We love to travel, and we love Japan. Since 2010, we’ve tried to come back at least once a year and experience the wonder of the land of the rising sun. We’ve been to Tokyo and Nagoya, but we’ve been to Osaka the most times. Try to visit between the months of March-May and October-November, where it’s neither too hot nor too cold. June-Sept is usually hot as hell, while Dec-Feb is usually cold as hell (unless you like it in hell). Here are a few of my experiences on the whats, wheres, and hows of Osaka.
We’ve never taken a guided tour in Osaka, so I became the de facto tour guide. All the info I’ve gathered comes from our good friend Google and his sister, Google Maps. There are also numerous free apps (I use Rail Map Lite) for your phone to help you navigate the complex trains and stations around Osaka. Even without these, though, the stations are full of helpful information (yes, in English) that, depending on your patience and sense of direction, will eventually get you where you want to go. I’ll organize this “guide” in chronological order.
Starting with getting into Osaka via Kansai Airport. We usually get our Yen right after we get out of immigration since I found it hard to find a money changer in the city, but our friend and fellow blogger, Odessa, recently suggested that we get our Yen in Manila for a better rate. I usually book a hotel in the Namba area for two reasons: it’s an awesome place to base your stay, and it’s an easy train ride from the airport.
There are 2 trains going to the city: the JR Airport Express and the Nankai Line. The Nankai Line gets you to Namba Station, while the JR line takes you to Osaka (Umeda) station. If you’re going to more than 2 cities outside of Osaka accessible to the JR Lines (like Kyoto, Nara, and Kobe), I would recommend the 3 or 5 day JR pass, which gives you unlimited train rides (including the Airport train). But if not, you’re better off just buying tickets at the station (or getting a prepaid card, which I haven’t tried, so I won’t discuss it here).
We usually get a hotel with a good breakfast selection, using that qualifier to balance out the cost. Our hotel selection process goes like this: near Namba station, good enough breakfast, the pictures featured in Agoda doesn’t look like a prostitute was killed there. We’ve been using Agoda to book our hotels for a while now, and we’ve collected enough points to either get rooms for free, or get a big discount on 5-star hotels. We stayed at the Osaka Floral Inn with a big group, and we were surprised to find a big room with 2 big beds. We could’ve booked fewer rooms and it would still fit our big group. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but we were very happy with the rooms and breakfast. It also sits right at the entrance of Shinsaibashi, so the location was ideal. Unfortunately, we haven’t been back there since, it seemed to always be fully booked. We’ve also tried Hotel Il Cuore Namba. This is way classier and a bit more expensive than Floral Inn, and is just a few steps from Namba station. The latest hotel we’ve tried is APA Hotel Namba, which is another business hotel. This is the farthest hotel from Namba Station we’ve tried, and on the last day I found out this was closer to the JR Namba station. If you’re staying here, I would suggest taking the Airport Limousine Bus instead of the train, as the bus station is much closer to this hotel.
I would relegate this section to our other contributors like 0de3s5a, since we usually don’t have a planned itinerary for food. We usually walk-in restaurants that have pretty pictures when hunger finds us, so I can’t really make any specific recommendations. What I can say, though, is to dispel the seemingly popular notion that eating in Japan is expensive. While it’s not hard to find expensive food, it’s equally easy to find reasonably priced food, and I’m not talking about the convenience store variety kind. You can get awesome tonkatsu, gyoza, sushi, and even bentos in the Y300-Y900/person range (P120-P370). All you have to do is walk around (and some of these restos are even in the big malls).
Places to Go
Namba and Umeda
If you took my hotel recommendation, then you’re already here. Commonly accessed through the Namba station, this area is where you basically do your food and shopping duties. Dotonbori, Osaka’s famous food strip, is also here, as well as the long covered shopping street of Shinsaibashi.
