It is hard to describe Osaka in just one word. But this is not to say it is just another Tokyo. While there have always been comparisons between these two cities, and talks about how Osaka can never be like Tokyo, we beg to differ, for Osaka radiates its own charm and deserves to be loved for many reasons.
From the majestic Osaka Castle to Universal Studios Japan, shopping at Shinsaibashi to cafe-hopping at Orange Street, Instant Ramen Museum to Osaka Central Fish Market, the list goes on and we have picked out 20 things to covet when visiting Osaka.
Mark Osaka down in your travel bucket list. We promise it would be worth a visit.
#1 OSAKA CASTLE
The magnificence of Osaka. Standing tall on stone foundation since 1583, the Osaka-jo is five stories on the outside, and eight stories on the inside. Built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, this is one of the most famous castles in Japan and is a popular spot during festival seasons, especially when the cherry blossoms bloom. It is the perfect hanami spot.
#2 TAKOYAKI – NOBODY SAYS NO TO OSAKA’S OCTOPUS BALLS
Made of a wheat flour based batter that is filled with diced octopus, pickled ginger, and green onion, these Octopus Balls are the best street food to have when in Osaka. Topped with dried bonito, and a douse of mayonnaise and takoyaki sauce, this popular street snack is cheap and delicious.
#3 THE KITCHEN OF OSAKA – OSAKA CENTRAL FISH MARKET
Opened to all visitors, this is one bustling place to be at. Lines after lines of stalls selling commodities – fruits, vegetables, cooking condiments and tsukemono (Japanese pickles), kitchenware, and of course, fish – the wholesale market is a colourful place that is such a visual treat. Little eateries selling fresh sashimi and sushi can also be found. And the highlight is most definitely the maguro (tuna) auction show which starts at 4:15am sharp daily.
#4 ENDO SUSHI – SAVOUR THE BEST OTORO SUSHI
And if you find yourself at the Osaka Central Fish Market, you must not deny yourself of what would be a very memorable sushi meal. It took us a while to locate Endo Sushi, but the search for the best otoro sushi ended at this tiny sushi parlour. We never thought fatty tuna belly could send us to heaven like that, and Endo Sushi’s rendition changed our lives forever. First-timers can opt for the Omakase Set – ¥1,050 for five pieces of sushi – which includes one of that very divine otoro sushi. But if you are not a fan, you will love the anago (conger eel) sushi.
#5 SO MUCH FUN AT UNIVERSAL STUDIOS JAPAN
Theme parks are not just for kids. Everyone can have fun at Universal Studios Japan (USJ)! With a series of family-friendly and thrilling rides, a day at USJ is a whole day of excitement and unadulterated happiness. And the best part about USJ has got to be The Wizarding World of Harry Potter! Fans will be more than delighted by this magical adventure at the Park. A basic one-day studio pass costs ¥6,980 for adults and ¥4,880 for kids. Multiple days passes and hotel-cum-studio passes are also available.
#6 OKONOMIYAKI - AMONG THE THREE MUST-EAT STREET FOOD IN OSAKA
For the uninitiated, Okonomiyaki is a savoury Japanese pancake that originated from Osaka. It is not the most photogenic food, but trust us on this – this is something that you do not want to miss when you are here.
#7 ALICE ON WEDNESDAY – GO DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE WITH ALICE
Have you ever dreamed of being Alice, falling down a rabbit hole and entering a magical world where you could meet The Madhatter, Chesire the cat and gang? If you are visiting Osaka, you will be able to do just that! Alice on Wednesday is a cool kid to look out for on your next trip to those Japanese cities. Think a lifestyle concept store that is put together entirely based on the love for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Read our guide on Alice on Wednesday.
#8 DOTONBORI – A GASTRONOMIST’S HEAVEN
Prized as the most popular tourists’ destination of Osaka, Dotonbori is one happening stretch of entertainment and restaurants. You might recall seeing photos of the street that is illuminated with neon signboards, together with its iconic Glico billboard featuring a boy crossing the finishing line. This is it – the life of Osaka, with multiple nightlife and entertainment options, and endless affordable Japanese restaurants and street eats. And because Dotonbori is such a gastronomist’s heaven, you will never go hungry here.
#9 KUROMON-ICHIBA MARKET – THE OTHER OSAKA KITCHEN
Don’t we all love Japanese markets? There is never a dull moment at these markets, and we love Kuromon-ichiba for its 600 meter-long street with stalls selling fish, fruits, vegetables and other essentials for the kitchen. Be in for some street food feasting too, for the offerings here are endless. Apart from seafood skewers like scallops and octopus, you can also find extremely fresh uni (sea urchin) and fugu (blowfish).
