10 Things To Do In Osaka | CoolJapan

Oh… saka! Arriving from the city of Tokyo, I was awestruck by Osaka’s uniqueness. Unlike the modern and conservative Japanese capital — which stands with the grandeur of being a political and cultural hub — the city of Osaka, in contrast, bursts with character. There is a confluence of old and new architecture reflecting the city’s ancient past as Japan’s old economic hub. Osaka is Japan's second-largest metropolitan area after Tokyo, with a strategic location on the Seto Inland Sea, a busy trading route, as a natural gateway for traders and travellers from all across Asia. If you are planning to visit Osaka soon, make sure to add these to your itinerary.

Go up Osaka Castle 

Osaka Castle

Left: Facade of Osaka Castle; Right: Sights from the viewing deck atop the castle

Take the elevator up to the top floor of Osaka Castle to catch a breathtaking 360-degree bird’s-eye view of the city. Walk down each floor to discover the castle’s history and get to know Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598) who planned for building this formidable defence castle in the 16th century. Follow his fascinating story of how the son of a peasant-ashigaru (foot soldier) fought his way to become a powerful feudal lord, warrior, general, samurai, and politician of the Sengoku period. 

Visit the Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine 

Sumiyoshi Taisha

Left: Sorihashi bridge; Right: Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine

Escape from the mad crowds and enjoy the serenity of Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine, an easy three-minute stroll from Sumiyoshitaisha Station. Founded in the third century, it is one of Japan's oldest Shinto shrines and is listed as a national treasure. Built before Buddhism was introduced to Japan, it has a unique style of shrine architecture, called Sumiyoshi-zukuri. Enter the shrine via the steeply arched Sorihashi bridge — its high arch supposedly resembles a rainbow that connects the earth with the sky.

Devour a big bowl of udon 


Udon is famous all over Japan but the difference lies in the soup. The taste and the colour of the soup in the Kanto region, a region that includes Tokyo, is strong and rich. Meanwhile, in the Kansai area, which includes Osaka, the flavour is more subtle and the soup, lighter. Udon is sold everywhere in Osaka but a charming place to feast on this wheat flour noodle soup is at TsuruTonTan, a stylish udon chain with the main branch located in Dotonbori. Its elegant and light soup is made using Hokkaido's konbu (sea kelp), Kyushu's mackerel and herring flakes.

Ride the Ferris wheel at Don Quijote 

Don Quijote in Osaka

Left: Donki Ferris Wheel; Right: View from above

The iconic, 252-feet Ferris wheel stands outside the famous Don Quijote, facing the Dotonbori River. It is decorated with a giant image of Ebisu, the god of good fortune. Judging from the crowd at the store and the queue for the Ferris wheel, one can assume that the store has Ebisu’s blessings. A 15-minute ride costs ¥600.

Watch the sunset along the Dotonbori river 

Dotonbori River

Snag a bench and watch the sunset with a beer and a snack from one of many Osaka’s famous street food vendors.

Take a selfie with the Glico Man 

Glico man

The famous Glico man

Why are people taking selfies with the Glico man? I chuckled when I read this question from bewildered contributors on TripAdvisor and I suspect no one has the answer. But no trip to Osaka is complete without a selfie with this cheerful athlete.

It was in 1921 when the company named its first product, Glico-Caramel. The candy was marketed as a source of energy as it contains glycogen from oysters. Each candy was said to contain enough calories to run 300 meters. On the box, there was a picture of a man crossing the finish line and winning the race. In 1935, the neon Glico Running Man was displayed along the Dōtonbori Canal in Osaka. It remained in place for 84 years, albeit with several overhauls. The current LED version was set up in 2015.

Go on a degustation journey at Kurumon market 

Kurumon Ichiba foods

The wide selection of food choices in Kurumon Ichiba

According to Gwendal Poullennec, international director of the prestigious Michelin Guides, “Kyoto is the central city for Japanese cuisine, and Osaka is the gourmet city.” True enough, Kurumon Market brims with the freshest meats and seafood, where one can only imagine how well the typical Osakaian eats. With a bottle of sake tucked discreetly in our pockets, my husband and I hopped from one stall to another eating through a gourmet adventure of grilled Hokkaido crab leg, a platter of different types of uni, kobe beef, otoro sushi, freshly-shucked oysters and scallops.

Go back in time at one of the oldest kappo restaurants 

Kappo foods

Finding Naniwa Kappo Kigawa will test your Google navigation skills. It is tucked in the back alley in downtown Osaka. Walk down the narrow stone-paved lane and you will think time has stood still on this street. As you can tell from the old photo vis-à-vis the one I took recently, the street has stayed pretty much the same through the years.

Kappo means “to cut and to cook,” and is a more casual counter-seating form of Kaiseki where you can interact with the Chef and his team of Kimono-clad servers.

Shop ‘til you drop

Shopping districts

Osaka was historically a merchant city. The city's two largest shopping districts are in Umeda in the north, and in Namba in the south. However, wherever you stay, you will never be far from a concentration of shops offering an impressive diversity of products and services.

Shopping arcades — covered walkways connecting rows of shops – may not be a novel concept but in Osaka, shopping arcades run for hundreds, even thousands, of metres in length. Worth noting are Tenjinbashi-suji, dubbed the longest shopping arcade in Japan at 2.6 kilometres long, and Shinsaibashi-suji, one of Osaka's oldest and busiest shopping destinations which run about 600 metres.

Hop on the Shinkansen and make a day trip to Kyoto 

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest in Kyoto

Kyoto is only a 15-minute ride on the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen from Shin Osaka, making a day trip to Kyoto a viable option particularly when it is free for visitors with a valid Japan Rail, JR Pass. There are so many things to do in Kyoto, but on this trip, we went to Arashiyama to see its eponymous Bamboo Grove. But there is more to Arashiyama than just a bamboo forest. It is filled with temples and shrines, and with time being the only constraint, one has to choose wisely what to see. Not to be missed are Tenryu-ji Temple, a sprawling Zen temple with one of the finest gardens in Kyoto and wonderful mountain views.

From slurping on a big bowl of Udon, having a moment at the Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine, or admiring Osaka from 252 above the ground, there is a lot that Osaka has to offer to the curious traveller, who may as well exclaim, “Oh… saka!”

Katherine Wong is on a quest to transform her freckled face into a fair, flawless palette. Ask her any questions on facial whitening procedures and she will have a personal story to tell you. When not hogging the bathroom doing her 10-step beauty routine, she loves to travel and watch Chinese period dramas.
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