An Introduction to Osaka, Japan's Second City

Sean Pavone

Located on the main island of Honshu, roughly in the center of Japan and just under three hours by train from Tokyo, Osaka is spread across 221 square kilometers and has a population of 2.6 million. During World War II, air raids and bombings leveled almost one-third of of the city, but it was dynamically rebuilt - preserving some historic architecture, as well - and today is the economic heart of western Japan - as well as considered by many the country's foodie capital. Here are some highlights to include on your with Osaka itinerary:


Osaka Castle Park

Built in the late 16th century by the great unifying general, samurai, and imperial regent Toyotomi Hideyoshi, one of Japan's most famous castle looms over this two-square kilometer park. Aside from the 600 cherry trees in Nishinomaru Garden that make it one of Japan's Top 100 hanami parks, there are hundreds of trees that make the grounds beautiful in every season, especially in autumn. Some of the park's highlights:

  • Make sure to stroll by the Ume Grove, and in Omoide-no-mori (Grove of Remembrance).
  • See the monument where Hideyoshi's son Toyotomi Hideyori and his mother Yodo-dono committed seppuku during the seige of the castle by the forces of the then shōgun.
  • Visit the Hōkoku Shrine, built in honor of Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
  • Check out the many gardens, including Nishi-no-Maru Garden, Japanese Garden, Plum Garden, and Peach Garden
  • Walk through the Citizen's Forest, Memorial Forest, Waseda Forest and Forest of Recollections.

Minami (Namba)

The area around Namba station is among the busiest and most entertaining in Osaka, and it's one of the city's main shopping and dining hubs. Don't miss the following highlights:

  • Kuromon Ichiba Market: 200 food stalls spread out along 600 meters. Similar to Shinsaibashi-suji Shopping Arcade, which is also in the area.
  • Dotonbori: the big and bright signboards of restaurants, theatres, and shops will dazzle you.
  • Namba Hips: a mall with everything, including an archery range
  • Amerikamura: American-style shops and restaurants
  • Namba Yasaka Shrine: a major place of worship, dedicated to Susano-o-no-Mikoto, Shinto god of the sea and storms.
  • Den Den Town: Electric and electronic bazaar
  • Namba Parks: a mall with an incredible rooftop garden.
  • Hozen-ji Yokocho: An Edo-period Buddhist temple
  • National Bunraku Theater: A Kabuki puppet theatre, one of the very best.
  • Shochikuza Theater: Another venue for some of Japan's best kabuki performances.
  • Hozenji Yokocho Alley: A traditional Japanese-style foodie alley.
  • Kamigata Ukiyoe Museum: This features woodblock prints of famous Kabuki actors.

Kuromon Market

This market has been around for 170 years, preserving Osaka's traditions in a way few other places can. While they do sell apparel, electronics, and other paraphernalia, the more than 200 mostly mom-and-pop vendors at this market are most famous for their food, spread across 600 meters - no better place to experience Osaka cuisine.For example:

  • Check out the fresh produce, from budget friendly to exorbitantly expensive - all fresh and bright.
  • Have some takoyaki, grilled scallops served with soy sauce and butter, sushi and sashimi, snacks from the oden stall.
  • Browse the assorted seafood like crab, prawns, unagi, tuna, kaizen-don and baby octopus.

File:Mint Museum Osaka Japan02s5.jpg

Mint Museum

There are more than 4,000 items on exhibit in this museum on Japanese coin and currency, housed in a building that used to be a thermal power plant and sits on an avenue lined with cherry trees that bloom spectacularly in spring.  Highlights include:

  • Illuminated displays of old coins, including one minted by Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
  • A scale model of the Japanese mint from 1873.
  • The city's 1876 Great Clock.
  • A balance once used to test the purity of gold.
  • Japan's oldest double-entry accounting ledger.
  • An antique Hepburn Japanese-English dictionary.
  • A touch section including an antique gold coin chest (try to lift it!) and gold/silver ingots.
  • A collection of Olympic medals.
  • Japan’s oldest Western-style gas lamp.


Abeno Harukas

At 300 meters this is Osaka's tallest skyscraper, and also Japan's second tallest building. Its attractions include:

  • The Haruka 300 observation deck on floors 58-60, offering 360-degree panoramas of Osaka and a section with glass flooring.
  • A cafe and an inner court on the 58th floor.
  • The Abeno Harukas Kintetsu Department Store, Japan's largest, with 100,000 square meters of retail space and a rooftop plaza.
  • The Abeno Harukas Art Museum, with temporary exhibitions of Western and Buddhist and a nice garden terrace.

Nanba Grand Kagetsu

A theatre built in 1987, it has become famous for Yoshimoto-style Japanse comedy. Most of the laughs focus on monologues and dialogues. But the antics of the Japanese performers, even when foreign visitors can't make sense of all of it, are still a riot! The acrobatic stunts are certainly impressive. Before the main events, rakugo and manzai acts will warm you up. It also hosts concerts and regular theatre. There are usually two performances daily, more on the weekends.

Grand Front Osaka

This is a straightforward commercial complex, with 266 international and regional shops and restaurants, spread over six floors, connected to Osaka Station by elevated walkways, and with gardens on both street and rooftop levels. It also has the Intercontinental Hotel Osaka, a convention center, and showrooms, and if you're an electronics geek, check out the Panasonic Center, this company's flagship showroom.

Osaka Museum of History

Located across from the moat of the Osaka Castle Park (and with great views of the castle), this modern museum's exhibits inside explore Osaka's evolution - cultural, social, technological - from ancient to modern times. Each floor is themed after a specific period in the city's 1,400-year history, with highlights including a miniature recreation of the Naniwanomiya Palace and shopping arcades during the Showa Period. The journey from bottom to top is utterly fascinating. The lower floors have a restaurant and shop.

How To Get to Osaka

By Air
: There are two major airports near Osaka, Osaka International Airport and Kansai International Airport.

By Train: Shinkansen bullet trains link major cities of Japan to Osaka.

By Ferry: Ferries from all around Japan arrive at the Osaka Port International Ferry Terminal, the Osaka Nanko Ferry Terminal, and Osaka Nanko Kamome Ferry Terminal.

By Road: Take the Meishin Expressway or the Chugoku Expressway or the Nishi-Meihan Expressway to connect with the Hanshin Expressway which runs through the city. Regular buses run on this route. These buses connect Osaka to cities such as Sendai, Tokyo, Nagoya, Hiroshima, and Takamatsu.

How To Get Around

By Subway
: Osaka has Japan's second-most extensive subway network after Tokyo.

By Train: The JR Osaka Loop Line runs in a loop around Osaka connecting outskirts of the city.

By Bicycle: With dedicated bike lanes, Osaka is definitely a bicycle-friendly city, allowing you to explore it at your own pace.

By Taxi: Osaka tourist taxi drivers are very helpful and take you to explore all the attractions.

By Ferry: Municipal ferries connect the harborside areas of the city. You can also travel by the Osaka Waterbus or Captain Line.

Check out our Osaka itinerary 2 days that will let you experience the true colors of the city beautifully.

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