What to do in Osaka
Culture & History
One of our favorite shrines in Japan is the Sumiyoshi Taisha (shrine), it’s a bit quieter so a typical morning gives you the shrine to yourself. Hike up the iconic red bridge and make your way across the crunching gravel and past the old library. Find the paths thick with fallen leaves lined with gently billowing red flags. You’ll find plenty of turtles sunning in the ponds, if you’re lucky, maybe even a snake!
Even if you’re not into history and visiting the cast, Osaka Castle, we do recommend wandering the grounds, especially during cherry blossom season as they have groves of various flowering trees. During the season they also host evening events for blossom viewing. The castle itself was neat, but lacked translations on most of their placards so our visit felt a bit pointless, though the view from the observation deck is nice.
We attempted to visit the Shitennō-ji but arrived just before closing, which allowed us to walk in for free for a few quick photos. Sadly we also seemed to miss out on a festival of sorts as there were a bunch of stalls packing up at the time.
Enjoy the Land
As you may know, I’m a big fan of gardens, but this time around in Osaka, our timing was completely off. We tried to visit Gokuraku-jodo Garden and Keitakuen Garden but because of some itinerary mix ups and misinformation online, both gardens were closed when we attempted to visit them. We can however, recommend Tennoji Park. Keitakuen Garden is part of the park; which also includes the Museum of Fine Arts, the Zoo and an Aviary, so there’s plenty to do in the area. You’ll find families just lingering in the sunshine after all the venues close.
Enjoy the Sea
One of the largest aquariums in the world is the Osaka Aquarium so if you’re fish fans, you don’t want to miss it! The unique layout consists mainly of a handful of big deep tanks that you sort of circle all the way down, allowing you a 360 view of some giant whale sharks and rays. They also have penguins and dolphins, a super special dark bubble themed jellyfish room and also the ray and leopard shark petting tank. Their souvenir shop is quite small but you exit into the mall where there’s plenty more fish related goodies to browse through.
Osaka has plenty of shopping and like most of Japan, will center around the main train stations like Namba. Note that the duty-free shopping policies may work differently depending on the mall you’re at. For example, Namba skyO requires you to take your purchases and receipts over to their tax refund counter that same day in order to give you your tax return. There is a lovely wood shop in that mall called Hacoa. Near Namba is the Dontobori district, ( known for entertainment and dining, though it is a very touristy area. You can find the more luxury and international brands along this Tenjimbashisuji Shopping Street, the longest shopping street, for some serious spending, just be prepared for the crowds.
Japanese Knife Shopping
As a chef, Carl’s only goal in visiting Osaka was to get his very own Japanese knife, so we spent a good chunk of our visit going back and forth between knife shops. We took the train all the way down to Sakai city to visit Jikko and some smaller shops, but Carl wound up getting most of his knives from Tower Knives Osaka. He also preferred the customer service there, though they are much more tourist focused there, so if you’re looking for specialty knives you may find a better selection at Jikko. The folks over at Tower Knives Osaka are very knowledgeable and speak many languages, so they’re ready to help you find something you like. You’re allowed to test knives and slice through tomatoes and carrots: be prepared to be wow’d at the sharpness of the knives! It literally changes the texture of the cuts you make, which is something you have to see to believe!
Looking for a haircut?
After many years of neglect, I realized that my split ends could be ignored no longer, so I did a little research and found 2 hair salons in Osaka that spoke English. Because of their prompt and helpful responses on Facebook, I visited Grace Alley Salon, where I met Takashi (TK), who used to live in San Francisco for 5 years and actually know of my home town! The salon was easy to find and he had gentle hands and was very efficient at cutting and coloring. Due to the grave state of my hair, he even provided a complementary hair treatment! I highly recommend giving TK a visit if you’re in need (or just want!) a wonderful salon experience.
Day trip to Nara
Both Nara and Kyoto are about an hour train ride from Osaka so you can easily make some side trips. Nara is one of the more popular ones, as everyone wants their photo with the deer. Even if your interest in the deer is low, the park is a beautiful place to go. There are several shrines and temples, eateries and plenty of souvenir shops. We recommend starting your morning on the southern side and walking from Kasuga-taisha to Tsubomiwa Shrine, as that area affords such a peaceful interaction with the deer. The pathways are lined with stone lanterns covered in moss and lichen. You’ll find more of the crowds up at the Tōdai-ji with the giant buddha and children trying to fit through the hole in the pole.
