Are you a foodie in search of your next gourmet destination? Or perhaps you are you looking to visit Japan’s Western region, but don’t know where to start? Then you have come to the right spot. Tokyo Travel Assist’s Osaka Guide will provide you with the essential information you need to make the most of your visit to Osaka, Japan’s Western centre and culinary capital.
Osaka is the economic and political centre of Western Japan. Osaka is the third-largest city in Japan by population and is the center of Japan’s second-largest metropolitan area known as the Keihanshin metropolis. In the Asuka and Nara periods, present-day Osaka was known as Naniwa. The significance of the name Naniwa still remains as Naniwa-ku is the name of one of the 24 wards of Osaka city.
Osaka was briefly the capital of Imperial Japan in the 7th and 8th centuries. Furthermore, Osaka was an important economic center in Japan as many of its residents were merchants during the Edo period (1603-1868). During this time Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a significant Japanese political figure known for unifying Japan after the Sengoku (warring states) period, built Osaka castle to signify the significance of Osaka in Japan’s political and economic realm.
Best time to visit Osaka
Although each season in Osaka has its own appeal, Osaka has a pleasant climate making it easy to visit the city at any time of the year. The summer can be hot and humid and can reach temperatures of up to 37, most days hover around 30 – 35. Winter is also very comfortable as the daily low rarely falls below 5. Winter in Osaka is also very short compared to other places like Tokyo, Hokkaido, and even Korea.
If you like mild weather, then spring or fall is the best season for you. The months of October and November in Osaka are absolutely beautiful with a comfortable temperature without much rain. You can also enjoy the changing leaves. Spring is also beautiful with cherry blossoms in bloom, but many places with the best cherry blossom viewing spots are packed with tourists and locals alike.
Traveling to Osaka
There are many ways to access Osaka from various parts of Japan. If you are coming from outside Japan and want to directly come to Osaka, then you should fly into Kansai International Airport (KIX), the gateway to Osaka and the Keihanshin area.
From KIX, the train is the best method of transportation to reach the city centre. There are two main train companies that service KIX: Nankai Electric Railway and Japan Railway. Japan Railway offers the Kansai Airport Rapid Service and the Haruka Limited Express train. Nankai Electric Railway offers the Nankai Railway Airport Line. All three of these train services offer efficient train services, so the best way to decide which one to use is to see which one stops closest to the accommodation you plan to stay at. Although Osaka is smaller than Tokyo, it is still a large city with many confusing train lines and stations. The internet is your friend when it comes to researching arrival transfers.
From KIX as well as from other areas in the greater Osaka area, limousine bus services are a good choice. Limousine busses are convenient because they connect downtown Osaka to a wider range of locations throughout Osaka prefecture and even other regions like Kobe, Kyoto, and Nara.
Taxi is the easiest and most comfortable way to transfer in and out of Osaka, but it is the most expensive. Taxis in Japan’s major cities are not cheap, and a taxi ride from KIX to central Osaka costs around 20,000 yen.
If you are already in Japan and are seeking to visit Osaka, then you have even more transportation options. From all over Japan, JR trains or busses are quite convenient. If you are in Tokyo or Nagoya, perhaps a ride on the world-class Shikansen (bullet train) would be an interesting choice for you. Shin-Osaka is the Shinkansen station that serves the Osaka area.
Alternatively, you can take domestic flights from all over Japan. Japan has a number of low-cost carriers (LCC) that fly from almost any part of Japan into Osaka. The country’s two best airlines, Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways, also have many flights each day that come and go from Osaka.
Currency exchange in Osaka
While Japan is a technologically advanced nation in many respects, personal finance is one part of life that is still very old-fashioned. Cash is king in Japan, and it is hard to go a day without using some cash. Furthermore, many establishments still do not accept credit cards or debit cards, so travelers in Japan should always carry some cash while in Japan.
There are a number of ways that you can exchange your currency into Japanese Yen in Osaka. Upon arrival at KIX, there are a number of currency exchange counters inside the airport. While these are very convenient for travelers, most airport currency exchange counters do not offer a good rate. If you are pressed for time and are in immediate need of cash for your taxi ride or whatnot, then these counters are useful. Otherwise, you should seek out better options within the city.
Post offices and banks offer currency exchange services with satisfactory rates. You can find a bank or post office almost anywhere in Japan, and they can deal with most currencies. Banks used to be the only institutions that were permitted to provide exchange services under Japanese law, so you can trust their services.
