Things to Do in Osaka
Among the most famous castles in Japan, Osaka Castle (Osaka-jo) dates back to the 16th century, when it played a major role in unifying the nation. Today the reconstructed castle houses a museum filled with artifacts from the history of Japan and from the castle’s creator, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The main tower provides a nice view over urban Osaka.
Dotonbori (also called Dotombori) is a bustling nightlife district in Osaka’s Minami area. It stretches along the Dtomborigawa River, with a multitude of small restaurants, bars, and neon lights that come alive after nightfall. An entertainment neighborhood, Dotonbori is famous for its varied cuisine and huge animated signs.
A large covered market selling fresh and cooked food, Kuromon Ichiba Market is nicknamed “Osaka’s kitchen,” because many chefs and home cooks come here for supplies. It has since branched out from purely seafood options, and is typically bustling with locals and visitors hoping to get an inside look at local ingredients and cuisine.
Vintage fun comes to Osaka in the shape of the Tsutenkaku, Osaka’s answer to the Eiffel Tower. Tsutenkaku, translated into "tower reaching heaven," reaches 338 feet (103 meters) high, making it one of the tallest buildings in Asia when it was built in 1912.
Beautifully illuminated and outlined in neon by night, the tower has a decidedly kitsch but cute 1950s futuristic look. Take the elevator to the observation deck on the summit’s fifth level to visit the popular good luck symbol, Billiken, the God of Happiness. A popular American doll in the early 1900s, Billiken was enshrined in the nearby Luna Park, but went missing when the park closed in 1923. To revive the tower and park, a replica was put in the tower and is considered a good luck symbol. Each year thousands of visitors place a coin in his donation box and rub the soles of his feet to make their wishes come true.
Tsutenkaku also boasts some other cool features. The neon lights at the top of the tower are also a weather vane and will predict the next day's forecast. And the clock located on the east side of the building is huge - 18 feet (5.5 meters) across and weighing about 55lbs (25kg). There is also a theater and a few toy museums located within!
One of the largest public aquariums in the world, the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan is home to various species from the Pacific Ring of Fire and aquatic environments around the globe. Learn about local species such as Asian otters and giant spider crabs, and see other creatures, including sea turtles, sharks, penguins, and a host of tropical fish.
Universal Studios Japan—Asia’s first Universal Studios theme park—is second only to the Tokyo Disney Resort as Japan’s most visited amusement park. Beloved characters like Shrek, Hello Kitty, and Spiderman are in attendance, and a spectacular variety of rides, movie simulators, and parades keep all ages entertained.
Located in the heart of Nara City, Nara Park (Nara Koen) is famous for the more than 1,000 semi-wild sika deer that roam its grounds. Spanning 1,631 acres (660 hectares), the scenic public park is also home to several popular attractions, including the Todai-ji Temple, the Isuien Garden, and the Nara National Museum.
Built in the 6th century by Prince Shotoku—a cultural hero who helped to bring Buddhism to the country—Shitenno-ji is one of Japan’s oldest temples. The complex includes a multi-tiered tower, pagoda, lecture hall, and gate. Though most of the current structures are from the 1963 rebuilding, they still reflect the 6th century design.
Built to protect fisherman and sailors, the 3rd-century Sumiyoshi-taisha (Sumiyoshi Grand Shrine) is Osaka’s most famous shrine. Renowned for its classic Japanese architecture and vivid red-and-white colour, the shrine
If you only have time for one day trip from Kyoto or Osaka, make it Himeji Castle (Himeji-Jo), renowned as Japan’s most beautiful historic citadel. Also known as White Heron Castle, the UNESCO-listed hilltop structure was built in 1580 and features a five-story central tower with surrounding moats, walls, and pagodas.
More Things to Do in Osaka
Minami is a well-known shopping, dining, and entertainment district in Osaka. With retail and nightlife stretching from Semba to Namba Station, Minami is popular with visitors and tourists alike. Lit by dazzling neon signs, including the famous Kani Doraku crab sign, Dotonbori is the most lively and famous part of the Minami area, especially at night. It runs parallel to the canal, and never truly closes, with some restaurants open until morning. For the culture vultures, there are a number of museums, theaters, temples, and shrines to explore among the neon lights and towering shopping malls.
Join a walking tour that covers this part of the city or take an evening food and drink stroll in Shinsaibashi and Namba to take advantage of the local nightlife.
At 984 feet (300 meters) tall, Abeno Harukas (Osaka Harukas) takes the coveted superlative of Japan's highest skyscraper, narrowly rising above the former title holder, the Yokohama Landmark Tower. Part of the sprawling Abenobashi Terminal Building, it stands atop the Kintetsu Osaka Abenobashi Station and houses a department store, art museum, five-star hotel, and observation deck.
