Though often compared to its big brother Tokyo, Osaka is a magnificent metropolis unlike any other. Renowned for its food (the Japanese call it “the nation’s kitchen”) and neon-lit nighttime entertainment districts, the city is also home to traditional temples, picturesque parks, the tallest building in the country, and even a castle! Here is a list of some spots you simply can’t miss during your next visit.
The bustling walkways and bridges that run along and across the Dotonbori canal have been the site of Osaka’s entertainment district since the 1600s. Originally the location of many theaters, after firebombing during WWII destroyed much of the area, it was reborn as a popular dining and nightlife location and is characterized by massive neon signs – most notably the “Glico man” – that reflect brightly in the water each night.
Tucked away among the alleyways that branch off from the noisy Dotonbori district is a quiet temple called Hozenji. Lantern-lit and featuring a stone deity covered in moss, it’s an intimate escape from the nearby commotion and commercialism. Pray to the presiding god of protection, Fudomyoo, for safety before drinking all night in the surrounding bars and izakaya on adjacent Hozenji Yokocho, a cobbled street straight from a history book.
Short for Amerikamura or “American Village,” Amemura is a hub for young hipsters looking to shop, drink, or just hang out. Amemura is home to trendy and unusual fashion boutiques and thrift stores, some of the best bars and restaurants in the city, a replica of the Statue of Liberty, and the infamous Triangle Park, a regular haunt for skateboarders and home to some of the best people-watching in town. This quirky and lively neighborhood is a perfect example of the “East meets West” aesthetic.
Quite possibly the closest most will ever get to being consumed by a large animal – or would want to – is Osaka’s most visually striking shrine, Nambayasaka. Featuring a stage shaped like a massive lion’s head baring its teeth, this shrine is not only a great place for a photo-op but also a chance to experience unique local culture at a site that isn’t crowded thanks to being located just off the beaten path.
Another name for Osaka’s Nipponbashi neighborhood is “Den Den Town” – which comes from Denki no machi, literally meaning “Electric Town” – the local spot to shop for the best and most affordable electronic goods. Den Den Town also specializes in selling otaku paraphernalia like anime, manga, costumes, and more. Also home to many arcades, maid cafes, and adult entertainment stores, this is one of the most eclectic districts around.
As one of the largest cities in the world, Osaka can get stressful and exhausting. One great way to let off some steam is by soaking in a steamy bath at Spa World, a gigantic spa and water park. Spa World’s main attraction is the around-the-world-themed bathing experience. There is a European side and an Asian side, which alternate between admitting either men or women each month, each with seven unique and opulent baths.
Once dubbed “the tallest structure in the Orient” (obviously, some time ago) and surrounded by an amusement park, Tsutenkaku tower may have lost some of its splendor over the years but none of its charm. Though now overshadowed by the surrounding skyscrapers, it still manages to stand out due to its bright, gaudy lights – which feature public service announcements and advertisements as well as weather forecasts – and rich history. It has also become a symbol of the city itself.
Speaking of lofty structures, did you know that the tallest building in Japan is in Osaka? As of 2014, the title has belonged to Abeno Harukas in Tennoji. Harukas contains a train station, shopping center, art museum, hotel, office space, and more, but the most exciting feature is Harukas 300, a three-floor observation deck and open-air atrium that provides fantastic views of the impressive urban sprawl that seems to stretch forever outward.
Originally built in the 16th century by the famous warlord who unified Japan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, modern-day Osaka Castle is an exa ct replica of the original (except that the inside now houses a museum). The castle was destroyed multiple times before finally being reconstructed in 1931 thanks to donations from locals and fully restored later in 1995. Surrounding the castle is a massive moat, some of the still-standing original walls and turrets, and a gorgeous, sprawling park.
Known locally as USJ, this beloved theme park is conveniently located just outside the city on a man-made island and features attractions known and loved – like Jaws and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – as well as exclusive ones like Cool Japan. At USJ, visitors can pose for pictures with Hello Kitty, become a Monster Hunter or a Sailor Scout in one of the 4-D experiences or get chased around the park by zombies during Halloween. Opening hours vary seasonally.
Located on the shores of Osaka Bay is Kaiyukan, one of the largest aquariums in the world. Many marine animals from habitats that stretch across the Pacific Ocean are on display, including an enormous whale shark. There is also an interactive exhibit where visitors can get up close to penguins, seals, and rays in rooms that re-create the animals’ original homes and environments.
Just outside of the aquarium is what was once the world’s tallest Ferris wheel, which is ironically named after Japan’s smallest mountain, located just across the street. The Tempozan Giant Ferris Wheel stands at 112.5 meters high and offers stunning views of many of the city’s famous landmarks, if you’re willing to brave the 17-minute ride.
This is longest shotengai, or covered shopping arcade, in Japan. Spanning multiple kilometers and neighborhoods, Tenjinbashisuji is a wealth of shops, restaurants, cafes, bookstores, and – best of all – a fascinating insight into the daily hustle and bustle of Japanese business owners and patrons. Stroll along the shopping street, no matter what the weather, and enjoy all the delicious food, souvenirs, and other goods Osaka has to offer.
This charming museum is located near one end of Tenjinbashisuji and is one of Osaka’s best museums thanks to its interactive exhibits. You can walk through a life-sized replica of Edo Period Japan, where you can explore traditional homes, buildings, and streets. Daytime and nighttime are both simulated in the village as you stroll. You can also pay slightly extra to dress in a kimono while you wander.
On the other end of Tenjinbashisuji is one of Osaka’s most famous shrines, Osaka Tenmangu. Over a thousand years old, this shrine is the site of Osaka’s biggest and most famous annual festival, the Tenjin Matsuri. Perhaps the most amazing thing about this shrine is that it’s never too crowded or noisy, especially considering its located in a busy business district. This makes the beautiful grounds feel all the more sacred.
In 1970, Osaka was the host city of the World Expo; shortly after, a huge park was opened on the site to memorialize the event. Banpakku Kinen Koen, or “Expo ’70 Commemorative Park” in English, is a huge space with facilities ranging from a Japanese garden to the bizarre but beloved Tower of the Sun, a structure that towers over the park. Also on the grounds is a folk crafts museum and the National Museum of Ethnography, both worth a visit.
This ancient Shinto shrine looks like something out of a storybook or a postcard, except you can actually walk around in it. Sumiyoshi Taisha is the main Sumiyoshi shrine in all of Japan and is known for the picturesque bridge leading up to the main entrance and the crowds of thousands that gather to pray there every year on New Year’s Day.
Located near Umeda – Osaka’s busy business district – is this lovely stretch of green that divides two rivers and is home to the city’s first public park. Established in 1891, Nakanoshima Park has become an escape for residents of the city, featuring a rose garden with over 300 varieties of the flower and gorgeous views of the adjacent rivers. The urban oasis also has a beer garden and is a popular gathering spot for yoga, dance practice, and picnics.
The Umeda Sky Building attracts tourists two ways, by offering incredible views of downtown from the top and the sight of the sleek structure itself. It’s actually two 40-story towers connected at the top by a “floating observatory” where visitors enter the space via a tunnel-like escalator surrounded by glass. There is also an underground market in the basement that re-creates the atmosphere of early 20th century Osaka.
Just outside of Osaka City is a quasi-national park complete with hiking trails, a waterfall, monkeys, temples, and more. When tired of the concrete and neon sprawl of the city, there are few places that offer a more scenic escape than Minoo Park. The park is especially beautiful in autumn when the maple leaves change color. Check out nearby Minoh Brewery as well!