Osaka Attractions That Aren't Just for Tourists

Osaka Attractions That Aren't Just for Tourists

Visiting Japan's second largest city? Here are some of the best sights and attractions locals love, that you and your group can visit.

People have asked me: “What makes Osaka different from Tokyo?” My answer: A lot!

Osaka and Tokyo may be close regarding size, population, and economy, but the culture and personality of Japan’s two largest cities couldn’t be more different. While Tokyo is subtle, luxurious, and reserved; Osaka is flamboyant, casual, and a bit on the loud side by Japanese standards. Because of their polar-opposite cultures, Tokyoites and Osakans have even developed small rivalry.

I honestly can’t even begin to explain the differences between the two cities so - in my opinion - the best way to answer that question would be for you to see and experience their differences yourself.

Here are some tourist attractions from Osaka to add to your itinerary:

1. Osaka Castle

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The shining symbol of Japan’s second largest city, Osaka Castle is a must-visit for every visitor heading down this side of Kansai. The original Osaka Castle was built by the samurai and politician Toyotomi Hideyoshi who succeeded the former lord Oda Nobunaga. The castle was built in the year 1597, a year before Toyotomi Hideyoshi died. The original castle was destroyed in the year 1615 along with the Hideyoshi lineage. Although the castle that stands today is a mere replica, the builders have done their best to maintain the original architecture and design of the castle to give visitors an authentic feel of the former feudal stronghold.

Inside the castle, a museum narrating the history of the castle and its former lord-- Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who built the original castle the replica is based on. On the top floor, a viewing deck is available for visitors to get a good look around the area—much like how a feudal lord might have once done.

After exploring the castle, take a stroll around the Nishinomaru Garden located just outside the western citadel. The garden offers an excellent view of the castle and is a great place for cherry blossom viewing during spring. The garden has over 600 cherry trees planted in it that’ll offer visitors a sight to behold when they’re in full bloom.

Schedule:
Castle Tower – Dec. 28 to Jan 1
Nishinomaru Garden – Every Monday

Hours: 9:00am – 5:00pm

Entrance Fees:
Castle Tower – 600 yen
Nishinomaru Garden - 200 – 500 yen

2. Dotonbori

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There’s no better place in the city that spells out Osakan culture as clear as Dotonbori. Found in Osaka’s Minami or Southern district, Dotonbori is one of Osaka’s prime tourist destinations for both local and foreign tourists. The district once served as the city’s theatre district before becoming the booming entertainment center it is today. The brightly lit street, flashing neon billboards, and 3D shop signs that line the Dotonbori canal are all characteristic of Osaka’s flashy and eccentric personality. The most famous of all the neon signs is the Glico Man, a large neon sign bearing the image of a man with his arms stretched out in victory. This is the popular symbol of the homegrown confectionary company Glico.

Besides the numerous Karaoke bars, canal cruise, and the energetic atmosphere of the area, there is one thing Dotonbori is most famous for: food. Yes, the famous Osaka saying “Kuidaore!” which roughly translates to “ eat till you drop”, is most evident in this side of the city. There are ramen shops, sushi bars, yakitori restaurants, countless okonomiyaki and takoyaki stalls, and even restaurants specializing in Fugu (a poisonous puffer fish that’s considered to be a delicacy in Japan). True enough, Dotonbori is the place to be for hard-core foodies.

If you’re looking to shop, the Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade has enough luxury boutiques and international brand shops to fill your need. However, if you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option, Amerikamura is the best place for some bargain buys and thrift shops that are all of quality and very fashionable.

Schedule: Always open
Hours: Varies per establishment
Entrance Fee: Free

3. Amerikamura

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If you’ve always wanted to shop at Harajuku but haven’t the time to drag yourself all the way up to Tokyo, then Amerikamura is the perfect place for you! Locally known by its nickname “Amemura”, Amemura is Osaka’s Harajuku counterpart. It’s a district famous for its fashionable and youthful boutiques that attract young Japanese fashionistas like moths to a flame. This area is lined with fashionable goods with a price range that plays around the affordable to moderately expensive.

The place is called "Amerikamura" because back in the 70s, all the warehouses in the area were transformed into small stores that sell affordable clothing from America. The clothes sold in Amemura then were all imported clothes than range from vintage, jeans, quality second-hand items, or factory overruns. Now, many decades later, this area is still famous for selling affordable fashion items. The area stays true to its name and features a lot of quirky, American themed stores, cafes, and decorations. You can call it the “hipster” place to get clothes for Osakans. Besides the clothes, Amemura lures even more young visitors through its vibrant nightlife. The area has numerous bars, clubs, and cafes that open until the wee hours.

