While the streets of Tokyo are usually at the top of any tourist’s Japan bucket list, Japan’s third largest metropolitan city – Osaka – is just as, if not more entertaining. Neighboring Kyoto and Kobe; the cosmopolitan atmosphere, weather and especially the food, is what I loved the most when visiting here. While Tokyoites may seem somewhat reserved and shy, the people of Osaka are warm and outgoing, giving the entire city a completely different personality that really should not be missed. Here is a quick guide to Osaka.
Getting to Osaka
By plane: Japan has one of the best transportation systems in the world, making access to and from inner cities simple and easy. There are three main ports of entry into Osaka – via plane, train or bus. International flights usually land at Osaka (previously known as Kansai) International Airport (KIX) which is located about 50 km south of Osaka. The majority of domestic flights land about 10 km north of Osaka at Itami International Airport. Some flights from other Japanese cities do still land at KIX so be sure to check which airport you will be landing in. Since Itami Airport is located 10 km outside of the city, the best way into town is via bus although you can also use a taxi service or train. Bear in mind that taxis are pretty expensive in Japan with a trip from KIX to downtown Osaka costing somewhere around 15 000 yen.
By bus: Airport limousine buses move from the airport to certain stations around Osaka and this is a much cheaper option that may see you avoiding the need to transfer between stations and reshuffle luggage as you normally would on a public bus.
By train: Trains are another convenient and cheap way to get around Osaka. There are two major train lines running from KIX: the JR and Nankai line. The Nankai line is the most efficient one to use when getting to Namba and Shinsaibashi areas which are famous for its eating houses and nightlife. Bear in mind that if you have a JR Pass, you will not be able to use the Nankai line and will have to use the JR line instead which also stops at Tennoji, Shin-Osaka and Kyoto.
What to eat?
Osaka is affectionately known as the nation’s kitchen where delicious and cheap eats can be found everywhere! When visiting be sure to try:
Takoyaki: Known as the soul food of Osaka, Takoyaki consists of diced octopus inside a ball of dough made from wheat flour flavored with dashi soup. The secret to eating takoyaki is to eat it when it is freshly made and just taken hot off the molds. While the basic way of eating takoyaki is to serve 6 to 8 octopus balls covered with sauce, green onions, dried bonito flakes and seaweed on top, the taste in Osaka is slightly different. Takoyaki in Osaka is served either plain, salty or with a simple soy sauce topping so as not to mask the taste of the dashi soup.
Yakiniku: The Japanese style of grilling meat by yourself over a tabletop charcoal grill that has been placed in the middle of the table. While it is believed to be Korean in origin, the grilling of a variety of Japanese meats which are subsequently eaten with an array of Japanese-flavoured sauces is sure to make this an authentic experience. Kobe beef, a type of Japanese wagyu that world famous, should definitely be tried when visiting Japan.
Okonomiyaki: A savory pancake often referred to as a “Japanese pizza”. Okonomiyaki is made with a batter of flour, eggs, dashi soup, and shredded cabbage mixed with pork, shrimp, squid, and other seafood. The batter and filling is pan-fried on both sides and finished with a variety of toppings like a sweet or savory okonomiyaki sauce, Japanese mayo, dried seaweed, and bonito flakes.
Japanese curry: One of the ultimate comfort foods, Japanese curry has a mild fusion of Indian and Thai flavors but is somewhat more gravy-like in consistency. There are a number of ways that Japanese curry is traditionally served: either with udon noodles or over some freshly steamed Japanese short grain rice and with a pork katsu cutlet.
What to do?
Osaka Castle: One of the biggest tourist attractions in Japan, Osaka castle has played a major role in Japanese history. Today’s castle however has been partially reconstructed and restored due to weathering over the years. The park grounds surrounding the castle hold hundreds of cherry blossom trees which seem to wash the park over in a sea of pink between March to April.
Dotonbori: A single street running alongside Dotonbori canal in Namba is a popular visit when i Osaka. It is well known for its restaurants and shops filled with bright neon lights and front store displays.
Universal Studios Japan: This is one of Osaka’s most visited attractions and it isn’t hard to understand why! From the The Wizarding World of Harry Potter to Jurassic Park and Jaws themed rides, this is one adventure you really can’t miss. A 1-day pass to Universal Studios will cost around JPY 7,600 for adults and JPY 5,100 for kids but if you may be able to get a discount if you purchase advanced tickets.
Kuromon Iciba Market: Popularly known as Osaka’s kitchen, Kuromon Iciba Market is a chef’s paradise as many purchase their key ingredients from here. You will find some of the freshest seafood from diver scallops, oysters, octopus and even Kobe beef!
Where to stay?
During our visit to Osaka, we stayed at the APA Villa Hotel in Yodoyabashi located a few minutes away from Yodoyabashi station. While the rooms may seem small, this is actually the standard size for business hotels in Japan. The hotel itself has its own onsen so be sure to try this out after a long day of exploring.