Friendly Osaka is known as the food and culture capital of Japan, home to unique experiences and attractions. Between the food paradise of Dotonbori, the long shopping arcades and traditional art venues, visitors can craft an itinerary of diverse sights. History demands to be noticed as well, the gigantic mounds of Mozu Tombs and the elegant Osaka Castle a siren’s call to history buffs. If you can spare the time, experience Osaka’s prime location with day trips to Kyoto, Kobe and Nara. Without further ado here's the 30 Best Things to Do in Osaka:
Eat up at Dotonbori
Seek out Dotonbori’s giant crab machination to start your food adventures across Osaka; or use the Glico sign as your marker. As the sun gives way to the neon signs and colorful displays of faux food of its restaurants, Dotonbori fills up with people. From takoyaki stalls to standing ramen eats and every Japanese cuisine you can think of, this food and shopping district is a one-stop-shop for foodies. Budget is no issue due to the variety. If you’d like a more comprehensive experience, sign up for a Daytime Dotonbori Walking Food Tour to happen upon the best street food! You might try your hand at food sample making too, and bring home an unusual memento.
Take a tour of Osaka Castle
One of Japan’s most significant heritage sites, Osaka Castle had undergone various reconstructions since its 1583 conception by the Toyotomi family. Briefly occupied by the Tokugawa clan before stricken down by lightning mid-1660s, the present structure was built in 1931. Osaka Castle is protected by moats, secondary gates and citadels, and hemmed in with hundreds of cherry trees. Stunning tiered façade and pastel-green roofing of the castle aside, its grounds encompass Osaka Castle Park to offer additional spring scenery – a soft span of pink blossoms and lawn for hanami.
Revamp your wardrobe with Shinsaibashi Shopping Street
Of Japan’s numerous covered shopping streets, Osaka’s Shinsaibashi is among the most known and loved. Spanning a kilometer long to offer a range of boutique options, small eateries and miscellaneous items, the shopping street is also connected to Daimaru department store for more high-end options. Browse kimono displays, western retailers, hole-in-the-wall accessory shops and trendy indie designers. You’ll find all kinds of fashion trends, ranging from Lolita Goth to edgy outfits and minimalistic pieces. There is also a Disney store teeming with soft plushies and other character goods.
Pray for luck at Katsuoji Temple
Daruma, daruma, daruma everywhere! Katsuoji Temple is a dedicated to luck and victory, as proven by the excessive presence of the bright red, intense faces of daruma dolls. With over a thousand years of luck-giving expertise, Katsuoji Temple is the place to pray for wishes come true. You might also want to pick up a souvenir to keep the luck consistent. If you have time, wander the surrounding Minoh Quasi-National Park for some green-themed relaxation.
Take a short break at Nakanoshima Park
Floating between Dojima River and Dosabori River is Nakanoshima Park, an open space located smack dab in the business district. While not huge, the park is neatly designed with rose gardens, wide walking paths and convenient benches. At night, it lights up to evoke an intimate and romantic ambiance. If you’re in the area around lunch time and trying to walk off a heavy lunch, drop by for a short break.
Watch a Japanese-style opera at Yamamoto Noh Theatre
If you haven’t yet, schedule for a show at Yamamoto Noh Theatre. Japan is rich in culture and one of the best ways to experience such is to watch a traditional performance art. Pick up an English menu prior to the show to read up on Noh, its origins and performance process. You’ll find a grand wooden platform and colorful stage set that does little to distract from the dance and accompanying music. Yamamoto Noh Theatre is also a heritage site, being the oldest Noh Performance stage in the city.
Make your own noodles at the Instant Ramen Museum
There are few who can resist the call of instant noodles, a staple in busy student or office worker life. But what do you know about this instant meal? Visit the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum to learn about its creation – it was made in a garden workshop in 1958. Apart from tracking its development, you’ll also see a wall dedicated to the many versions of this packaged food. And at the very end of your tour, you can make your own instant ramen by customizing soup base, toppings and package design.
