If you are visiting Osaka for the first time, you can’t help but question the vibe of Osaka; very closely located to Kyoto and Nara, the two ancient capitals of Japan where the traditional culture and spirit Still lives on, Osaka is very much different from the neighbours with its unique industrial spirit and modern feel. One might think of Tokyo at this point, with its perfect blend of modern arts and traditions but there is no place quite like Osaka. One have to experience Osaka to understand the difference when visiting Japan.
Osaka is easily accessible both locally and internationally with Kansai international airport and Shinkansen serving the city. There are many places in the Kansai region to visit and Osaka serves the perfect starting point.
Whilst there aren’t many attractions in Osaka, the main allure is the food culture; from the casual roadside street shops to fine dining, Osaka has many to offer to its visitors. If you are in Osaka, you need to visit Dotonbori, one of the main food destinations; best visited at night time when the streets along the Dotonbori canal comes alive, with colorful neon lights on mechanized signboards displaying massive moving crab or Glico Running Man.
The signature food that you need to try
- Okonomiyaki: noodles and the ingredients of your choice (e.g, bacon, scallops, prawn) are all mixed into a batter and then grilled on a hot pan. This version is called Osaka or Kansai version. You can read more about it at Okonomiyaki World. Hiroshima has a different interpretation on Okonomiyaki and you can read more in my Hiroshima visit.
- Takoyaki: also known as octopus ball; made of flour-based batter, then filled with diced octopus and topped with dried bonito, mayonnaise and takoyaki sauce. It is a cheap and delicious street food that you must try.
- Kushikatsu: imagine meat or vegetable skewers where the usual way is to grill. Here in Osaka, they are deep-fried after coating with batter. It just tastes divine; best to have them with beer and wash down.
On one occasion, I went for the sushi at a bar in Dotonbori area; decently priced for fresh generous-portioned sushi. I guess if you are in Japan, you can at least expect that much. I noticed that there are many ramen shops around the area too but I didn’t try any while I was there. Kani Doraku is very popular for the crab and you can’t really miss the restaurant because there is a massive moving crab billboard in front. The waiting time was excruciating long when I went there, so I went for Okonomiyaki instead.
One of my most memorable dining experience is Matsusaka beef grill. Matsusaka beef is known to be the best beef Japan offers (Better than Kobe beef, according to Accidental Epicurean). It is a bold title to claim and many counter arguments could be made but it is not denying that it is mindblowingly amazing. If you are in Osaka and willing to splurge a bit, you need to go for Matsusaka beef. I remembered paying about US$50 for a premium dinner set but it was totally worth paying for; the beef literally melts in the mouth.
Now that we have sorted out the food, let’s move on for the attractions.
Osaka castle is a must-see attraction; being one of the most beautiful castles in Japan. You could easily spend half day in the ground exploring castle moat and the main tower or just simply enjoy the nature in the garden. The only point that I have against Osaka castle is that it is a reconstructed version; if you are wondering how a Japanese castle might look like inside, this is not the place for you. Himeji castle is just a short train ride away from Osaka and that’s where you should be heading to.
If you are looking for a high viewpoint to see the entire Osaka, head toward Umeda Sky Building where you can go to the 39th floor for 360 view of Osaka. I recommend going in the night time when all the lights are up.
Personally, I never like Osaka despite visited on two different trips. While it failed to charm me on both occasions, I kept coming back for the food and for the strategic location to make day trips around Kansai region.