Strap on your walking shoes, and do a few stretches, because this tour stays mostly above ground. Start at sunrise for the best view of the castle, and finish in the evening in one of the best, cheap eat and drinking districts in Osaka!
Early morning stillness at Osaka Castle belies the intense crowds later in the day. Sit on a bench by the moat, with some coffee, and a packet of hotcakes from a nearby conbini (convenience store), and breakfast with a view of stone walls so massive, they seem to blur in the distance.
The castle itself has been reconstructed, and its interior (complete with elevator) lacks some authenticity, but travellers can enjoy the contrast of a samurai era construction framed against a backdrop of green skyscrapers.
The inner city neighbourhoods around Namba are excellent for random exploration and discovery. Within the narrow alleys are some of the city's most multi-cultural dining options – from New Zealand meat pies, to Persian kebabs, with lots of local fare in between.
Walk along the canals of Dotonbori, and see Glico man newly resplendent in LEDs; hunt for second hand shops, and vinyl records within Shinsaibashi; and then start heading south through the array of kitchen utensils in Sennichimae Doguyasuji Shopping Street, enroute to Namba Parks. Snack on takoyaki (an Osakan favourite: octopus in spheres of savoury batter).
Take some time to chill in Namba Parks. This sprawling shopping district has been beautifully designed with nature in mind, and green terraces break the otherwise grey city sprawl. Nod off watching a movie, or refill your reserves in Bagel and Bagel. Surprisingly enough, its main menu item is bagels, but they also bake brownies, cookies and muffins.
As the afternoon cools, head south and experience a time-warp to Japan's Showa era. The districts around Tennoji are older, and poorer, and many shops have not been renovated since the 80s.
First stop, Shitennoji, Japan's oldest Buddhist temple, 2kms south east of Namba Parks. Check calendars around your arrival date, as this beautiful temple hosts sprawling flea markets, and seasonal festivals like the goose bumps-inducing Doya Doya matsuri in February, when high school aged boys clothed only in loin clothes run through freezing showers of water flung on them by their sadistic teachers.
Thrills of a different sort abound in Tobita Shinchi, 2kms south. It is the largest prostitution district in Osaka, and very different to Kabuki-cho in Tokyo. Young women wait in the doorways, watched over by elderly mama-chan. Foreigners are not encouraged, and neither is photography, however walking down the street is tolerated.
Head directly north towards the iron beacon of Tsutenkaku. The tower stands within Shinsekai, a neighbourhood that exudes a Blade-Runner-esque, slightly tattered glitz. It’s the best place in the city for kushi-katsu restaurants, kushi-katsu meaning deep-fry on a stick, and for a very reasonable price you can eat your fill, and drink some beers to an excellent day in Osaka.
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