For those interested in feeding the deer in Nara, be wary of groups or rather persistent deer – they can become rather demanding and aggressive, so be strategic about showing or offering the deer biscuits, try to find a few lone deer so that you don’t become overwhelmed. We recommend breaking up the biscuits to make the deer feeding last longer, even though the biscuits are not expensive, we felt that one pack was more than enough to get the experience. Please do not feed the deer anything but the biscuits.
If you’re looking for a good lunch spot in Nara, we enjoyed Tonkatsu Ganko. It is a popular place with tourists so there will be a wait, but their tonkatsu is very flavorful. I had the egg soup katsu set and even the plain tofu side they give is amazing!
What to Eat
Japan is known for celebrating the seasons, so depending on when you’re visiting, you’ll have the opportunity to try the best of the seasons, such as more tomato dishes in the restaurants and more strawberry based drinks or desserts.
While Japan has plenty to offer in shopping, we prefer spending on dining and Osaka could easily be considered the foodie city. As always, we recommend trying sushi while in Japan. For those on a budget, try to Genrokuzushi Sennichimae for some convertor sushi fun, they offer lots of variety and they provide labels and an English menu. Try some spear squid, whale bacon, quail egg with enoki, whelk, or broiled tuna cheek! There’s also Hakodate Gourmet-kaitenzushi Kantaro Grand Front Osaka for a slightly upscale conveyor belt sushi, but we didn’t find that the quality was worth the extra cost. Another good sushi spot, recommended by Mark Wiens, is Toki Sushi. Luckily when we arrived the line was short, but when we finally got seated we saw how inefficiently they were operating. We got a nigiri and a seared nigiri platter and found the fatty tuna delicious though their rice was just a bit wet for my taste. Try some slightly chewy flounder or melt in your mouth salmon and fatty salmon. We also happened to try the more touristy sit down restaurant Ganko Dotombori (the parents wanted crab) in the Dotonbori area, which has lovely tatami rooms and offers a variety of seafood and Japanese dishes. Their sushi was of excellent quality but we found their pricing a bit high.
For noodles, head over to Kyushu Ramen Kio Namba-NGKmae for some mind-blowing tomato tsukemen, which is a super savory dipping ramen! Carl had their black sesame tan-tan which was a black colored ramen with lots of depth and that delicious earthy black sesame flavor. For another really unique ramen, try my salonist TK’s recommendation, くそオヤジ最後のひとふり or kusooyaji, which is a bit of a local’s joint. Their broth is a deep soy sauce flavor with just a hint of clam and comes with about 10 clams and a big thin slice of rare ham. The noodles are egg yellow and speckled with a delicious chew for the first few bites and hold well until the end. They don’t have any English menus nor do they really speak English, so TK wrote down the order on a card for us to use when we went there. So if you plan to trek out that way, have a photo or the order written down in Japanese for them, it’s totally worth it!
Another top noods spot is my favorite udon restaurant of all Japan (so far), Udon Tsurutontan Kitashinchi. It’s a rather fancy looking place that has tatami mat seating but also a solo diner counter. All the servers are dressed in kimono and use ear pieces to quietly communicate throughout the restaurant. Despite the elegant and quiet atmosphere, don’t be afraid to slurp your scrumptious udon, if you can I mean. I ordered a seasonal udon, miso Udon with spring vegetables (tomato) which came bubbling in a scalding hot stone pot, but worth the burn! The udon noodles are super thick and chewy and the tomato is rich and not at all sour. If you’re looking for a lighter meal, try Yoriya Namba-nannan for some soba. They have an English menu, speak English well and their food is simple affair but very tasty.
While omurice is a common “diner” dish for Japan, Osaka has an amazing deluxe omurice at Muguni, a cozy little bar-like cafe that fits maybe 10 people max. I had the half/half gorgonzola and tomato sauce and both sauces are so aromatic and savory, the omelette layer is almost paper thin and so soft. Even though there’s a bit of a wait and the prices are quite high, we think it’s worth experiencing.