#10 SENNICHIMAE DOGUYASUJI – SHOP FOR KITCHEN SPECIALTIES
Osaka prides herself as the kitchen of Japan, and so, we have Sennichimae Doguyasuji that pays homage to its nation. A long stretch of specialty shops where you can find all the kitchen essentials, this 150 meter-long street is perfect for chefs and culinary enthusiasts. New residents of Osaka often find themselves here to fill their kitchens up, but visitors will enjoy an eye-opening experience all the same for the sheer array of merchandise is itself a sight to behold.
#11 KAPPO – THE ART OF DINING IN OSAKAKappo is the definition of Osaka’s culinary glory. Like how Kyoto has its kaiseki, Osaka takes pride in their cutting and cooking, hence making up the word ‘kappo’. An open kitchen surrounded with counter bar seats, and a team of chefs preparing your dishes right before your eyes; every course is delicately presented and speaks of the season’s highlights – this is kappo. It differentiates itself from kaiseki, as it is a lot more casual, emphasises on cutting and cooking, and the relationship between the chefs and the patrons is build on interaction from the close proximity. Read our guide on Kappo – The Art of Dining in Osaka.
#12 ORANGE STREET – THE GEM OF OSAKA
This is one amazing area for cafe lovers and hipster shoppers. Whether you are in for some latte-sipping time or select shopping, Orange Street is surely the place for you in Osaka. We love this street so much that during our recent trip, we went back every day to explore the quaint cafes and creative boutiques. No two shops are alike; feel the vibe of the city’s most talented cafe entrepreneurs and designers here, and whip out your cameras for many Instagram-worthy frames and photos.
#13 THE HUBBUBS OF UMEDA
Umeda is the “kita” (north) district of Osaka, and it is one of the two city centres. It is all hustle and bustle at Umeda every day, for it is the transportation hub of Osaka, and a very busy business district. Umeda has been undergoing numerous facelifts for the past years, but the kita district is already a shopping and entertainment paradise. From huge department stores like Hankyu and Daimaru, to the spectacular Umeda Sky Building and Hankyu Entertainment Park, spend a day or two appreciating the happening life at Umeda.
#14 HANKYU, THE MALL OF UMEDA
If your shopping time is brief at Umeda, head straight to Hankyu. With a mind-boggling thirteen levels of fantastic shopping, treat yourself to some real therapy. The line-up of luxury brands is impressive to say the least, as with cult labels and local designers. Fine cosmetics and fragrances are part of the temptation too, and an array of lifestyle brands products will also have you going gaga over. There is a rooftop plaza alongside a few restaurants on the thirteenth level, and the two-level food hall is what dreams are made of.
#15 KUSHIKATSU - DEEP FRIED GOODNESS ON STICKS
Also known as kushiage, kushikatsu is deep-fried meat/vegetable skewers. This is heaven on a stick. Every skewer is coated with light batter and deep-fried to something even lovelier than golden brown; it is delicious and not greasy at all.
#16 SHOP FOR CREATIVE LIFESTYLE PRODUCTS AT ASOKO
A colourful and whimsical boutique that sells lifestyle products and little accessories, Asoko can be found at Minami-horie. Nothing is exorbitantly-priced, which explains Asoko’s primary success. The creativity of their in-house merchandise attributes largely to its popularity. Expect surprises like rainbow umbrellas, fire extinguisher-shaped erasers and kitchenware in the prettiest colours.
#17 TAKE A STROLL AT UTSUBO PARK
Slow down, let go of your fears and worries, breathe in the crisp fresh air, and take a stroll at Utsubo Park, one of Osaka’s largest public parks; the urban sanctuary is one too lovely to forget life’s stress and problems. There is also a rose garden that offers free admission.
#18 AN EPICUREAN STREET OFF HOZEN-JI
And we stumbled upon this hidden street off Shinsaibashi that is such an epicurean’s dream. Farther down from Hozen-ji (Hozen Temple), this charming cobbled street is really a lane of Osaka’s award-winning ryotei (luxurious traditional Japanese restaurants) that offer one-of-a-kind experiences. The best kappo ryotei – Kigawa – is found here, and so is Yakiniku M, a highly popular yakiniku (Japanese BBQ) institution which serves melt-in-the-mouth Matsusaka beef. Actually, even a simple stroll down this narrow lane is quite a joy to indulge in.
#19 THE INSTANT RAMEN MUSEUM
In other words, cup noodles heaven, and admission is free! Learn about the process of creating instant noodles – which originated in Osaka – and its various developments. But the true fun lies in making your own cup noodles at the “My Cup Noodle Factory” where you choose your own soup base and ingredients, and draw your designs to personalise your very own cup noodles!
#20 SHOP AWAY AT SHINSAIBASHI
And we end this post with a bang. Shinsaibashi is the city’s main shopping area, and it is one enormous area that houses a mixture of international and local brands. There is a long shopping arcade with various drug stores (shut up and take our money!) and little dessert and coffee houses that make perfect pit stops in between shopping, and Daimaru for those who love Japanese department stores. Luxury boutiques can also be found within the area. There is also a Punk-Indie area called the American Village where youngsters thrive on the quirky finds.