Browse through Tenjinbashisuji Shopping Arcade
Similar to Shinsaibashi Shopping Street, Tenjinbashisuji is a covered arcade with a wide range of shops. Extending across four shopping streets, it is Japan’s longest shopping arcade that caters to every demographic; those not looking to add to their wardrobes can pop into a restaurant or café. You’ll also find shops selling miscellaneous goods, allowing for souvenir pick-ups.
Experience the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living
Now this museum guarantees a unique experience! The Osaka Museum of Housing and Living takes “interactive” to a whole new level, having design streets where you can dress up and revisit the past. Within the traditional, squat buildings and ‘shop’ fronts are exhibits that showcase how Osaka has changed over hundreds of years. There are also daily events to highlight Osaka’s rich culture, such as classical theatre performances.
Spend a day at Universal Studios Japan
Universal Studios amusement park never fails to entertain with their movie-themed rides and that rings true for Osaka’s edition too; you can expect a local twist. Special anime exhibits grace its grounds (like the popular franchise “Attack on Titan”’s interactive corner) to draw local families, while the Harry Potter World causes international crowds to apparate in for some authentic butterbeer. The swooping universe within Space Mountain and the exploratory water rides are only some of the day-time fun to keep you busy while the staff prepares for a firework-backed parade to round off the day.
Drop by America-mura
Located near Shinsaibashi is the fasionable America-mura, or, American Village. You’d think the streets are western-themed, but apart from various street arts, it is largely a fashion hub for thrift and vintage clothing. Plenty of students (both high schoolers and university crowds) gather here after school or on the weekends. If you’re looking for quirky and individualistic pieces, you’ll love the shops in this neighborhood.
Pray for protection at Sumiyoshi Taisha
Established before Buddhism was introduced to Japan, Sumiyoshi Taisha is a 3rd century shrine that is purely Japanese in origin and design. Pay extra attention to its unique shrine architecture; its buildings are characterized by straight roofs, forked finials and horizontal billets that are fenced in by vermillion partitions. To reach the main grounds, cross the arched Sorihashi Bridge and serene pond. Stride up to the prayer boxes and perform the customer claps and bows. While Shinto gods primarily watch over seafarers and travelers, people also pray to them for general protection.
Walk around Hanahaku Memorial Park Green Land
Take one look at Hanahaku Memorial Park Green Land and it’s no stretch to imagine it as the stage of a 1990 Flower Expo. Home to Japan’s largest greenhouse, the sweet scented air is a product of endless exhibits featuring flowers from 55 countries. The Netherland-inspired windmill is another scene-stealer, marked by a spread of red and yellow blooms. To relax, seek out the neatly maintained rose gardens.
Wander the Expo Commemoration Park
Once host to the Japan World Exposition in 1970, the Expo Commemoration Park is now a massive recreational space. Planted forests and gardens mingle with plazas and cherry-lined paths to become one of Osaka’s most frequented cherry blossom spots. Attractions such as the National Museum of Ethnology, Japan Folk Crafts Museum and adjacent shopping complex Expocity ensure that visitors never run out of to-do’s. Some of the Expo’s original installations remain scattered around the park, such as the quirky Tower of the Sun, and sculpture-dotted Dream Pond.
Visit Tennoji Zoo
While not the largest zoo in Japan, Tennoji Zoo has been around since 1915. A quaint space of about 11 hectares, it is home to over 900 animals. Animals from other countries are rare in Japan; Tennoji Zoo is the only place you’ll see New Zealand’s kiwi and other unusual species such as the fishing cat. If you have a few hours to spare, the zoo is a good distraction.
Shopping in Umeda
If Shinsaibashi is the “hip and cool” shopping experience, then Umeda is the “sleek and chic”. Located directly above and surrounding major Umeda Station are department stores such as Daimaru, Hankyu Umeda Main Store, Osaka Station City and Lucua Osaka. You can expect the floors categorised under cosmetics, international brands, local brands, home goods and a massive basement dedicated to sweets and food counters. There is also Yodobashi Camera, a megamall dedicated to everything electronics and technology.
Peer out from Umeda Sky Building’s Floating Garden
You’ll find curious architecture everywhere in Japan, but Umeda Sky Building is a class of its own. While most of the floors of these 173-meter tall towers are occupied by offices, the 39th floor yields a bridge piece that connects the separate structures. This Floating Garden Observatory consists of both an open-air deck and windowed wrap-around. To reach the level, take a futuristic escalator tunnel that transports you through a portal of glass. Due to the building’s central location, you can take clear panoramic shots of downtown Osaka.
