Japan’s ‘second city’, Osaka is a busy, bustling metropolis in the heart of the Kansai region. Known for its friendly atmosphere and great food, tourists have started flocking here in ever-increasing numbers in recent years. Here are some of the best activities around the city for those on a tight budget!
An impressive castle dating back to the 16 th century, the surrounding park and gardens are a great place to spend a sunny afternoon. The inside of the castle has had a modern makeover, so save money by just exploring the inner keep (with its original giant stone ramparts) and people watching inside the castle grounds.
Located in the heart of Osaka’s main shopping and nightlife district, Namba, the Dotonbori area centres around the Dotonbori canal and Ebisu-bashi bridge. Bright neon signs, giant crabs, the area has got it all! Take a picture in front of the Glico ‘running man’ billboard; a famous Osaka landmark.
Close to the shoppers’ heaven of Shinsaibashi in Osaka’s Minami district, Amerika-mura (which translates as ‘American village’) has a youthful vibe and is full of quirky shops, foreign bars and unique fashions. ‘Triangle Park’ is a good place to soak up the atmosphere, and is the place to be come Halloween.
Once a symbol of Japan of the future (the name means new world), Shin-Sekai has barely changed since before the war and so offers a nostalgic glimpse of the past. But this slightly rundown neighbourhood has an old-fashioned charm, from the once impressive but now slightly antiquated Tsutenkaku Tower, to the multiple kushi katsu (battered and fried things on sticks) restaurants, there is plenty to see (and eat).
Osaka is not a city known for its wide open green spaces, but nestled on an island in the heart of the city’s business district is Nakanoshima park, one of the nicest places to spend a few hours on a sunny afternoon. There are pleasant rose gardens, a couple of open air restaurants, and expansive (by Japanese standards) green grassy areas to picnic, amble and frolic.
Hanshin Tigers may be the best supported team in the area, but getting tickets for their games can be difficult. Instead, head to the futuristic Kyocera Dome in the heart of the city to watch the ‘other’ local team, Orix Buffaloes. They may not be as well-known (or as good!) as their famous neighbours, but tickets are cheap and easy to come by, the beer and hotdogs are good, and the enclosed spaceship-like stadium roof is worth the entrance price alone.
For a spot of culture head to Sumiyoshi Grand Shrine, one of the oldest shrines in Japan, dating back to the 3rd century. Built before Buddhism was introduced to Japan, it is one of the few shrines in the country to retain a pure Japanese form, characterised by the straight roofs and other design features. The Taiko Bridge makes for one of those perfect ‘Japan’ shots, and during hatsumode (the first visit to a shrine at New Year) this becomes one of the busiest shrines in the country.
If you feel the need to escape the hubbub of the city for a while, a quick train ride to the northern outskirts of Osaka will take you to Mino, a pleasant backwater kind of town, famous for its craft beer and impressive waterfall. It is a short (about an hour) and easy hike on a flat riverside-trail leading through pristine green forest to the famous waterfall, where it is also sometimes possible to spot wild monkeys foraging for food. Take the obligatory pictures and head back to Osaka feeling relaxed and refreshed!
Osaka’s equivalent to Akihabara, Den Den Town is the number one place for electronics, anime and videogame stores, cosplay and maid cafes. Hunt for a bargain, discover a newfound passion for collectibles, or just enjoy the sometimes weird and wacky sights on display. A good place for people watching!
While there are a number of places to get up high and see Osaka’s sprawling skyline (the Umeda Sky Building and Abeno Harukas spring to mind), the Sakishima Observatory on the western edge of the city offers perhaps the most interesting views. Also known as the Cosmo Tower, views from the third tallest building in Japan take in the whole of the city, Kansai Airport and much of the Inland Sea. The night time views are pretty special too.