What makes Osaka different when compared to Japan’s other famous destinations like Hiroshima, Kyoto, and Tokyo? Well, in a way, Osaka is used as a transit stop on your way to the more famous cities listed above. Of course, if you are lucky enough to backpack through Japan in its entirety then you may be able to stop in Osaka for quite some time. I found Osaka’s accommodation prices to be on the cheap side compared to Tokyo, and much cheaper than Kyoto (Kyoto’s limited hotels and hostels fill up very quickly, so the owners can always charge high nightly rates there). I was in Osaka merely for a day until my coach trip to Kyoto. I flew into Osaka from Singapore on an overnight flight with Singapore Airlines. I left my one piece of luggage at the airport and went off exploring the city. In particular, I wanted to check out the famous food markets and some of the tourism icons of Osaka!
The Dotonbori Canal is arguably the centrepiece of Osaka. While extremely popular in the daytime, tourists and backpackers flock here in their thousands during the evening to see the neon signs lit up beside the reflection of the water. As you can expect with Osaka, there is plenty of good food and street entertainment on hand to keep you busy throughout the night.
Universal Studios Japan (USJ) was the 3rd Universal Studios Park to open in the world, after the famous ones in Hollywood and Orlando. Nowadays, there are 5 of the these parks (with an additional park in Orlando and one in Singapore). Most of the old favourite attractions can be found here, including The Amazing Spider-Man, and Back to the Future: The Ride. One of my favourite attractions in the park is Space Fantasy, which is an epic indoor rollercoaster with a great soundtrack to add to the atmosphere! In 2014 The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened at USJ bringing new life into the park! Check out my guide to USJ!
You can find many temples and shrines in Osaka. The Sumiyoshi Shrine was my favourite, with its beautiful manicured gardens, but I didn’t get to go to the Shitennoji Temple, which I am told is also one of the highlights of the city from a tourism perspective.
Food in Osaka is very famous, as it is one of the things for which the city is best known. In particular, takoyaki and to a lesser extent the pancake-like okonomiyaki. Takoyaki is balls of octopus in batter which are usually covered in sauces to add taste. The soft, spongy texture is really addictive.
Bunraku is a form of puppet theatre which is nowadays not very popular in Japan as other forms of entertainment have replaced it. However, its tradition and sentimentality continues to entice the tourists. Check out a performance at the National Bunraku Theatre in Osaka!
The world famous Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan is one of the finest aquariums around the globe. However, be warned that it has quite high admission fees. If you do have enough money to enter the aquarium, you won’t be disappointed with the quantity and quality of marine life on display!
One of the most famous icons of Osaka, the Tsutenkaku Tower is another must-see on your trip to the city, especially around the Shinsekai district. Day or night, you cannot fail to be impressed with this tower, which was built over 100 years ago. There is an observation deck up top for you to enjoy, but be warned it is a bit of a tourist trap in this area, and is also a crime hotspot.
I am very glad I made the effort to check out Osaka, albeit on a whistlestop tour. If you are stopping over in Osaka, you should be informed that there isn’t as much to do here as in Tokyo – and certainly nowhere near as fascinating at Kyoto – but if you do a little research before you arrive, and think about what you want to see, then I am confident that you will consider it time well spent!