Image by Osaka-based illustrator Jiro Miyata

The Insider Guide to Osaka

Osaka, the third largest city in Japan, may not be as pretty as its contemporaries – but it is more fun. The unofficial motto here seems to be: eat, drink, have a good time, and maybe do some sightseeing – if you feel like it.

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The Main Attractions

From 683CE to 745CE, Osaka served as the capital of Japan, but ever since this short-lived stint it hasn’t quite kept up with its showier (and stuffier) counterparts – Tokyo and Kyoto.. The merchant city vs the political and imperial, Osaka has always had a bit more of a playful, fun attitude. It offers a very different taste of Japan – more down to earth, where people are more chilled and where street food consistently ranks among this foodie city’s top dishes. While there is plenty to see from old Osaka, such as Osaka Castle, Sumiyoshi Grand Shrine and Shitennō-ji – the latter is thought to be the first Buddhist temple in Japan – most have been rebuilt over the years. They’re still worth visiting though, especially when the cherry blossom season is in full swing and in autumn when the leaves are bright and fiery. One of the best places in Japan for viewing the sakura (cherry blossom), Osaka seems to blossom then too – with Osaka Mint Bureau and Nishinomaru Park two top hanami (cherry-blossom viewing) spots. Other favourites are the old neighbourhood of Shikensai – styled on Paris and New York’s Coney Island circa 1912 – and Tsutenkaku Tower, which offers views over the city. After dark, Dōtonbori is where it’s at – with neon signs and people-watching opportunities galore. If culture is more your scene, check out the Abeno Harukas Art Museum, while those who love slightly odd modern architecture won’t want to miss the Umeda Sky Building next to Osaka Station. Saying all that, Osaka’s best attractions are probably its people and cuisine, which makes Kuromon Market another must-see – it has some of Japan’s best food, fresh fish and awesome photo opportunities. And if all that isn’t quite enough, you’ll find family-friendly fun and adrenaline at Universal Studios Japan. Keen to find out more? Read on to delve deeper into all the things that make Osaka special.

Neighborhoods in Osaka