Whether you’re a budget shopper or a splurger, you will find something here. You will find Uniqlo, Apple, H&M, Tokyu Hands (a giant craft/DIY store), Forever 21, high-end brands, as well as numerous Daiso stores in this area. Don’t miss Namba Walk as well, which is the underground shopping network that connects the train stations under Namba station. There are plenty of shopping and dining options here. A bit southeast of Namba Station is DenDen town, a place to visit if you’re a big Anime fan. Here you will find maid cafes, gaming areas, and toy shops. It is the equivalent of Akihabara in Tokyo. Another commercial shopping center is Umeda. We haven’t explored that area well (another reason to return). We’ve only extensively explored Yodabashi Camera, a big shopping complex for gadgets, clothes, and toys, as well as a collection of restaurants at the top. This is a must-go for me, as I am an avid toy shopper. You might also have some great deals here with huge discounts for gadgets and accessories (including bags and luggage). Yodabashi Camera can be accessed directly from the Umeda train station.
Osaka Aquarium and Tempozan Market
After getting awestruck by the giant manta rays and spider crabs at Osaka Aquarium, cross-over to the Tempozan Market to get some meals and do some shopping. If your kids still have energy, tour them around the Lego Discovery park in the same building. Use Google Maps to determine if you can reach it by bus (Bus 88), as it drops off/picks up right at Tempozan Market. We used to take the train here, and some of our groupmates complained about the long walk.
I know the first thing that comes to mind when “Kobe” is mentioned is beef, but unfortunately, I cannot eat beef anymore. Kobe is about an hour away from Osaka by train, and in the two times that we’ve been there, we’ve only been visiting one area: IKEA, UCC Coffee Museum, and Kobe Science Museum.
These three places are all within crossing distance from each other. After letting the kids expend all their energy in the science museum, we took our lunch at Ikea (probably a force of habit from living in Los Angeles). Check the websites for museum closures, as museums are usually closed on Mondays (though in this case, the coffee museum has a different schedule than the science museum, so plan your trip accordingly).
If you love deer, walking, and temples, then head on to Nara, about an hour’s train ride away. It’s pretty easy to get to the deer park and Todai-Ji Temple, which features giant buddhas and miniature dioramas. If you
want an unforgettable experience with the deer, buy a bundle of deer crackers the vendors are selling there. You will have a new appreciation for Bambi. We usually spend the morning and have lunch in this area. You can be back in Osaka for some more shopping as early as 3pm.
Aside from the usual Universal Studios rides and features, probably the main reason to come here is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It can be tricky getting in though, as apparently you need some kind of lottery ticket to avoid the long lines (and there are long lines, every single day, whether it’s a holiday or not). If you know Japanese or someone who can navigate a Japanese website, get your reserved and special passes to Harry Potter on the Universal Studios Japanese website (yup, it’s not available in English). And it wouldn’t be Universal Studios Japan without Hello Kitty.
You will find live Hello Kitty bands, Hello Kitty fashion museums, HK cotton candy…you get the idea. If you decide to skip the park, you can also stroll around Universal City walk to eat and shop.
A trip to Osaka is not complete if we don’t bring shopping bags home from the following budget shops: Daiso (Y100), 3 Coin (Y300, found in the subway shopping centers of Umeda and Namba, as well as in the covered street shopping center of Shinsaibashi), and Seria (another Y100 store, classier than Daiso). These shops are all over Osaka, a quick consult on Google Maps will help you find them.
Other Places to Go
Another point of interest is the Nissin Ramen Museum
in Ikeda (Ikeda station, accessible from Umeda Station). It’s about 30 minutes away from Umeda. There is a tourist guide right at the Ikeda station exit, and is about a 10-minute walk to the museum. Aside from learning about the history and evolution of the cup noodle (free admission), you can also customize your own Cup Noodle. So if you want a shrimp-chicken-beef with egg and curry cup noodle, you can make it here! Also visit Osaka Castle for some history and culture,
but expect to walk for a bit as it is a huge complex and far away from the train station.
As you can see, we’ve barely scratched the surface of what we can do in Osaka. We haven’t even explored Kyoto so much (about an hour’s train ride away) except for the Toei Studio Park. We’ve barely explored Kobe. Osaka and the cities nearby are huge, and we’re looking forward to visiting it again numerous times and still discover new places every time.