Sign up for an Osaka River Cruise
Hop aboard an Osaka River Cruise to see Osaka from a different perspective. Running from 8PM to gift you an illuminated city, the twilight cruiser provides light snacks and drinks so you can enjoy the sights at maximum comfort. Rounding the bay and inner channels, the boat will sail past important landmarks such as Osaka Castle.
A historical look at Shitennoji Temple
One of Japan’s oldest temples, Shitennoji Temple, was founded in the 6th century. Visitors can wander freely on the outer temple grounds, but consider a more in-depth tour of the interior where its signature five-storied pagoda resides. Within the pagoda is the statue of Kannon in which the commissioner of the temple, Prince Shotoku, is enshrined. Gokuraku-jodo Garden is another highlight, its design inspired by the Western Paradise of the Amida Buddha. Wander the pebbled courtyard and its thoughtfully positioned pond and greenery. For valuable paintings, scriptures and periodic items, seek out the treasure house.
Visit Sennnichimae Doguyasuji Shopping Arcade
Sennnichimae Doguyasuji Shopping Arcade is made for chefs, featuring a collection of cooking and kitchen utensil stores. Professional and casual chefs alike come here to purchase new goods, while others come for pretty dining ware. If you time your visit for early October, the annual Doguyasuji Festival sees major sale prices.
Learn about Japanese art at Kamigata Ukiyoe Museum
You won’t miss the strange cat motif and spiky installation that signals the Kamigata Ukiyoe Museum. Ukiyoe is a traditional woodprint art that flourished in 17th to 19th century, print subjects often featuring beautiful women, kabuki and sumo personalities, folk tales and travelscapes. The museum rotates its permanent exhibitions between wood block displays, ukiyoe tools and other traditional items with a modern twist. There’s a gift shop corner for you to peruse.
Visit the ancient Mozu Tombs
While not technically in Osaka City, Mozu Tombs is worth the detour – where else will you see such elaborate, almost kilometer-by-kilometer large graves? Built between 4th and 6th century to enshrine the ancient Emperors Nintoku, Richu and other nobility, these keyhole-shaped burial sites are surrounded by moats and now thickly covered by trees. The tombs generally aren’t accessible but you can head up to Sakai City Hall’s observation deck for top-down views of these amazing constructs. Alternatively, head to Daisen Park, which is located between two of the largest tombs. You’ll find other attractions such as the Sakai City Museum, Japanese Garden and a Bicycle Museum.
Autumn sights and hiking at Minoh
Located along the Hankyu Takarazuka line (less than 30 minutes from downtown Umeda) is the serene neighborhood of Minoh. Its featured Minoh Park blushes reds and gold during autumn, the forest valley a breathtaking natural sprawl. Embark on a hike for some fresh air and green scenery; you’ll be rewarded with several temple buildings on the way and Minoh Waterfall at its end. There’s another cultural oddity to look out for - the momiji tempura. Bet you’ve never tried batter-deep fried maple leaves before!
Snap a shot of Namba Yasaka Shrine
If you’re in Namba, make it a point to visit the Namba Yasaka Shrine. Shaped like a mythical line head, the shrine proper sits inside its open mouth. Stand further back for a photo! The shrine sits 12 meters high and 11 meters wide; it isn’t small. Interestingly, its folklore-inspired design has deigned it a cultural asset.
Make a round through Osaka Aquarium
Asymmetrical glass structure atop a solid base painted with marine life – Osaka Aquarium stands out aesthetically even before you’ve stepped foot inside. 15 tanks are dedicated to exploring the depths of the Pacific Rim, with the central tank standing at 9 meters deep and home to a whale shark. Surprisingly, the walkway starts on the 8th floor and spirals down like you would in a deep sea dive. Pass through the glass tunneled Aqua Gate to see colorful fish up close, following up with a walk through an imitate forest. Other exhibits bring the cold waters of the Aleutian Islands, sea lion inhabited Monterey Bay and the stunning corals of the Great Barrier Reef. Sardines, sea turtles, sting rays and jellyfish keep the other displays diverse.