Wagyu & Kobe beef
If you’re gonna try wagyu or kobe beef, make sure to do it right. You’ll easily find it advertised everywhere, but to truly enjoy the meat, you’ll want to go somewhere that will identify the cut and give you the best parts, like Matsusakagyu Yakiniku M for Matsusaka beef for lunch (reservations recommended). We splurged on their deluxe platter to sample all the cuts and meats. The lean shoulder had tons of flavor, while the ichibo is fattier and melts in your mouth, but the kyukyoku was too fatty. Haneshita was Carl’s favorite by far. Make sure to get it with garlic rice and if you’re a fan, they also have seasonal matcha beer. Of course, if you’re not comfortable cooking your own meat, as it is yakiniku, this may not be the spot for you. If that’s the case, you might enjoy kushikatsu instead, check out the popular Kushikatsu Daruma Namba honten for a variety of tasty deep fried skewers, including wagyu beef.
Whether you’re an aficionado or simply curious, Osaka is a good place to taste and learn about sake. Visit this unassuming liquor shop Shimada Shoten and climb down a ladder through, what is essentially a hole in the middle of the shop, to find a tasting room that feels like the sort of place for secret meetings. You can ask for specific sakes or recommendations from the proprietors. You pay per glass or per plate, if you’re also snacking, which we didn’t do but is probably a good idea, as drinking even just a couple shots of sake can hit you hard. An interesting tasting aspect is that they will also recommend what type of sake cup to use as the shape and material effects the flavor; such as a wider ceramic cup helps release the aromas better, providing a more fuller experience of the aged sakes.
Pancakes & Sweets
Japan is known for their extreme wobbling towers of fluffy pancakes, so if you’re looking to try them, make a reservation at Micasadeco&Cafe, a super kawaii (cute) spot that’s all female workers! Try their seasonal strawberry cheesecake pancakes or their original soufflé pancakes – definitely a good place to go as a group and share a bunch of things.
One of our favorite desserts/snacks in Osaka was Hop chou a la creme, which are these crisp puffed tarts with flavored cream fillings, just a great texture experience, however they’re now closed. Not to fret, there’s also the extremely fluffy Japanese cheesecake to be had over at Rikuro Ojisan no Mise, the softest and eggiest cheesecake you’ll likely have in your life. For some sweet potato based treats, try Lapoppo farms, which has a stand near Namba. Try the potato apple pie or their various fries, depending on your preference for thickness and texture; the thick and creamy purple fries were my favorite.
If you’re up north, walk around Juso friendly street for some tasty strawberry and chocolate melon pans (no actual melon flavor) or some fresh taiyaki! You can also find delicious snacks at any convenience store, like the eclairs from Lawsons!
Where to see Cherry blossoms in Osaka
Your best bet for seeing cherry blossoms in Osaka will be around the parks and gardens, such as Tennoji Park or around the Osaka Castle as there are groves of various flowering trees throughout the grounds. If you make the day trip out to Nara, Nara parks has its share of cherry trees as well.
Where we stayed in Osaka, Japan
1min walk from the sta! 5min by train to Namba!W41
Nice apartment, furnished to sleep alot of people apparently (3 futons that could be converted) but kind of a tight squeeze, the photos make it look a little bigger than it feels. Don’t bring very big luggages as there’s not much floor space. They provided plenty of bathroom products but no oil or spices in the kitchen. Located by the metro and by a main Street so it gets fairly noisy with the cars. Overall a nice apartment!
Grandouce Hanazonocho★9min to Namba/free WIFI #202
The modern apartment is more like a hotel room, the two comfy beds take up most of the space and there is very little room to walk around or put your things, however there is a really big closet. The kitchenette suffices but is minimal (no oil or spices). The modern building saw a lot of other visitors, sometimes hanging out in front to talk or smoke. The location is within walking distance of metro stations (mainly the Yotsubashi line) but it did feel a bit far from things. Unfortunately the apartment wasn’t cleaned that thoroughly before our arrival, but otherwise the apartment was nice.
