Osaka Essentials: A City of Flavor and Tradition

by Nana Young
Osaka, Japan, tourist attractions, gourmet

A trip to Osaka will reveal exactly why it’s the street food capital of Japan. From sumptuous fried meals to gourmet delights, you’ll get to experience Japanese cuisine at its finest. But that’s not all. Osaka has a whole lot more to offer local and foreign visitors alike!

The Vibrant Heart of Osaka

Shinsekai the renowned culinary district of Osaka, offers a high-rise view from the Tsutenkaku Tower

In the Kansai region of Honshu Island, Japan, lies Osaka. It’s the capital city of Osaka Prefecture, containing more people than any other city in the prefecture. The central cities of Osaka, Kyoto, Sakai, and Kobe form the Keihanshin Metropolitan Area, the second largest metropolitan area in Japan, with a population of over 19 million people.

Osaka is known as the center for art, nightlife, and street food. Its reputation as Japan's culinary capital is one of the reasons the city sees more than 12 million annual visitors each year. Experts are estimating that this figure could more than double in a few years. The city is filled with various nightlife and cultural attractions, providing an endless supply of activities for tourists and locals to enjoy throughout the year.

Osaka is only 2 hours and 30 minutes from Japan’s capital city, Tokyo, via bullet train. The train stops at Shin-Osaka Station, which may be far from downtown Osaka, the true location of the main districts. Thankfully, the Midosuji subway line is there to offer a route to the downtown districts.

The interesting architecture, entertainment centers, and ancient landmarks make life in the city a fascinating blend of modern and traditional culture. In this post, we’ll take you through our favorite things to do in Osaka, Japan. From street food restaurants to timeless castles, we’ve got you covered if you’re looking to plan an itinerary. Enjoy!

Osaka's Culinary Scene: Why It's Called Japan's Kitchen

If you’re a foodie in Japan, Osaka is the place to be, and that is no exaggeration. The city has been dubbed “Japan’s Kitchen,” and with good reason. There’s hardly a district in Osaka that does not have several street food markets and fine-dining restaurants. The food experience includes noodle bars, department stores, izakaya (Japanese casual bars), and even ryokan (traditional Japanese inns). You can find virtually any kind of Japanese food you want in Osaka, but there are 4 must-try specialty dishes, which we’ll explore briefly.

Takoyaki, Octopus dumplings, Japanese delicious food

Takoyaki: These “octopus balls” are popular all over Japan, but those sold in Osaka are unlike any other in the country. The dish is made by coating bits of octopus in batter and grilling them in a special mold (takoyaki pan). The dish is then topped with dried bonito flakes and a drizzle of soy sauce. You’ll find some of the best takoyaki in Osaka in the Dotonbori district. Nearly every food stall and restaurant in the area makes delicious takoyaki so you don’t have to wait in lines. Be careful, though; takoyaki is served hot! You might want to wait a few minutes before you sink your teeth into it.



Japanese pancake Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki: This is a pancake dish made of seasoned batter, cabbage, tenkasu (tempura scraps), and protein or vegetable toppings. It’s a highly-adaptable grilled meal with a wide range of possible fillings and toppings. Osaka has several excellent okonomiyaki restaurants, but you’ll find the best ones in Minami, Tennoji, and Kita areas.



Bowl of Ramen at local ramen shop with green onions toppings

Ramen: Osaka is home to many varieties of Asian noodles, but its ramen specialty stands out the most. There are several noodle bars and ramen-ya restaurants offering the meaty and umami-rich noodles in savory broth. Take a trip to Minami and Tennoji to find unbeatable ramen restaurants in Osaka.



Kushi katsu or Kushiage, japanese Osaka style deep fried skewers, must try in Osaka area

Kushikatsu: This is the ultimate street food. It consists of skewered and deep-fried meat and vegetables. Best served with beer, it’s a super-tasty guilty pleasure that’s sure to be the highlight of your time at the street food and entertainment districts of Dotombori and Shinsekai.