Schedule: Always open
Hours: Varies per establishment
Entrance Fee: Free

4. Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade

Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

After strolling around and poking your head in the quirky stalls at Amemura, step up your shopping game by dropping by the mega shopping district of Shinsaibashi. If Amemura is for those hipster teens looking for vintage secondhand clothes sold at bargain prices, Shinsaibashi is for the sophisticated city dweller with a little extra in the pocket. This district is considered to be Osaka’s primary shopping area and has almost all the international brand name stores to satisfy your luxury shopping needs.

If you want to drop by but don’t feel like emptying your pockets at Chanel, Gucci, Hermès, and all the other luxury stores, Shinsaibashi also has H&M, UNIQLO and other local boutiques that sell exquisite items. There are also secondhand stores that specialize in branded goods. If you need another reason to do some shopping here, most of the stores in Shinsaibashi honor the tax exemption for tourists provided that you reach the minimum spending amount. Besides clothing shops, there are also numerous cafes and restaurants for you to sit and take a break from all the walking around.

Schedule: Always open
Hours: 10:00am - 9:00pm
Entrance Fee: Free

5. Kuromon Ichiba Market

Osaka is known as the the food capital of Japan. A quick stroll around Dotonbori area and train station areas will tell you just how serious Osakans take their food. Here, there's a saying that means "eat yourself to bankruptcy!" or "Kuidaore!" in the local dialect. Besides being the country's foodie paradise, Osaka is also has a lively fishing community that traverses through the Osaka Bay area.

Put Osaka's love for food and the abundance of fresh seafood together, and you have the Kuromon Ichiba Market. This market has been a go-to place for locals and tourists looking for a convenient place to sample and purchase fresh and quality ingredients. Since it opened over 100 years ago, Kuromon Ichiba has evolved into a more all-round place to do some shopping for clothes and other necessities. But of course, the main attraction at Kuromon Ichiba is still the fresh and delicious seafood. You'll see stall after stall of mouthwatering Japanese dishes, from the familiar sushi to the more exotic stuffed baby octopus you won't find anywhere else.

If you love seafood and munching while walking like me, take note of how much you're spending! It's VERY easy to loose track of your budget while food tripping in Kuromon Ichiba. The prices here are a bit steep, but the quality of the food is beyond compare!

Schedule: Always open
Hours: Depending on the stall
Entrance Fee: Free

6. Universal Studios Japan

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If Tokyo has Tokyo Disney Resorts, Osaka has Universal Studios. Second only to Tokyo Disneyland in popularity, Universal Studios Japan is a must-visit for kids and kids at heart. The theme park was the first of the Universal Studios theme park franchise built in Asia—before the construction of Universal Studios Singapore. The park is 39 hectares in size and is comprised of 10 themed areas namely: New York, Hollywood, San Francisco, The Old West, Jurassic Park, Universal Wonderland, Universal Studios Lagoon, and the latest attraction The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Each area has its own themed rides, restaurants, and stalls to leave even adults grinning to their ears. One of the park's latest and most popular attraction is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Only Universal Studios Japan and Universal Studios Orlando have this section of the park. What makes the USJ version so special, is the Hogwarts Replica along with a miniature Black Lake to complete the look. This part of the park is often jam packed with tourists and those hoping to visit would most likely have set a time in advance to enter the area. Visitors can claim a time pass at the entrance of the Harry Potter area. The ticket indicates a specific timeframe when the visitor will be able to enter the area.

Most days, it's not just The Wizarding World of Harry Potter that's full of people. The park is often packed full of local and foreign visitors, so be sure to purchase a quick pass on holidays and weekends.
Once you've had your fill of rides and exploration in the theme park, you’ll find Universal Citywalk Osaka right outside. This area is a long stretch of hotels, restaurants, booths, cafes, etc. Here, you'll also find the popular Takoyaki Museum that features the different varieties of takoyaki, one of Osaka's most popular snacks.

Schedule: Always open

Hours:
High season – 10:00am – 6:00pm
Low Season – 9:00am – 9:00pm

Entrance Fee: 4,880 – 6,980 yen

7. Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine

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There are thousands upon thousands of shrines and temples scattered all over Japan, each with their own story —this one, given its age, will have a pretty long one to tell. Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine is one of the oldest shrines in Japan, with its construction pre-dating the introduction of Buddhism in the country and the influence of mainland Asian architecture.

Because the shrine was constructed such a long time ago, the temple is one of the only remaining buildings that show Japanese architecture and design before it was influenced by China and other neighboring countries. The temple enshrines the kami or shinto deity believed to be a protector of travellers and seafarers, making it a particularly important shrine to the port city of Osaka. There are four main shrines within the temple grounds and bridge that leads to the entrance. The bridge, called the Sorihashi Bridge, is particularly popular due to its high arch and unique design.