It’s also worth noting that while it’s getting better there’s limited free public wifi around. We recommend getting a sim card if you’re one to need internet constantly or if you plan to rely on Google Translate as it doesn’t work offline for Japanese. For fellow digital nomads, keep in mind that working in a coffee shop or cafe is not as widely accepted in Japan. When booking AirBnBs, note if they have Wifi and if it’s a pocket Wifi – convenient but usually minimal data and speeds.
Plenty of really clean public toilets everywhere. Most have TP and soap but not all have paper towels or drying methods. Seems it’s fairly typical for Asians to carry tissue and a small hand towel or handkerchief for this purpose.
In Japan it’s best to travel light as there’s not a lot of room on buses, trains, in accommodations, etc. Many AirBnBs don’t allow luggage storage and coin lockers are expected to be used, which will cost you about 500-700 Yen a locker depending on size.
Vaccinations: Routine Vaccinations
Mosquito problems: None while there
Problems for tattoos: Japan has a history of caution around tattoos as they were a sign of the yakuza, or local gangs. While tourism has created an understanding that foreigners with tattoos are not associated with gangs, those with very large and highly visible tattoos should still be aware that there may be caution or discomfort from the more traditional folk. Many onsens or public baths will also restrict those with tattoos, so ask ahead if you plan to visit one. With my forearm sleeve I did not experience any issues, though April was still a bit brisk and I walked around with a light jacket most of the time.
Traveling as a woman: Standard Precautions
Getting Around in Osaka, Japan
Public transportation is super convenient though rides will quickly add up. To save on your budget, avoid taxis and walk as much as you can. If you plan to use the trains or buses a lot, we recommend picking up an IC card – either Suica or Pasmo, there’s not a huge difference and both are widely accepted throughout Japan. We grabbed IC pasmo cards and would top up as needed at convenience stores. Metro is fairly straightforward, plenty of signs, does add up. Average trip is at least 130 – 600 yen depending on how many times you transfer and the train you take. The Hyperdia app requires internet and is not the most intuitive, so cross-check with Google. It is easy to screenshot and use to ask station personal they’re willing but plenty do not have good English at all and won’t understand. Some tram or bus trips average around 200 Yen as a flat fee, though if you travel far you’ll definitely pay for the distance.
Be aware that some of the JR lines have cars that require reservations. These cars are intended for those taking the line from city to city. You can prebook those using the smartEx mobile app, purchase tickets at the station or even while on the train (though you can save by booking seats earlier online). If you’re traveling with large luggages you’ll want to book a reserved seat as there will not likely be room in the regular cars. Best to travel very light in Japan, there’s little space for anything.
Currency: 1 Yen = 0.0094 USD
For such a technologically advanced country, it may be surprising but cash still remains the preferred exchange. You will need cash in most restaurants and also for public transportation, though ATMs are available via convenience stores or train stations everywhere. Tipping is not an accepted practice in Japan and service people will chase you down to give you back any change you leave. To show your appreciation, simply say thanks!
Some typical costs
- 4 ramens from Kyushu Ramen Kio Namba-NGKmae: 3870 Y
- Kushikatsu for 4 at Kushikatsu Daruma Namba honten: 8981 Y
- Specialty udon lunch at Tsurutontan Kitashinchi: 1560 Y
- 4 deluxe set, tongue, & drinks at Matsusakagyu Yakiniku: 35122 Y
- 2 Omurice at Muguni: 2700 Y
- Pancake brunch at Micasadeco: 5950 Y
- AirBnB stays for 4 adults: $65-67/night
Tennoji Park, tennoji-park.jp 5-55 Chausuyamacho, Tennoji Ward.
Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, kaiyukan.com 1 Chome-1-10 Kaigandori, Minato Ward.
Sumiyoshi Taisha, sumiyoshitaisha.net 2 Chome-9-89 Sumiyoshi, Sumiyoshi Ward.
Osaka Castle, osakacastle.net1-1 Osakajo, Chuo Ward.
Shitennō-ji, shitennoji.or.jp 1-11-18 Shitennoji, Tennoji Ward.
Tower Knives, towerknives.com 1 Chome-4-7 Ebisuhigashi, Naniwa Ward.
