The nation’s kitchen
Osaka, the second largest city in Japan during the day time, and third at night time, is only comparable to be second after Tokyo. A massive very modern agglomeration where a tourist should not be expecting to find old structures, ancient shrines, historical temples and overall, old Japan. Well, of course here and there you will come across some of these sites, but what you will come across at great scale is a thriving city day and night, a massive economic power in the country and huge in culture and the arts, entertainment and overall, food. This city has by nickname “the nation’s kitchen”, and that’s for a very well earned reason: its favourable location along the coast within easy access to the world and high quality ingredients, coupled with wealthy merchants and its people with somehow a keen desire for good and expensive products. For some, Osaka is the food capital of the world.
There is a phrase used to kindly describe its inhabitants with regards to their fame for food: “Residents of Osaka devour their food until they collapse”. I do believe with such an expression there is no further need to continue writing anything about food. It’s great everywhere as you will experience it, easy to find anywhere however it could be as “complicated” as is in Tokyo, where you need to prepay at machines where not even a sign in English exist, only images of the dish and of course the Japanese description, to then hand over the waiters the receipt. It’s really fun, believe me, and part of the emotion in not really knowing for sure what you’ve ordered until coming to your table!.
Like almost anywhere in Japan, World War II took its toll not only in loss of lives, but the lost of traditional architecture. Osaka was one of the worst, destruction here was on mass, hence why it is such modern today and very few historical places remain. Even the ones still standing are in majority reconstructions like the castle. Still, it’s an awesome city to visit, explore and enjoy, you can never be wrong at anywhere you are in Japan anyway.
While a day is quite short especially if you are coming from somewhere else as a base, like we did from Kyoto, any longer than 2 days is more than enough. A day is already good to give you an idea, and actually for someone like us in a wider tour visiting so many other cities, it was good enough and we did not really miss staying longer. We’ve already been the days before to huge modern cities so this was just another one, why not. Our next stop would also be our last base in Japan and the farthest in our trip, Hiroshima.
The vast amount of neon lights and adverts coupled with the canals is a sight on its own. That’s the famous Dotonbori district which you can easily compare with Akihabara or Shinjuku in Tokyo. The vast amount of restaurants around this area is incredible, and so are the large queues that form. We could not manage any seat around here at any place unless we would have spent a long time waiting. But this is not the only district that falls into this same category, being the other Shinsekai District in the south of the city and famous for its landmark tower and again hundreds of restaurants, notably serving here fresh fish and sushi. The illuminations at night are simply spectacular.
Don’t leave the city without trying Okonomiyaki, a pancake cooked on an iron-plate with various ingredients mixed together (as opposed as how they do in Hiroshima where they layer the ingredients one on top of the other). The ingredients are typically egg, cabbage, bean sprouts (moyashi), sliced pork or bacon with optional items (mayonnaise, fried squid, octopus, cheese, mochi, kimchi, etc.), and noodles (soba or udon), egg and a generous dollop of okonomiyaki sauce.
For more information about Osaka check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Japan’s currency is the Yen (JPY, ¥). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Osaka
- Shin Osaka Station The high-speed train station located at the north of the city and your possible main access point to Osaka. Nothing really to see here, other than being your stating point. The most important metro line for any tourist calls here, the Midosuji Line. Get it to Umeda for the Sky Building and the rest of your sightseeing tour.
- Umeda Sky Building One of the most innovative skyscrapers in the city, it has a viewing platform from where you will get the most spectacular views of the entire city. Located to the northwest of the city, near Osaka Train Station.
- Osaka Castle Towards the east, one of the most known landmarks not only in the city but the country itself. It played a major role in the unification of Japan during the 16th century of the Azuchi-Momoyama period. Almost entirely destroyed during WWII raids, was reconstructed in concrete from 1995. The outer moat is a pleasant walk with nice views to the walls, watchtowers and skyscrapers beyond. Entrance fee of ¥600. The nearest metro stations are Tenmabashi at the northwest, or Morinomiya in the southeast. You can reach it from Umeda Sky by taking the metro to Hommachi station and change for the Chuo Line (green) to Morinomiya station.