Buy electronics at Nipponbashi Denden Town
There’s a district for every kind of shopping you’d like to do in Osaka, and Nipponbashi Denden Town is the place for Japanese electronics and appliances. Lining both sides of a major avenue are both focus shops and mixed-goods stores. The price range is reasonable and chances are you will find cheaper bargains along the street. If you forgot an adaptor or are missing a laptop cable, this would be the place to go.
Explore nostalgic Shinsekai
Vibrant Shinsekai district may be considered by some to be neglected post-war, but to others, it is a symbol of nostalgia. Named “New World”, the district was conceived with modern development in mind, resulting in outdoor shopping arcades, electric signage and vibes of an amusement park. It was what Japan thought to be futuristic at the time. Now, this eccentric neighborhood is considered one of the more seedy areas in Japan despite the country’s high level of safety. Still, visit when the sun is out for a trip up Tsutenkaku Tower, which boasts an observatory at 91 meters high. You can also sit down for a meal at any of its cozy eateries; Shinsekai specializes in skewered and battered deep-fried foods called kushikatsu.
Sample whiskeys at Yamazaki Distillery
Yamazaki single malt has become a world-wide favourite seemingly overnight, so it is only right to visit Suntory Yamazaki Distillery for a behind-the-scenes glimpse. An experienced tour guide will walk you through the process of producing whiskey, pointing out the equipment used and how different strains are made. You can also sign up for a whiskey sample event and buy back a bottle or two! Highly recommended experience for whiskey lovers.
Green escape at Hoshida Park
About an hour from Osaka Station is Hoshida Park, a sprawling national park where you can hike through a beautiful forest. Its highlight is the “Hoshi no Buranko” suspension bridge, which tops the trees at 50 meters. Visit during autumn for a stunning panoramic view of red maples and brown brushed foliage, and largely untouched nature. There’s also a rock climbing wall for the more active, open to children and adults alike.
Await judgement at Senkouji Temple
Visit the unusual Senkouji Temple to understand Japan’s concept of the afterlife and underworld. Imposing Enma rules the underworld with a host of demons by his side, ready to pass judgement on the souls that come through. Give the temple’s fortune telling a chance – it will check if you pass into Paradise or hell. If it’s the latter, ready yourself for a booming declaration of punishment by Enma himself.
Bask in water at SpaWorld
SpaWorld is all the water fun you can ask for. Pools and gigantic slides are open to families, marking it as a pseudo water amusement park. Elsewhere in the complex are Japan’s famed hot springs to soak away your exhaustion. You can also treat yourself to the on-site beauty facilities, or drop by the food court for a quick meal.
Marvel at the Winter Illuminations
Christmas and New Year bring about sparkling changes to Osaka; lights and colorful projections are set up across the city to illuminate. Running between November and December but starting as early as October, these spectacular lighting arrangements weave a magical atmosphere. Take advantage of Osaka’s close proximity to Kobe to visit the world-class Luminarie, a light festival dedicated to the Kobe earthquake of 1995. Designed by Japanese and Italian artists, you can expect elaborate displays and a thriving crowd.
Taste test around Kuromon Market
To satiate both your hunger for culture and good food, drop by Kuromon Market. Dating back to Edo period, the covered market has packed 600 meters with approximately 150 vendors. These shops are passed down between generations, each selling a focused theme of seafood, meat, fresh produce, traditional sweets and homeware. Kept clean and often busy with housewives and casual patrons, Kuromon Market offers scrumptious bites that include grilled crab legs and oysters, sea urchin delicacies, takoyaki, skewers dripping with juice and to-go sushi. It’s also a great place to buy local snacks to share back home.
Day trip to Kyoto, Kobe or Nara
With Kyoto and Kobe less than an hour’s travel via Hankyu Railways and Nara some two hours commute, Osaka is the perfect launching pad for day trips. Spend the weekend falling in love with Kyoto’s cultural riches, vermillion temples and traditional estates, or dedicate half-day to Kobe’s sloping streets. Culture and green spaces are plenty in Nara as well, its historic Todaiji Temple home to the world’s largest Buddha statue.
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