Schedule: Always open
Hours: 6:00am – 5:00pm
Entrance Fee: Free

8. Minoo Park

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Once you grow tired of all the bright lights and towering skyscrapers, maybe it’s time to unwind and give nature a visit. Minoo Park is only 30 minutes away from Umeda and makes for a perfect short getaway near the city. The park is most popular during autumn, when the leaves of the trees change colors - from green, to varying shades of red and yellow.

If you’re looking for more than just a leisurely stroll, there’s a 3-kilometer hiking trail that follows the Minoo River. The trail leads to the park’s main attraction and namesake: the Minoo Waterfall. The waterfall is 33 meters high and can be viewed from a viewing platform near its base. On the way to the waterfall, there are numerous shops, small restaurants, and some temples where you can rest your feet or have a bite to eat after a long day of walking around.

Schedule: Always open
Hours: Depending on establishment
Entrance Fee: Free

9. Umeda Sky Building

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The northern side of Osaka is mostly composed of tall buildings, modern landscapes, and busy office workers. Umeda is one of Osaka’s two main city centers, the other being Namba. If Namba is all about bright neon lights, late-night karaoke bars, and in-your-face decorations, Umeda is more subdued and serious.

When I say serious, that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s no place to have fun. In fact, Umeda has numerous places for you to dine, shop, and explore the modern side of Osaka’s culture. HEP is a large shopping and entertainment complex famous among the younger crowd located right beside Osaka Station in Umeda. The place is pretty easy to locate considering there’s a large Ferris wheel that marks where the place is. But the real place to visit when in Umeda is, of course, the Umeda Sky Building.

Umeda Sky Building, or "Umeda Sky Biiru", is a 173 meter tall skyscraper found in the middle of the Umeda area. The building primarily serves as an office for numerous businesses such as Toshiba and Mazda, but also doubles as a popular tourist attraction. Visitors can pay an entrance fee to gain access to the building's rooftop viewing observatory and the popular Floating Garden Observatory. From the viewing decks, visitors will be able to see the entire Osaka bay area. Besides the viewing decks, there's also a small historically themed food court in the building's basement.

Schedule: Always Open
Hours: 10:00am - 10:30pm
Entrance Fee: 800 yen

10. Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan

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Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan is one of the largest public aquariums in the world and one of the grandest in the country. Inside, visitors can view 27 tanks and 16 main exhibits as they walk through the spiral walkway from the 8th floor down.

The exhibits are separated according to the area from which the specimens are derived. The aquarium has over 30,000 marine creatures on display from around 620 species from marine environments. Besides the magnificent sea creatures on display, the aquarium also houses numerous kinds of birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals. The specimens are derived from different areas within the Pacific Rim region.

Besides providing families an opportunity to learn and have fun, the aquarium also conducts research on marine diversity and biology—particularly on the nearby Osaka Bay area. The aquarium also hosts numerous seasonal activities such as the Winter Illuminations, when the aquarium is covered in decorative bright lights.

Schedule: See website for specific closing days
Hours: 10:00am – 8:00pm
Entrance Fee: 2,300 yen

11. Spa World

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Instagram photo by @bozzi_ashva

Public bathing is one of the many aspects of traditional Japanese culture that has stood the test of time and remains to be widely practiced to this day. While bathing with a bunch of strangers may seem very odd to the uninitiated foreigner, rest assured that it’s a perfectly normal thing to do here. The practice originated during a time when indoor plumbing was not a common luxury even the rich households had. To keep themselves clean and hygienic, towns and villages would have at least one public bathing house that sourced its water from a natural spring. The Japanese believe that the warm water of the spring along with the added minerals from underground are beneficial to ones health is one of the secrets of long life. Today, with the existence of affordable indoor plumbing, the practice became less of a necessity and more of a tradition. Locals would come to public bathing houses for the purpose of socialization and to relax the mind and body with friends and family.

For those of you who have a curiosity or a taste for adventure, a visit to Spa World may is a good place to start. While it isn’t exactly a traditional onsen or hot spring, it is a very tourist-friendly place to initiate yourself into the custom. Spa World is what locals call a “super onsen” for its size and number of bathing areas. This super onsen has all the makings of a traditional one except that it has around 14 themed bathing areas for visitors to choose from.

Themes are divided into western and eastern themed areas and are separated by gender. There are months when the western themed areas are only available to males and the eastern areas for females, and vice versa. The details as to which area is open for each gender can be found on their website.

Schedule: Open most days (check website for maintenance schedule)
Hours: 10:00am – 8:45am the next day
Entrance Fee: 1,300 – 3,000 yen

If this list didn’t give you enough reasons to come and visit the city, I’ll give another one: food. Osaka is also known to be the “kitchen of Japan” for its delicious local cuisine and the passion of the locals for food. As they say in Osaka, “Kuidaore!,” which roughly translates to “Eat yourself to bankruptcy."

Once you’ve had your fill of temples, castles, shrines, and theme parks, get yourself a nice Osakan meal to top off another great Japanese adventure. Enjoy!

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