Osaka is a large port city located on the island of Honshu—and a place you definitely need to hit during any trip to Japan. It’s known for its modern architecture, entertainment, performing arts, and street food. In fact, Osaka is often referred to as the food capital of the world, acclaimed for their traditional okonomiyaki (pan fried batter cake), takoyaki (octopus in fried batter), udon (noodle dish), oshizushi (pressed sushi), and conveyor belt sushi. Native Osakains are known for their friendly, down to earth, and outgoing personalities which makes exploring the city an even better experience. Not surprisingly, famous Japanese comedians and performers often come from Osaka. While the city is not traditionally known as a common tourist location, it’s extremely underrated in my opinion and somewhere you should be sure to check out if you find yourself in Japan.
What to Eat
Osaka is known as the nation's belly, so you better believe the food there is delicious. I strongly recommend eating at a “cook your own” Okonomiyaki Dinner which is an Osaka speciality of savory pancake based on flour, cabbage, sauce, eggs, vegetables, and meat. Another food that is a must-try for meat eaters is the Osakaian Kobe Beef, which is commonly known as the best beef in the world, and can’t be found in the United States. While I don’t eat meat, it got rave reviews from my fellow travelers.
- The Osaka Kaiyukan Aquarium is the second largest aquarium in the world and it only costs 2400 yen (22.27 USD) to enter.
- Osaka Castle is located in Osaka Castle Park with the Nishinomaru Garden surrounding it. For only 600 yen (5.57 USD), you can climb the eight stories to the top of the castle which provides an amazing 360 degree view of the city.
- Himeji Castle is the largest and most visited castle in Japan. It is about an hour train ride from Osaka at a hilltop in the city of Himeji. The castle dates back to 1333 and has a brilliant white exterior and is said to resemble a bird taking flight.
- If you have any interest in manga (anime), Den Den Town is the place for you. It is the manga district of Osaka where you can find an array of manga themed stores, bars, and cosplay characters.
- The World Exposition Memorial Park is the perfect way to spend a day because it covers 264 hectares containing open lawns, Japanese gardens, museums, and bikes that can be rented to travel around the park.
- The American Village is the epicenter of the creative, laid-back youth culture of Osaka and it is filled with street art, food, galleries, cafes, vintage clothing, second hand books, and record stores. The village is basically the Brooklyn of Osaka and a must see for artists and creatives.
Osaka is famous for its eccentric nightlife that is centered around Dotonbori, a long street that runs along the Dotonbori canal. Both sides of the canal are filled with illuminated billboards, restaurants, theaters, and nightclubs. During my time in Osaka, I spent many nights just exploring Dotonbori, and I would definitely suggest checking out this area if you love the “going out” scene.
Osaka has some of the most interesting bars I’ve ever been to, one of them including Club Kinggu, a victorian horror themed bar that is dark, crowded, and filled with taxidermied animals. The owner of the bar even wears clothing and makeup that resembles “The Crow.” So it seemed only fitting to order a glass of red wine, which was served to us in goblets while we sat at a table filled with interesting trinkets. Other bars worth stopping at include The Space Station (a video game themed bar) and Bar Nayuta (a bar with no cocktail menu where the bartender creates drinks based on your current mood and taste preferences).
Something to keep in mind is that Uber is not very prevalent in Osaka, public transportation stops running around midnight, and taxis can be hard to come by. So I recommend staying in a hotel near Dotonbori so that you can walk home from the bars if you think you’ll be sampling the nightlife.
Things To Consider When Traveling to Japan
Japan is an amazing place to travel to and I hold my experience there close to my heart. Osaka and Kyoto are relatively safe and I never felt uncomfortable wandering the streets as a young woman. Respect is of the utmost importance in Japan so it is crucial to always be on your best behavior, especially when attending temples and shrines. In these sacred places, you have to make sure to never sit or step on anything except for the designated paths, because almost everything has a meaning and all must be respected. Along this line, it is important to bow when giving thanks or after being bowed at by another person.
In Kyoto, enough people spoke english that I did not have many problems, but almost no one spoke english in Osaka and if we did not have a translator on our trip it would have made things much more difficult. However, there are 7/11’s all over both cities and they always have food and cell phone service, so the language barrier was not that big a deal and certainly not a reason to defer a person from traveling to Japan.
While I did not have the chance to travel to Tokyo, a bullet train ride would have only been a two hour trip at around 120 USD.
Japan is thirteen hours ahead of New York time and I flew out of JFK. In order to avoid jet lag, I suggest booking a flight at night (mine was around midnight) and bringing along any accessories or gear that will help you sleep during the flight. My flight was sixteen hours to Hong Kong and then five hours from Hong Kong to Osaka. With a little help from the sleeping pill Gods, I slept through the whole sixteen hours, felt great when I landed, and did not have any jet lag, so I believe this is the best way to approach such a long flight.
Words You Need to Know Before Traveling to Japan
Arigatou (ah-ree-gah-toe) - thank you
Arigatou Gozaimasu - thank you very much (more polite, use when talking to elders)
Sumimasen (sue-me-mah-sen) - excuse me / pardon me
Doko (dough-ko) - where
Nani (nan-i) - what
Egio (ey-go) - english
Ikura (ee-koo-rah) - how much
Hai (hi) - yes / polite term of acknowledgement
Wakarimasen (wah-kah-ree-mah-sen) - I don’t understand
Kudasai (koo-dah-sigh) - please
Oishii (oh-ee-she) - delicious
Kawaii (kuh-wai-ee) - cute
What are your favorite things to do in Japan? Let us know in the comments below
Tune in for part two of our Japan series where we will discuss Kyoto!
This blog was written by Featured Wrighter, Jess Celella.