Overlooked and under-appreciated by travelers favoring Tokyo or Kyoto, Osaka is perhaps the most interesting city in Japan. With a long history of samurai and trade, it boasts important landmarks and a well-defined sense of identity. Here are our top places to visit.
A neighborhood that exudes a Blade-Runner-esque, slightly tattered glitz, Shinsekai has a lot of character – and characters! Visit at night and choose a kushikatsu restaurant, maybe a smaller one with plastic chairs outside (in summer) to best enjoy the view of Tsutenkaku Tower, a 328ft (100m), octagonal construction modeled after the Eiffel Tower, and get set ordering deep-fried foods on sticks.
We recommend plum and shiso chicken, but go crazy and try cheesecake, or half-boiled egg. Prices are usually between ¥80 to ¥100 (US $0.60-$0.75) per stick, and around ¥500 (US $3.75) for a mug of beer – which kushikatsu goes really well with. Don't forget to yell okini! (oh-kee-nee “thank you”) as you leave.
Another sweet night spot is Dotonbori, within the downtown Minami area, but it’s absolutely crammed full of tourists and their selfie-sticks. See the famous Glico man billboard and the giant animatronic crab outside Kani Doraku restaurant; revel in the neon glare from karaoke bar signs, and the run-down, 1980s cyberpunk atmosphere.
Then, turn down a few lanes off the main drag to discover a quiet cobble-stoned street of restaurants which the crowds never seem to find. For travelers who prefer people-watching, find a spot on Dotonboribashi bridge among spiky-haired hosts plying their trade. Beware of the optimistic high school girls attempting to ride their bicycles through the crowd.
Nearby Shinsaibashi is great for shopping during the day. If the giant, covered Shinsaibashi-Suji shopping street, packed with hundreds of shops, isn’t to your taste, go a few blocks west and hunt for secondhand clothes and vinyl records, or visit America-mura (aka American Village), with its creative boutiques and trendy vibe. Next, head south through the array of kitchen utensils in Sennichimae Doguyasuji Shopping Street in the Namba district.
Osaka castle is incredibly impressive. The walls are 98 ft (30m) high and were built by a canny samurai warlord (Toyotomi Hideyoshi, one of the unifiers of Japan) as a display of his power and dominance. Despite its bloody history, the castle sits within a beautiful, calm park that is a favorite spot for BBQs during cherry blossom time.
The main building itself is a reconstruction, with a museum within. There's much debate among locals about the newly added elevator, though it does increase the ease of access for travelers with walking difficulties. Despite a lack of authenticity in the interior, the castle is a must-visit. Stroll the grounds and enjoy the contrast of a samurai-era construction framed against a backdrop of green skyscrapers.
Osaka is not as well known for its temples and shrines as Kyoto, but it is the site of the oldest Buddhist temple in Japan, Shitennoji.
On any day, there is a lot that is visually and culturally interesting here, from the pagoda and other temple buildings to beautiful rows of hanging lanterns, to the pond of abandoned pet turtles.
On the 21st and 22nd of every month, there is also a huge flea market, and those willing to venture out on the 11th of February will witness Doya Doya Matsuri, a goose bump-inducing festival where high school boys run through sheets of freezing water to catch paper charms and ensure their luck for the year to come.
From restaurant fare to market-fresh street food, Amelia Gambier reveals the best ways to taste Osaka’s unique take on Japanese cuisine.
Osaka is a town that knows how to have fun. Pull up a stool and dig in as our local insider shares the best neighbourhoods to enjoy the city’s nightlife.
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