Exploring Osaka Castle: A Glimpse into History

Osaka Castle in Osaka, Japan is one of Osaka's most popular hanami spots during the cherry blossoms season

It wouldn’t feel right to tour Osaka without visiting the most famous landmark in the city, Osaka Castle, or Osakajo. Built in 1583, the castle played a major role in unifying the warring regions of Japan during the end of the feudal era. The castle is located in the Chūō-ku ward of Osaka, walking distance from Osakajokoen Station. It was built by Japan’s second “Great Unifier,” a samurai and daimyo (feudal lord) named Toyotomi Hideyoshi. In 1615, 17 years after his death, the castle was attacked by Tokugawa troops. It was rebuilt in the 1620s by Tokugawa Hidetada, the heir to the shogunate at the time.

The story of the castle from the 17th century to the 20th century is filled with power struggles, epic wars, and civil conflicts. There have been numerous reconstructions of the castle after it has suffered damage from both natural and man-made causes. Today, it’s surrounded by the Osaka Castle Park, and its main buildings and castle tower have become major tourist attractions.

Just outside the castle tower are citadels, moats, turrets, and gates. The nearby Nishinomaru Garden boasts 600 cherry trees, a guest house, and a tea house. Some attractions are free but this garden requires you to pay an admission fee. Other attractions at Osaka Castle Park include the Osakajo Hall, a shrine dedicated to the founder, and sports facilities. The lush flowers and green spaces at the two-square-kilometer park make it one of the best spots for hanami (cherry blossom viewing) in Osaka.

The Magic of Universal Studios Japan

Mario Theme Park in Osaka Universal Studios

Universal Studios Japan, located in Osaka, is one of the most beloved attractions for touring families and their kids. This theme park is one of only six of its kind in the entire world. In March 2001, it became the first one to open outside of the US, and by the end of that year, it had received over 11 million guests. The fun thrills and events at the park revolve around Hollywood blockbusters, Japanese anime, and world-famous entertainment brands. Guests can also buy food and merchandise at various shops, stalls, and restaurants.

If you find yourself at Universal Studios Japan, you can’t miss out on some of its top attractions. One of them is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a themed area based on the fictional magician. It offers a fully immersive experience of familiar places from the popular Harry Potter franchise, such as Hogwarts Castle, Honeydukes Sweet Shop, and Ollivanders. Other fantastic attractions are the Minion Park and its cool shows, the Jurassic Park ride, and the Straw Hat Grand Fleet restaurant with its assortment of pork, rice, salmon, and vegetables.

Be sure to get your tickets early, as they tend to sell out pretty quickly. Use the online platform to buy them before your visit. You should also get to the venue early and try out the best rides before a massive crowd forms. Downloading the park’s official website is also a good idea, as it helps you stay updated on their schedules and ongoing events. The best time to visit Universal Studios Japan is during the weekdays or off-peak season.

Dotonbori: Osaka's Neon-Lit Nightlife Hub

Tourist walking in night shopping street food at Dotonbori

Dotonbori is a vibrant entertainment district in Osaka. The area is famous for its bright neon lights and the high number of restaurants and bars in the area, making it a superb nightlife hub. Dotonbori is one of the reasons Osaka has such a positive food culture. The district is home to a number of popular restaurants, such as Hariju, Kani Douraku, and Kukuru, each specializing in a traditional dish.

Walking down the streets of Dotonbori, you can’t help but notice the brilliant signage and billboards displaying images of animals, cartoons, and commercials. In the midst of all of them lies the Glico Running Man, above Ebisubashi Bridge. This is an advertisement by the Glico candy company and it depicts a man running on a blue track. The first Glico advertisement was first installed at the location in 1935 and has been renewed six times since then.

Shopping in Osaka: From High-End to Street Markets

Shinsaibashi Osaka Japan Tourist at shopping street, worth exploring

Food is not the only product you can buy in Osaka. The city’s shopping scene is just as interesting. The hundreds of shopping arcades, malls, and street markets ensure that you get access to both high-end and affordable shopping options. The two biggest shopping districts in Osaka are Kita and Minami, which lie in the north and south, respectively. Kita is also called the Umeda area, while Minami is called the Namba area and they are close to Umeda Station and Namba Station, respectively. In central Osaka, Shinsaibashi-suji is a 600-meter-long shopping destination located between the two areas. Below is a quick shopping guide to help you find the largest concentrations of specialized shopping establishments:

