I spent a grand total of a week in Osaka, but I managed to pack a lot in. As a city, Osaka is vibrant and buzzing, with the wildly contrasting districts of Minami and Kita standing out from the crowd. While you would need a lot longer than a week to truly see this city; if you’re pressed for time these are the five things I would recommend adding to your list.
Dotonbori and Hozen-Ji Shrine
You’ll see it spelled with an ‘m’ as well but in case of confusion, but it’s the same place. Dotonbori is where the locals go out to play; in the day it’s a little bleak and boring, but at night the area around the Dotonbori Canal is a neon wonderland, filled with restaurants, street food stalls, nightclubs and bars, and absolutely heaving with people of all ages. This is the place to go for good food (more on this later), and to really experience Osaka’s nightlife. You can escape the bustle by taking a turn and heading for the canal, where you can sit in a slightly more relaxed atmosphere and watch the party boats pass by.
While wending your way through the crowds on Dotonbori Street, take a turn into the arcade with the giant animatronic crab opposite and the big green dragon on the corner. Carry on down for a little while then take a right into the alleyway Hozenji Yokocho for a taste of Osaka a hundred years ago. The cobbled alleyway is lined by quieter, more traditional restaurants, and leads to the Hozen-ji shrine with a moss-covered statue from the frequent dousings with water by worshipers. Paper lanterns abound in this quiet pocket of old Osaka, and it’s well worth a visit.
Osaka Castle and Goût
Osaka Castle is definitely worth a visit, for all that it’s technically a modern restoration. Even if you have no interest in Japanese history it’s worth it for the scenery; set within 15 acres of grounds including a moat it makes for a beautiful early morning walk. Early morning is also the best time to visit in order to beat the crowds. The castle itself was far larger than I imagined, towering intimidatingly above visitors; you can easily see how it was a formidable fortress in the past.
While you’re in the area, if you happen to be craving Western food at this point in your holiday I would definitely recommend visiting Goût, a French bakery and cafe as good as any I’ve eaten at in Europe. It’s just around the corner from the main entrance and Tanimachi-yon-chome subway station, which is the easiest way of getting to Osaka Castle by public transport.
Osaka is renowned within Japan for its food, with kuiadore or “eat until you drop” an unofficial motto. There are a few dishes in particular you should keep an eye out for which I’ve listed below. I didn’t manage to track down all of them but can confirm that the ones I managed to find were amazing.
Takoyaki – Deep fried octopus balls (balls of octopus, octopi do not have testicles – I checked). These are amazing and served on a stick; you’ll often find them served at roadside stalls. The best ones I tried were from a stall down by the canal at Ebisu-bashi bridge in Dotombori. Look for the octopus balloon and you’re basically there.
Okonomiyaki – Savoury pancakes filled with meat and vegetables and Japanese mayonnaise. In Osaka the fillings are mixed with the pancakes before cooking whereas other regions cook it separately. I had really good okonomiyaki at Chibo in Dotombori.
Yakitori and kushikatsu – More food on sticks! Yakitori is grilled chicken on sticks (tori meaning bird) but also refers to grilled seafood and veg. Kushikatsu involves crumbing and deep frying the meat/veg instead of grilling it, which is an Osaka speciality.
Kaiten-sushi– This will be familiar to most Westerners thanks to companies like YO! Sushi. Conveyer belt sushi was invented in Osaka and is worth checking out if you get the chance.
Kitsune udon – A noodle soup flavoured with aburaage, which is made from soy and is slightly sweet. Aburaage is supposed to be the favourite food of the mythological kitsune foxes and the god Inari, so it’s appropriate that I first tried aburaage at the Inari temple in Kyoto. Honestly, I wasn’t keen, but it’s one of the Kansai delicacies so is worth trying!
Kappo-ryori– This is the Osaka version of kaiseki, which is a fancy meal with loads of courses of traditional Japanese food. I wish I could tell you what it’s like but I was on a budget and it’s very expensive.
|Weird things I found in shopping centres part 1|
|Weird things I found in shopping centres part 2|
Explore big department stores
This is when you want to head up to the Kita, or Northern, part of town. This is the area near Umeda Station and the Sky Tower, which is well worth a visit itself if you like city views. For me though, the real attraction was the gargantuan shopping centres. Daimaru, Hankyu, Hanshin and Tokyu Hands are all crazy and worth wandering around. The big stations are also packed with shops and cafes, and you could spend a good few hours just wandering around those. I wrote a post on all the amazing beauty bits I picked up from Tokyu Hands; we’re talking sheet masks galore! Click here if you fancy a read of that.
|Nunobiki Falls, Kobe|
|Wanto Burger, Kobe|
That’s right! One of the best things you can do while in Osaka is leave. It’s a perfect base for day trips to the incredible cities of Nara, Kobe and Himeji. Nara is the place with the cute deer that bow to you in exchange for food that you might have seen on the internet, but it’s also worth visiting to see the incredible Daibutsu or Great Buddha, within the temple of Todai-ji.
Kobe is worth a visit; there will be a whole separate blog post going up about how to spend 24 hours in Kobe so I won’t spoil too much, but safe to say that it’s worth visiting just to try the famous Kobe beef.
Himeji is the home of Himeji Castle, the best remaining example of a traditional Japanese castle. It’s pretty spectacular, and I’m gutted that I didn’t manage to squeeze a visit in; the wisteria grove and gardens sound stunning, and the castle itself is huge and so important in Japanese history.
|Very jetlagged, no makeup and very happy|
That’s everything for today, but safe to say that I had a fantastic time in Osaka and can’t wait to go back! I definitely need to tick a few more off my list.