JIKKO Cutlery Sakai / 實光刃物, jikko.jp 1 Chome-1-9 Nishikinochonishi, Sakai Ward.
Dotonbori, dotonbori.or.jp/ja 1 Chome-9 Dotonbori, Chuo Ward.
Tenjimbashisuji Shopping Street, tenjin123.com Tenjinbashi, Kita Ward.
Grace Alley salon, gracealley-hs.com Melody-Heim Nakatsu II, 1 Chome-12-11 Nakatsu, Kita Ward. Lovely hair salon that also speaks English.
Shimada Shoten,,sake-shimada.co.jp 3 Chome-5-1 Itachibori, Nishi Ward. Unique store andsake tasting experience. 220 Yen per glass or plate.
Genrokuzushi Sennichimae mawaru-genrokuzusi.co.jp/shop/sennichimaeten2 Chome-11-4 Sennichimae, Chuo Ward
Coco ichibanya, ichibanya.co.jp/english, many locations.
くそオヤジ最後のひとふり, kusooyaji.com 1 Chome-2-23 Jusohonmachi, Yodogawa Ward. Cash only. No English: best to show a photo or have your order written down in Japanese for them, feel free to show our photos!
Kyushu Ramen Kio Namba-NGKmae, kiou.co.jp/ 10-13 Nanbasennichimae, Chuo Ward,
Yoriya Namba-nannan, gourmet-kineya.co.jp/search/details.php?val=1027 Chuo Ward, Nanba, 5 Chome−1−5 なんなんタウン B1F.
Micasadeco&Cafe, micasadecoandcafe.com 1 Chome-2-8 Saiwaicho, Naniwa Ward, Cash only.
Muguni, 2 Chome-9-5 Nishishinsaibashi, Chuo Ward.
Toki Sushi honten, tokisushi.jp 4 Nanbasennichimae, Chuo Ward.
Hakodate Gourmet-kaitenzushi Kantaro Grand Front Osaka, gatten.co.jp/brand/?name=hakodate Kita Ward, Ofukacho, 4−20 ｸﾞﾗﾝﾌﾛﾝﾄ大阪ｼｮｯﾌﾟ＆ﾚｽﾄﾗﾝ南館7F.
Lapoppo farm,lapoppofarm.shop/3 Chome-2-17 Nanba, Chuo Ward.
Matsusakagyu Yakiniku M Hozenji Hanare, matsusaka-projects.com/restaurant/hanareChuo Ward, Nanba, 1 Chome−5−24 だるまビル 2F
Kushikatsu Daruma Namba honten,kushikatu-daruma.com/tenpo_nanba_honten.html 1 Chome-5-24 Nanba, Chuo Ward.
Hop chou la creme – permanently closed!
Tsurutontan Kitashinchi, tsurutontan.co.jp/shop/kitashinchi-kinshoro-udon,Kita Ward, Sonezakishinchi, 1 Chome−4−20 桜橋ＩＭビル B2. The best udon in Japan that we’ve had so far, don’t miss this spot!
お好み焼き 偶 船場丼池店, tabelog.com/osaka/A2701/A270106/270636943 Chome-4-1 Kyutaromachi, Chuo Ward. Great okonomiyaki spot.
Kura sushi, kura-corpo.co.jp/store/detail-cp/193/1 Chome-8-23 Shikitsuhigashi, Naniwa Ward. Conveyor-belt sushi.
Ganko Dotombori, gankofood.co.jp/1 Chome-8-24 Dotonbori, Chuo Ward.
Rikuro Ojisan no Mise, rikuro.co.jp/shoplist/134.html 3 Chome-2-28 Nanba, Chuo Ward. Super fluffy eggy Japanese style cheesecake. A must try if you’re in the Namba area.
Tōdai-ji 406-1 Zoshicho, Nara,
Tsubomiwa Shrine, 160 Kasuganocho, Nara
Kasuga-taisha, 160 Kasuganocho, Nara,
+Tonkatsu Ganko Nara gankofood.co.jp/shop/detail/ton-nara １９, Higashimuki Nakamachi, Nara. Great tonkatsu spot in Nara.