Bank and post office ATMs also accept foreign credit and debit cards for exchange, along with convenience store ATMs which are connected to a network of different Japanese banks. Please note that bank ATMs in Japan do not provide 24-hour services, and most operate only a few hours before and after bank hours. If you are in need of cash in the middle of the night, it is best to go to a convenience store.
Districts of Osaka
Kita (Umeda) Area
There are two main city centres, with the Kita, or Umeda, area being one of them. Its counterpart is the Minami, or Namba, area located South of Umeda. The Kita area is home to a large business district and is the busiest transportation hub in Osaka. This area is also home to Osaka station city, which is an enormous network of underground shopping malls. This type of city-under-a-city is only in Osaka!
There are also a number of aboveground shopping and entertainment facilities. Grand Front Osaka is the newest and most popular of them since its opening in 2013. It has numerous interconnected skyscrapers that have stores, restaurants, offices, residential spaces, and even some small parks.
Umeda has many other things to offer besides shopping. There are many hotels and other lodging services in the Kita area. It is incredibly convenient for tourists, and also makes for a great visit.
In terms of entertainment, you can find Umeda Sky Building in the Osaka station area. Umeda Sky Building is an incredible 173-metre tall skyscraper that has an open-air observation deck on the top of the building. Hankyu Entertainment Park, known as HEP, is another entertainment area that is centred around the HEP Five and HEP Navio buildings. Here you can find the famous bright red ferris wheel on top of the HEP Five building!
Minami (Namba) Area
The Minami, or Namba, area is located South of Umeda. Although the Minami area is close to the Kita area, the atmosphere and selection of attractions is completely different! While Umeda feels modern and new, Namba feels like the traditional Osaka seen in media. Namba is home to Dotonbori, which is probably the most famous landmark in Osaka. Dotonbori is a street full of shopping, restaurants, and entertainment along the Dotonbori canal.
North of Dotonbori is Shinsaibashi shopping street, which is more focused on shopping than food. The atmosphere is calmer than that of Dotonbori and there are less wacky signboards in Shinsaibashi. Next to Dotonbori is Hozenji Yokocho, a narrow stone-paved street filled with traditional Osaka cuisine. Upon entering Hozenji Yokocho you might feel like you teleported back in time! This quaint little street is filled with establishments that offer local dishes such as okonomiyaki and kushi-katsu. You
Located west of Shinsaibashi is an area popular among young locals called Amerika-mura. In its early days around the 1960’s, this area centered around Sankaku Koen Park (literally “triangle park”) was filled with stores that sold American import goods, with surf-themed clothing and vintage clothing being the most popular items. The area remains a hub for young people and remains the home of many shops specializing in American products.
On the South side of Namba station is an area called Den Den Town which is perfect for the self-proclaimed “nerd” crowd or just those with interests in electronics, anime, or games. Similar to Akihabara in Tokyo, Den Den Town is filled with stores that offer computer parts, various electronics, manga, anime, and more.
To final major sightseeing sight in Namba is Kuromon Ichiba, an enormous covered market filled with a variety of street foods and souvinirs.
Places to visit
Universal Studio Japan
Osaka is home to one of the six Universal Studios theme parks in the world, and was the first Universal Studios park to open in Asia. The park is incredibly large and is the second-most-popular theme park in Japan after Tokyo Disneyland. It features many attractions made in the style of many internationally acclaimed franchises like Toy Story, and also has some attractions that are based on Japanese anime or video games. There are eight areas in Universal Studios Japan: Hollywood, New York, San Francisco, Waterworld, Jurassic Park, Amity Village, Universal Wonderland and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Each season offers a different experience at Universal Studios. Many young people love Halloween and dress up for a visit to the park. There are a variety of scary shows and actors dressed like monsters roaming the park. Christmas is also popular, as the romantic atmosphere is popular among couples. During each season, characters are dressed up differently. It might be fun to visit during each holiday and compare your experience!
Cup Noodles Museum
Did you know the creator of instant noodles was a man named Momofuku Ando who resided in Osaka? He created the first instant noodles in 1958 to help with the post-war efforts in Japan. The Cup Noodle Museum in Osaka is dedicated to Momofuku Ando and shows the history of instant noodles in through interactive exhibits. You can even create your own original cup noodles at the museum, or try to make instant chicken ramen from scratch! Experiencing the processes involved in the production of instant noodles will change your perceptions of instant noodles forever.
Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan is one of the most famous aquariums in Japan. Located in Tempozan Harbour Village, the aquarium is filled with over 620 species of marine life in 15 different tanks over 8 floors. Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan focuses on marine life in the pacific rim, with each tank representing a different area of the pacific rim. The huge aquarium has penguins, dolphins, and turtles, but the most famous sea creature in the aquarium is the whale shark. As the aquarium is indoors, it is the perfect activity for tourists, whether they are solo travelers, couples, or families.
Umeda Sky Building
Umeda Sky Building is an incredible 173-metre tall skyscraper in Umeda. It has an open-air observation deck called the “Floating Garden Observatory” on the top of the building. Here you can enjoy a spectacular 360-degree view of the city. On clear days you can even see as far as Awaji Island, which is nearly 100km away from Osaka.
Osaka Castle was built under the instruction Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a Japanese historical figure attributed to the unification of Japan after the Sengoku period. The castle was intended to be a symbol for the newly unified country in Osaka, which was a political centre of Japan at that time. The castle went through much hardship, as it was destroyed by enemy warriors in 1615 and rebuilt soon after only to be burned down after being struck by lightening in 1665. The Osaka Castle that stands today was built in 1931. The castle is surrounded by moats, gardens, and towering stone walls. You can leisurely enjoy the castle by strolling through the large park that surrounds the castle before going inside. There are many historical exhibits inside with artifacts from various periods of Japan’s history.
Shinsaibashi shopping street is located North of Dotonbori and is more focused on shopping than food. The atmosphere is calmer than that of Dotonbori and there are less wacky signboards in Shinsaibashi. The shopping arcade itself is roughly 600-metres long and is covered, making it a safe place to visit even on rainy days. The shopping arcade is unique because it hosts both low-end chain retailers and small boutiques with enormous department stores and upscale fashion labels.
Dotonbori is a street full of shopping, restaurants, and entertainment along the Dotonbori canal. The area is characterized by its bright signboards. The Glico Man, pictured in the image below, is the most popular place to take a picture in Osaka. You should do the running man pose and take a picture with him. Otherwise, look for landmarks like Kuidaore Taro, a mascot representing Osaka’s obsession with food. While most people walk through the streets of Dotonbori, you can also experience the area from the canal itself by taking a river cruise through the canal.
Kuromon Ichiba Market
Kuromon Ichiba is an enormous covered market filled with a variety of street foods and souvenirs. Here you can find fresh produce, local delicacies, and dine at one of the many street food stands. The name Kuromon Ichiba means “black gate market”, and is named after a temple with a black gate that was located nearby. Locals and tourists alike are attracted to the market for its quality and selection of foods. The best part about the market is that it is entirely covered, so you can enjoy your food adventures even if it is pouring outside.
Minoo Park is a forested park located about 30 minutes outside of central Osaka. The park is considered to be one of the best spots to see the changing colours of leaves in the fall. Here you can enjoy an easy hike that passes by old shops, temple buildings, and even a waterfall. During the autumn months you can try a special snack called momiji tempura, which consists of maple leaves deep-fried in tempura batter. Although the best season to visit Minoo Park is fall, you can still visit the park at any time of the year as a small escape from the city.
Kamigata Ukiyoe Museum
During the Edo period, Osaka was the hub for arts and culture in Japan. Ukiyoe art is one of the most popular among the many different art forms that were popular in Japan at that time. One type that was particularly popular in Osaka is called Kamigata Ukiyoe from Kamigata, an old name for the Osaka-Kyoto region. This type of art was different from other ukiyoe art because the art style was developed before the Edo period. There is a museum in Osaka called the Kamigata Ukiyoe Museum that features the only permanent exhibit of Kamigata Ukiyoe in the world. You can learn about Japanese art and culture throughout history and look at some authentic works of art that can only be seen in Osaka.
If you are in need of Japanese souvenirs, then you must make a visit to Don Quijote. Don Quijote is a discount chain retailer that sells a wide variety of items from daily household goods, personal hygiene products, electronics, novelty goods, and even souvenirs. The stores are famous for the chaotic store layout that stimulates your senses. Don Quijote is the perfect one-stop-shop for all of your shopping needs. There are Don Quijote stores in Namba, Umeda, and a Mega Don Quijote near Osaka Tennoji Zoo.
Now that you know about the different areas of Osaka and best places to visit, why not get in contact with Tokyo Travel Assist and go on a guided Osaka adventure? Their friedly and knowledgable local guides will take you to many of the must-visit places listed in this article. Check out the Osaka Enjoy Tour page to learn more!
And let us know how you plan to enjoy your time in Osaka. If you have any questions, our friendly team at Tokyo Travel Assist is here to help you at any time.