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Osaka Travel Guide Japan's 2nd largest city but still intimate, approachable, and welcoming

Osaka Canal and Bright lights

As Japan’s original commercial capital, Osaka prefecture, which wholly incorporates the city that bares its name, has been at the center of Japanese culture for over 1,000 years. Today, the Osaka metropolitan region is the world’s 8th richest metropolitan area, on par with cities like Los Angeles and Paris. The city is roughly divided by an uptown district and a downtown district. Uptown, or the Umeda district, is characterized by its many skyscrapers and Osaka station; while downtown’s Namba district is known for its extensive entertainment and shopping.  Aside from its long history and modern cosmopolitan atmosphere, Osaka is known throughout Japan as the nation’s kitchen; it is said that what Tokyoites spend on clothes, Osakans spend on food!

 

Things to do

Dotonbori

Theatres, restaurants, bars, and everything in between; electrifying Dotonbori is the ultimate tourist trap, and for good reason. Mechanised restaurant fronts, neon, and an endless smorgasbord of attractions, this district is the quintessential stop for those searching for the wacky urban delights Japan is famous for. Located in the heart of the Namba district, Dotonbori is fun, brash, stimulating and above all, unique. Make sure to get a pic with the famous Glico Man, known as a symbol of Osaka; today in its 5th and most energy efficient LED incarnation

Sumiyoshi Taisha (or Grand Shrine)

Osaka’s grand Sumiyoshi Taisha is the central or main shrine for the city’s Sumiyoshi ward. Originally built around the 6th century, the shrine displays Japan’s indigenous style of architecture, predating the common Tang Dynasty architecture borrowed from China around 800 A.D. Sumiyoshi Taisha incorporates pitched rooves thatched with straw, not upturned edges which are commonly known as ‘oriental’.  A distinctive feature of the shrine includes long wooden beams on each side of the building that cross at the top of the roof’s edge forming a cross or an ‘x’. Be sure to visit the Sumiyoshi Budoken just next door; a shrine reserved exclusively for martial arts.

Umeda Sky Building & Floating Gardens Observatory

Not just another tall building, this futuristic building is in fact two, twin, 40 story towers connected by an out of this world observation deck complete with escalators that jet upwards and outwards. At the top, be ready for the best views of Osaka along with a calm garden that makes the experience all the more thrilling. Umeda Sky is just a ten-minute walk from Osaka station.

Other places to check out include; Universal Studios Osaka, Kyocera Dome, Osaka Castle, and Abeno Harukas.

Events and Seasonal Happenings

Osaka’s Tenjin Festival, held yearly on July 24th and 25th, is the city’s largest festival and one of the ‘three great festivals’ of Japan. Started in the 10th century, the festival involves a procession of musicians and dancers along with a river procession that leads to the year’s greatest fireworks display in Osaka Bay. Held from July 1st to Aug 31st, the Dotonbori River Lantern Festival sees 1,300 lanterns set up on both sides of Dotonbori’s river walk, making for the best time to visit this famed shopping area.

 

Flavors of Osaka

Okonomiyaki

A visit to Osaka is not complete without some Okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is a sort of savory pancake topped with a variety of ingredients. The batter is made with flour, grated yam, dashi, thin pork belly, or octopus, squid, shrimp, and eggs along with a host of other ingredients including konjac, cheese and mochi. The batter is then grilled and topped with more ingredients, making for a delectable Japanese favorite.   

Dojima Rolls

Not just your ordinary rolled cake, the Dojima Roll is known as an Osaka only specialty. This carefully baked delectable is filled with a subtle and cloud-like creamy center that is carefully rolled with a fluffy sponge cake. This is said to be Osaka’s most popular souvenir among Japanese and foreign visitors alike.

Freshly Baked ‘Stamped’ Cheesecakes (from Uncle Rikuro’s Bakery)

Uncle Rikuro’s Shop is a name known throughout Osaka and Japan for its famous cheesecakes. Fluffy creamy and gently sweet, the cheesecakes resemble a French cheese soufflé. Uncle Rikuro’s is no ordinary bakery though, the famed cheesecakes are in fact made with advanced technology developed in tangent with Danish bakers. Hot off the oven, the cheesecakes are branded with a cartoon logo of uncle Rikuro and are thus known as ‘stamped’ cakes.

A few treats to consider and try out while in Osaka also include; Baumkuchen Cake (from Madamae Shinco), Hokusetsu Sweet Rolls, Mitarashi Ko Mochi (or slightly grilled mochi with a sweet and salty soy sauce infused filling), and Takoyaki or octopus balls.

 

What to Bring Back

As a cosmopolitan city with a long history, Osaka has an equally long list of unique souvenirs that you can only find here, and the best part is that the most famous are all food or food related!

If you’re looking to bring back a treat, Osaka’s half-baked Soft Castelo are made into bite-sized and individually wrapped mini treats. Castelos are originally from Portugal but have a long history in Japan dating back to the 13th century; the Japanese version focuses on being extra fluffy. 

Osaka no Koibito are Osaka’s own specialty cookies. This thin cookie is an individually wrapped double cookie sandwich with a white chocolate filling. In Japan, the cookie is known as a cat’s tongue because they are cutely shaped to resemble (you guessed it) a cat’s tongue. Osaka no Koibito literally translates to ‘Osaka’s Lover’, so be prepared to share these with someone special.

A unique ‘only in Japan’ gift that is also popular among visitors to Osaka are fake plastic versions of the city’s most iconic foods. In the country’s culinary capital, the plastic food phenomenon takes on unique shapes that also make for one of a kind souvenirs.

Where to Stay

As a major global powerhouse, Osaka offers travelers the best of the best in accommodation. The Ritz-Carlton Osaka, located close to Osaka Station, offers the comforts, hospitality and amenities one can expect from the Ritz-Carlton line of hotels. Its flamboyant European style interiors contrasts sharply with the traditional Japanese inspired architecture of the Ritz-Carlton in Tokyo. Located closer downtown, the St. Regis Osaka is said to have the city’s best spa as well as dining and shopping options.  

Wrap up

While often overlooked by the country’s capital city, Osaka offers everything you would want and expect from one of the greatest and most prosperous metropolitan areas in the world. Despite its nearly 19 million inhabitants, the city still feels intimate, approachable, and welcoming, yet completely unexpected and surprising. Having just missed out on becoming the country’s capital, Osaka seems to have a chip on its shoulder to offer visitors the warmest hospitality anywhere else.

Getting there

Osaka and the greater Kansai region are served by the sprawling Kansai International Airport located on a man-made island in Osaka Bay. The airport offers international and national flights from throughout the world and Japan. The city is also served by Itami International Airport located within the city limits. This airport is dedicated to national travel within Japan and close Asian routes including Taipei and Seoul. While in Tokyo, skip the baggage line and get to the heart of the action at Osaka Station by way of the Nozomi, Hikari and Kodama lines of the Tokaido Shinkansen or Bullet Train.  

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