Traveling to Osaka often feels like visiting the future with all its colorful neon lights and pulsing sounds, but strolling down Hozenji Yokocho — a narrow alley just south of bustling Dotombori, feels like stepping into the past. Excellent restaurants, izakayas and boutiques line this stone-paved street, lit at night in the soft glow of paper lanterns.
The alley’s most famous attraction is a small temple where devotees come to splash water over moss-covered statue of the Buddha. The temple was built in the seventeenth century in honor of Fudo Myoo, one of the Five Wisdom Buddhas.
Osaka’s Shinsaibashi entertainment district has been a popular shopping destination for more than 350 years. How many shopping malls can say that? The 600-meter long shopping arcade (1968 feet) is a symbol of Osaka. Countless boutiques, specialty shops, department stores, cafes, and restaurants line either side of the strip. Shinsaibashi is a great place to shop and people-watch, as the services inside range from traditional kimono tailors to stores selling the latest fashion apparel.
Shinsaibashi can be broken up into multiple separate areas, each popular with a unique crowds. An area off of Suomachi-suji Street has been nicknamed the “European Village” for its cobblestone sidewalks and brick buildings. The westernmost part of Sensaibashi is known as the “American Village” and is easily spotted by the artistic murals painted on the walls. Here you will find a concentration of hip Osaka teenagers and foreigners. Wandering around Sensaibashi can fill an entire day.
A 1.8-mile island along the Yodo River, Nakanoshima is the nucleus of Osaka’s business district and home to some of the city’s most historic buildings, including the City Hall, the Nakanoshima Festival Tower and the first branch of the Bank of Japan.
The main highlight of Nakanoshima is its eponymous park, a verdant oasis that stretches along the eastern half of the island and offers a welcome change of scenery from the looming office blocks and financial headquarters. Along with its tranquil waterfront walkways and tree-lined picnic areas, the 11-hectare park also boasts a magnificent rose garden, which blooms with more than 310 colorful rose varieties during the summer months. The small island is also home to a number of significant museums, including the Science museum, the Museum of Oriental Ceramics and the National Museum of Art.
The Japan Mint (Osaka Mint Bureau)is the headquarters of the Japan Mint, and it’s here that the history of Japanese money-printing, or minting, is told through interactive exhibits, including videos. The brick building resembles one from an American western; the western-style building is one of few that remain in Osaka. The Japan Mint Osaka Branch was established in 1876.
The Japan Mint(Osaka Mint Bureau) in Osaka is even more famous for its cherry blossom trees than for its history lessons. The 560-meter long entryway is flanked on both sides more than 100 varieties of cherry blossom trees. In mid-April when the blossoms typically bloom – for no more than a week – crowds flock to the site and spend a leisurely afternoon strolling along the pathway, admiring the trees, and having a picnic beneath the pink petals.
Admission to the Japan Mint(Osaka Mint Bureau) is free and open to the public during the cherry blossom season. Many visitors during sakura, or the cherry blossom festival, take the opportunity to explore the Mint Museum. The museum contains exhibits on various coins and medals from within and outside of Japan, along with explaining how currency coins are processed.
Osaka’s flashing lights, rich food culture and youthful, vibrant atmosphere make it a favorite destination with travelers, but it can all become overwhelming. The city’s Utsubo Park offers an escape. Housed on grounds that once served as U.S. airfield followed by a fish market, the oblong, rectangular park now serves as an urban green space where Osakans come to unwind and breathe the fresh air.
The Utsubo Tennis Center occupies the western end of the park, with eight courts available to the public by reservation. Of greater interest to the visitor are the extensive rose gardens at the east end of the park, and in May, flower lovers and shutterbugs flock here to take in the multi-hued summer display. While not as impressive as rose season, the park is also beautiful in mid-spring when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.
“Peace will come to the world when the people have enough to eat,” said Momofuku Ando, the creator of instant ramen.
Ando, originally from China, repatriated into Japan after World War II, a time of widespread famine in the country. After seeing the devastating effects of food shortages, he set out to create an economical and easy to prepare meal that would feed the multitudes. He came up with instant ramen, a packaged noodle with various flavor packets to which one only has to add boiling water to cook. Today, instant ramen is world-famous. The Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum in Osaka tells the history of the noodle and allows visitors to make their own cup of noodles.
The museum is located in the Ikeda neighborhood of Osaka. The museum consists of several areas. In the Exhibition Hall, visitors learn about Ando’s process of trial and error in creating the noodles and are able to view ramen-manufacturing machines. Next, the Instant Noodles Tunnel showcases all of the varieties and flavors of instant ramen in chronological order of their development. Here, visitors can play computerized trivia games about ramen. Finally, visitors can opt to create their own noodles in a workshop.