  1. Amerikamura: youth fashion boutiques.

  2. Horie and Minami-senba: older and more sophisticated fashion shops.

  3. Doguya-suji: cooking items and accessories stores.

  4. Umeda: department stores.

  5. Namba:  eclectic stalls of Kuromon Ichiba Market

  6. Rinku Town: shopping malls near Kansai International Airport

The Art and Culture of Osaka: Museums and Galleries

Little girl look up many cup noodles decoration on wall exhibition tell story about instant noodles at The Cup Noodles Museum Osaka

Osaka's rich cultural offerings include several museums dedicated to fascinating aspects of the city, such as history, food, science, art, marine life, and entertainment. There’s something for everyone!

If you want to learn about historic events and their impact on the city, visit the Osaka Museum of History. The museum has made provisions to provide explanations to foreigners in their native tongue. Common topics include feudal wars, the imperial palace, and Osakajo. 

Peace Osaka is a museum that focuses on the impact of World War II on Osaka. When it comes to viewing Japanese and foreign art galleries, the National Museum of Art is the place to be. You can learn about the physics and chemistry of the universe at the Osaka Science Museum. For food and entertainment options, we recommend the Cup Noodles Museum Osaka Ikeda with its Nissin Food cup noodles collection and the Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum, which is dedicated to the creator of Astro Boy.

Seasonal Festivals: Osaka's Year-Round Celebrations

he traditional and historical Japanese festival Tenjin Matsuri in Osaka with thousands of attendants and spectators.

From January to December, Osaka plays host to several major festivals that reflect the city's vibrant cultural calendar.

  1. Tenjin Matsuri (July 24 and 24): This is the largest festival in Osaka and one of three major ones in Japan. It showcases the Funatogyo boat procession ritual, which takes place on the Okawa River with more than 100 boats.

  2. Osaka Castle Illuminage (November to February): This is a limited-time event that previously took place from late November to late February. The Osaka Castle, its artworks, and its gardens are illuminated with neon lights.

  3. Aizen Festival (June 30 and July 1): This 2-day annual celebration includes a grand fair and procession by smiling Aizen-musume girls dressed in yukata (casual summertime kimono).

  4. Hanami Festivals (March and April): This is a collection of several springtime festivals during cherry blossom season at various locations in Osaka.

Day Trips from Osaka: Exploring Kansai

Five-story pagoda and garden with autumn leaves at Toji temple in Kyoto, Japan

Osaka is a short train ride away from several interesting locations outside the city but within the Kansai region. We recommend a day trip to Kyoto, which takes 50 minutes by regular train and 15 minutes by bullet train. When you get there, you can enjoy a contrast to Osaka’s modernity by exploring historic and well-preserved sites. Nara is another great day trip option and it's just a 40-minute train ride. Kobe is even closer (20 minutes) and offers the best beef in the country. Lastly, you can take the 60-minute trip to Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan.

Navigating Osaka: Transportation Tips

Dotonbori restaurant food street, visit if you stay in Osaka

Your experience is only as good as the ease with which you reach your destinations from your Osaka accommodation. Let’s share essential tips for getting around Osaka:

  1. Use subways and trains to conveniently get around Osaka.

  2. The best way to pay your transport fares is via the prepaid Icoca card, which you can also use at convenience stores and other establishments.

  3. If you have a Suica or Pasmo card, you may use that instead.

  4. A Japan Rail Pass covers any ride on the JR Osaka Loop Line.

  5. The Midosuji subway line reaches all tourist centers in the city except Osaka Castle Area and Osaka Bay Area.

Lasting Impressions of a Dynamic City

Dōtonbori is one of the principal tourist destinations in Osaka, Japan

No doubt, Osaka offers a unique charm that invites visitors to immerse themselves in the city's dynamic atmosphere, rich history, and culinary delights. We urge you to visit Osaka whenever possible and see what all the fuss is about!

Meanwhile, you can experience a part of Osaka’s culinary culture by enjoying sweets and snacks from the region. Get a Bokksu Snack Box Subscription, and you can enjoy a monthly supply of authentic Japanese snacks from Osaka, Tokyo, Kyoto, and other major cities.

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