Osaka City Guide
If you've already seen the cherry blossoms in Tokyo, it's time to visit Japan's second city – Osaka. This bustling, contemporary metropolis has all that you can expect from the land of the rising sun – seemingly endless shopping arcades, countless dining outlets serving sumptuous cuisine, quaint traditional shrines and castles, and of course an entire neighbourhood filled with manga and anime shops.
Entertainment and dining out
Tokyo might have the largest number of Michelin-starred restaurants in the world, yet Osaka has managed to earn the title “the kitchen of Japan”. In a country with a great culinary tradition this city really does its best to live up to the nation's reputation. So, don't be surprised if your visit to Osaka turns into a gourmet holiday – there are just too many temptations and resisting them is not what you are here for.
The biggest tourist magnet in Osaka is the bustling entertainment district of Dotonbori. This modern, river-side quarter comprises lots of bars, nightclubs, street food vendors, restaurants and informal al fresco eateries. Dotonbori is a great area for laid-back dining and the aroma of food is always wafting in the air. Take a seat in an outdoor eatery and savour a bowl of hot ramen, a portion of gyozas or some takoyaki (a popular snack in the form of batter and seafood balls). Many restaurants work around the clock so you can never stay hungry here.
When you get weary of Dotonbori you can continue your dining adventure in the Hosenji Yokocho. This quaint, narrow alley lined with period buildings has numerous restaurants and bars. The Hosenji Yokocho is a perfect spot for sampling local cuisine and its laid-back, old-time vibe also makes it a great place for escaping the hustle and bustle of the hurried city.
Shopping in Osaka
Shopaholics love Osaka for its shiny, modern malls, department stores and shopping arcades. The Umeda and the Namba districts are the two biggest retail destinations in town offering a variety of choices ranging from high-end to budget brands. Right between those two neighbourhoods sits the Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade, which runs for more than half a kilometre. A huge range of retailers awaits you here – from native Japanese to popular international brands. If you are up for a more serious shopping walk, head to the Tenjinbashi Suji – more than two and a half kilometres make it the longest shopping arcade in the country. Another place worth a visit is the Namba Parks mall, which in addition to dining and shopping outlets also boasts multi-level rooftop gardens.
The young and young at heart usually hang out in the affordable boutiques and cafés of the Amerikamura quarter which is all about teenage fashion and trends, while the fans of anime and manga head to the Den Den Town in the Nippombashi shopping district. Den Den Town is a colourful retail quarter with a high concentration of retailers specializing in manga and anime entertainment. Whether you are looking for games, films, books or toys, you will be spoilt for choice in this quarter.
Sightseeing and culture
One of the main attractions in the city is Osaka Castle, a 16th-century fort that was reconstructed in the 20th century. The castle has stunning stone walls, moats and turrets. You can try out period costumes inside or admire the antiques. The adjacent Nishinomaru Garden is a perfect spot for leisurely strolls. There are cherry trees and a traditional tea house.
Another place to escape the crowds and get a feel for Japanese culture and traditions is the Sumiyoshi-taisha shrine. With buildings erected between the 3rd and 8th centuries, this is one of the oldest shrines in the country. You can admire the unique architecture, walk over the curved bridge or simply enjoy the surrounding gardens. The nearby Budokan is a must-visit for anyone interested in martial arts. This martial arts centre has dojos and halls for the practice of judo, kendo and archery.
There are plenty of exciting and highly modern museums throughout the city. You can explore contemporary art from around the world in the National Museum of Art, learn about the cosmos and natural phenomena at the Science museum or hear about the glorious days when Osaka was the capital of Japan at the Museum of History. While museums can be very educational, the most entertaining place for family days out is the Osaka Aquarium which is dedicated to showing marine life in the Pacific ocean.
Fancy a bird's eye view of Osaka? The modern twin towers of the Umeda Sky Building have a joint rooftop with an observation deck providing 360-degree views of the city and beyond. The views are jaw-dropping so make sure to take your camera along.