The sky feels within reach on the 112.5 meter tall (369 feet) and 100 meters wide (330 feet) Tempozan Ferris Wheel, one of Osaka’s main attractions. Until recently, the Wheel held the title of the world’s biggest and highest Ferris wheel; now it has been eclipsed by a small handful of others, including the London Eye in England. The Tempozan Ferris Wheel takes riders on a 15 minute ride that shows off views of Osaka city, a panoramic view of the nearby sea and Osaka Bay Harbor, and sights of mountains in the distance. At night, the Wheel is illuminated and all of Osaka shines under neon lights and moonlight; it is known as one of the most romantic spots in the city.
In addition to its impressive size and breathtaking views, the Wheel boasts incredible technology. Colored lights decorate the wheel, and they illuminate in patterns that tell the next day’s weather forecast. When the Wheel is orange, visitors can expect a sunny day, and when it is blue, rain is on the way. The Tempozan Ferris Wheel is located in the Tempozan Harbor Village, next to the Osaka Aquarium and the Tempozan Marketplace, a midsize mall.
Visiting the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living is like stepping back in time to the streets ofmid-19th-century Osaka to see how they might have looked during the Edo Period.
The museum is laid out in a series of recreated houses, each depicting an element of daily life,including merchant houses, a bath house and a town hall. For an additional fee, visitors can renttraditional kimonos to wear while walking around to really immerse themselves in the scene and to create better photo opportunities.
After you’ve toured the recreated Old Osaka on the building’s ninth floor, head downstairs to seethe impressive scale model of “New Osaka” as it looked just after World War II. The tenth-floorobservatory makes for a prime spot to people-watch, as museum-goers pass just below.
Work your way through centuries of the past at the Osaka Museum of History, opened in 2003. Located just across from the Osaka Castle, head to the top floor to see great views of the castle.
Exhibits chronicle Osaka's history, beginning in ancient times when Osaka served as Japan's first capital and site of the Naniwa Palace and ending with exhibits on the city's bustling shopping arcades of the early Showa Period.
Designed from top to bottom, visitors start on the 10th floor and work their way down to the 7th, passing through galleries which focus on the Age of the Naniwa Palace, the Age of the Hongan-ji Temple, and the Age of Greater Osaka. Archaeological remains are displayed in the building’s basement.
Take the Highlights Course if you’re short of time, or follow a more leisurely and detailed route with the Complete Course.
Osaka is Japan’s third-largest city and also one of the best for shopping. With that said, some ofthe most distinctive souvenirs can be found in a rather unexpected place called SennichimaeDoguyasuji. The 525-foot-long (160-meter-long) covered shopping arcade specializes inwholesale kitchen equipment and utensils and serves as the spot where Osaka’s chefs come toshop.
Anyone who has spent time in Japan will recognize the plastic models of popular food itemsplaced in many Japanese restaurant window displays. Sennichimae Doguyasuji is the place tofind these pieces, which make very unique gifts to take back home. With its hugely discounted prices, this shopping street is also a good place to buy chopsticks, cooking knives and otherJapanese-style dishware.
Flanked by neon-lit signs and store fronts, the narrow streets ofDen Den Town (Nipponbashi)cater to shoppers interested in electronics and comics. Multitudes of shops selling anime, manga, video games, action figures, tools, electronic equipment, and even furniture compete for business among Osaka’s young people. The commercial district was once known for second-hand stores. Today, it is often compared to Tokyo’s famous Akihabara Electric Town.
Unlike shopping in the majority of Japan, it is acceptable to negotiate prices in Den Den Town (Nipponbashi). Some of the shops even sell tax- and duty-free items. Some of the more popular, unique stores include Super Potato, which specializes in retro video games, and Gee! Store, the place to find a wide variety of costumes and other clothing. Alongside endless entertainment shopping, Nipponbashi boasts a wide variety of cafes and restaurants.
If you want to put your finger on the pulse of Osaka street culture, plan to spend an evening wandering the streets of America-Mura (American Village), a district near Shinsaibashi. In the 1970s, the neighborhood began filling up with shops selling imported goods from the United States, earning it the name America Mura, or “American Village.”
Today, America Mura serves as one of Osaka’s prime fashion centers, a place where the city’s youth congregates, often sporting some of Japan’s more creative fashions. A collection of record stores, vintage clothing shops and boutiques sell a little bit of everything, from J-pop club wear to gothic styles, but the main appeal of the area is the opportunity it provides for people-watching.
America Mura is at its most lively at night, when the bars, clubs, live music venues and street food stalls open up. Visitors will find takoyaki (octopus balls), a popular Osaka street food, throughout the neighborhood.
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