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A Quick Look at Osaka – Things to Do & Travel Guide

Posted on Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Osaka is one of Japan’s largest cities and is a less popular tourist destination (though it does see its fair share). However, it is very near Kyoto and also has an international airport, so it’s a good place to fly to for visiting central/southern Japan. It’s actually the gastronomical capital of Japan so since my brother’s a foodie, we decided to spend a day in Osaka and subsequently went almost every night for dinner.

Unfortunately, this Highlight post is a bit different from the others. My big mistake with Osaka was thinking I could see what I wanted in one day. Osaka is huge! So we didn’t get to see Osaka at its fullest. I feel like we didn’t really scratch the surface. I recommend treating Osaka like Tokyo: since it’s so huge, you’ll need a few days to see everything. Osaka also has a great metro system that’s about 800 yen on weekdays (unlimited rides). I highly recommend it.

The History of Osaka

Osaka started out as a maritime hub with its access to the sea and close proximity to important cities like Nara and Kyoto. It actually served as the capital for a single year (645) and then once again in 744-5. Though it didn’t remain capital for long, Osaka remained an important commercial center.

The most important period of time in Osaka’s history is arguably the Siege of Osaka which lasted from 1614-5. I know absolutely nothing about Japanese military history, and I don’t really understand it, so I’m not the best person to explain it. But the siege was effectively the Tokugawa Shogunate, or the Japanese military, at war with the Toyotomi Clan and the Shogunate won.

Osaka sustained itself because of its location ideal for trade and business, and never faltered as a popular city. It was heavily destroyed during World War II but was reconstructed into the modern city that you can visit today.

Things to Do in Osaka

Osaka Aquarium

Osaka Aquarium

One of the most popular things to do in Osaka is the Osaka Aquarium “Kaiyukan”. If you enjoy aquariums, this is definitely one of the best. They’re a bit out of the way but you get to see a whale shark (and a large variety of other sea life), pet some animals, and more at the aquarium. They have a nighttime event but we went during the day and night and honestly, the nighttime was very dark and we couldn’t see much. Definitely go during the day.

Osaka Castle

Osaka Castle is another popular tourist attraction and is the place to go if you want to learn more about the Siege of Osaka. It’s very beautiful on the outside and the top has panoramic views of the city. The inside has an exhibition on the warfare that makes up the castle’s history. Though it doesn’t have much in the way of interior design, it’s a great way to learn about one of Japan’s most important landmarks. You can also go to the Umeda Sky Building for views, but the Castle shouldn’t be missed. It’s the true landmark of the city.

Sumiyoshi Taisha is in Osaka and it’s the head of the Sumiyoshi Shinto shrines, though it is a bit out of the way. It was at the top of my list but I didn’t get there. However with those photos, I think it may have been worth the trip. As mentioned before, you can take the metro out for a flat fare per day. Just make sure to make time for it.

Dotonbori

Dotonbori

Dotonbori is one of the more famous places to visit in Osaka, and it is quite cute. There’s not much to eat for vegetarians but the way the restaurants are set up is adorable. The Japanese put a lot of work into making everything aesthetically pleasing. If you do eat meat (like my brother), there’s a tonne of different things to try. He absolutely loved this place and we kept going back again and again so he could get dinner. Denden Town is a lesser-known area, but it’s a street that has a lot of tech- and anime-related shops. Again, it was more my brother’s thing, but it’s also quintessential to Japan. Also you can find so many “gotchas” here! I wanted to get all the cat hats. When you move down further, you can get to Shinsekai, which used to be an amusement park. It’s styled after New York and Paris.

It looks so close on a map. It’s not! After metroing and walking 30,000+ steps, we barely put a dent in this city.

Osaka

Osaka also boasts a tonne of museums. They have the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living, Osaka Museum of History, National Museum of Art, Osaka Science Museum, and the Osaka City Museum of Fine Arts. Lots to see, right? I opted to go to the Kamigata Ukiyo-e Museum as Ukiyo-e originated and was quite popular in Osaka. However I found it to be quite small and the print-making class underwhelming. I’d recommend seeing a bigger museum instead.

You can also visit Universal Studios in Osaka but we opted not to since we were limited on time.

Osaka

What did I actually think of Osaka? Honestly, it was nicer than I was expecting but still wasn’t my cup of tea. It’s a shame I didn’t get to see more in Osaka, but the city itself was too tech- and seafood-centred for my tastes. The city comes alive at night and is quite beautiful. But it’s nothing you don’t see in Tokyo, NYC, and other large cities. I would definitely go back to see more but only if I were in the area and had the time.

That being said, my brother was the complete opposite. He absolutely loved the array of food you can get there and the culture surrounding it. Osaka is also like a large Shinjuku (the tech area of Tokyo) but it’s not as tourist-y and has fewer scams. If Osaka looks interesting to you then it’s definitely worth a visit, but for how long? That’s up to you. I’d definitely recommend at least 2 days.

Even though I missed out on a lot in Osaka, I hope this post helps you better know what to expect in this bright city.

Headed to Japan? Be sure to purchase your JR Pass! We saved a ton of money by purchasing the JR Pass and got to see a lot of beautiful places in Japan.

Have you ever been to Osaka? What did you think?

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