displays showing how the farmers lived; you can learn about silk worm farming and see cooking demonstrations. Check the event schedule to see when there’s a tea ceremony or story-telling session.
You’d think that with Osaka being so crowded, the locals would be cranky and annoyed. Wrong. They are not only helpful to tourists, but are friendly, open and have a great sense of humor. They’re interested in where you come from and what you think of their city. They truly hope everyone who visits has a good time and they go out of their way to make sure your experience is memorable. The people enjoy life in their city – and they want you to love it too!
Where to stay if you go to Osaka
Wondering where to stay in Osaka?
One of my favorite hotels is Fraser Residence Nankai Osaka. It has very pleasant rooms for a good price and is ideally located across the street from the Namba Nankai Station. It’s also only a 10-minute walk from picturesque Dotonburi, which has great shops and restaurants running alongside the Dotonburi canal.
Luxury hotel options include:
- the St. Regis Osaka (its outdoor rooftop Zen garden terrace is a tranquil spot to look out over the city)
- the Ritz-Carlton
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