- Dōtonbori District In a similar way Akihabara is to Tokyo, this is the top tourist area in the city famous for the countless illuminated signposts, theatres, shopping centres and shops, restaurants, bars, cafes and thriving nightlife. It is also famous for the canals and many bridges in between. Located in between Umeda/Osaka Station far north and Tsūtenkaku Tower at the far south. The nearest metro station is Namba in the Midosuji Line, however get off 2 stations before at Hommachi and walk down this area.
- Tsūtenkaku Tower Highlight in Shinsekai District, it is one of the most recognisable symbols of Osaka’s post WWII rebuilding. Its name translates as Tower Reaching Heaven, and has an observation platform at 91 meters high with great views, though not as good as from the Umeda Sky. The nearest metro station is Ebisuchō in the Sakaisuji Line (brown line) which is by the north, or Dobutsuen-Mae at the south on the Midosuji Line that comes all the way from Umeda/Osaka Station. Access to the top for ¥600.
- Shitennōji Temple Originally built by Emperor Suiko in 593 AD, the current buildings are mostly post WWII reconstructions. Located east from the Tsūtenkaku Tower and district, the nearest metro station is Shitennōji-mae-Yuhigaoka or Tennōji both in the Tanimachi Line. Entrance fee of ¥300.
- Sumiyoshi Shrine One of Japan’s oldest Shinto shrines with a history over 1800 years, although the current structures of course, date from post WWII reconstruction as everything else. You can access this place from the previous temple Shitennōji taking the tram direct here; otherwise the nearest metro station is Sumiyoshi Shrine in the Nankai Line.
The city has 2 airports serving not just this city but across a region where lots of millions people live serving Kobe, Nara region and Kyoto. Kansai is the huge international airport, while the nearer Itami Airport serves internal traffic only. From the airport (Kansai) which lies in an island off the bay, there are very frequent and quick trains and buses to downtown Osaka.
By railway is perhaps the best option for any tourist should you be in a Japan tour and this city is in your agenda. First of all, when holding a Japan Rail Pass this makes it easier to move on any JR route as long as you do not take the fastest train type which is not included with the pass. Having this pass will save you money on the hundreds of £ and will give you entire flexibility. Saying this, the city is along the Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen bullet railway line so it’s matter of really short times to Hiroshima, Kobe, Nara, Kyoto, Nagoya, Yokohama or Tokyo. A day trip from Hiroshima or Tokyo at the ends of the line (although the trains do continue farther from both ends) is what generally people do, and was no exception for us as we came from our main base Kyoto to spend the day.
Outside of Tokyo, Osaka hosts the second largest subway network, commuter railways and buses literally serving every possible area and beyond to the metropolitan area. Moving within the city is simple and straightforward, but you will need to get separate tickets between the systems unless getting a travel card which might be the direct solution should you be planning in taking at least 3 trips and more. Try to include in your tour what is easily accessible from a metro station for convenience, as it’s going to be the Midosuji metro line where most of the sights are along it. The Osaka One Day Pass grants you access to all the metro, buses and trams for a day for ¥800 per person.
Referred as the second city after Tokyo, and of this seer size at almost 20 million inhabitants, needless to say the amount of hotels is pretty much countless, of any type, from the super top to the more modest. But something that does not change in this city and nowhere in Japan are the fares per night. It can be seriously expensive, and most important, do not expect space. Everything in this huge city is pretty limited in space, unless you are willing to pay the prime and I am not even talking on the high standard either. Very good 4* properties do not mean at all space, and at the time you will be running your searches, you will come across something unique to this country, the term “semi double” room. Well, what can I say about this! It’s not a double and not a single, just something in between which I would never consider if you are used to normal standards. Asian people are usually smaller than westerners. The difference in prices rise dramatically the bigger the bed and bedroom.
As usual, a good and reasonable point to start your search would be checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers. It will take you longer than expected, be patience, and over all, make sure to know where the hotel you are intending to book is.
Since we did nos stay overnight in Osaka, I cannot say any further on this nor recommend any hotel. If Kyoto is your main base and you are coming here as a day trip then check the respective guide with all the information about accommodation and which hotel we stayed here.