With a fevered pace second to only Tokyo, Osaka is the Japanese urban travel experience you’ve always imagined. On the surface Osaka is much of what you’d expect in a post-war Japanese city, a drab endless jungle of concrete. Flying into nearby Kansai airport puts that enormity in perspective. As far as the eye can see a sea of washed-out Lego-block buildings spreads.
Don’t mistake it though: despite it’s colourless outward appearance from above, Osaka is a fantastic place to explore. Sure, it’s not Tokyo. And to suggest otherwise would be an insult to any proud Osakan.
It’s this immense pride and a cagy lust for life that brings an energy to Osaka that’s summarily contagious. Missing may be Kyoto’s sophistication or the tamer outlook of Sapporo. But what Osaka does, it does well.
Walking along Dotonbori is enough to confirm the city’s energy, though through the tastebuds though is perhaps the best way to experience this buzzing city. No Japanese city takes the kuidaore (“eat until you drop”) attitude more seriously than Osaka.
Not sure where to begin? Let’s take a quick look at the top 10 things to do in Osaka, Japan.
Table of Contents
- Want to start exploring Osaka? Here are the top 10 things to do in Osaka, Japan.
- Summary: The best things to do in Osaka, Japan
Want to start exploring Osaka? Here are the top 10 things to do in Osaka, Japan.
Nailing down what to do in Osaka isn’t such a difficult task. This immense city of almost 9 million will always keep you busy! From the blazing colours of Dotonbori to the ageless graces of Osaka Castle, there’s something to snag your attention in every corner of Osaka.
Unarguably the most famous landmark in Osaka, the magnificent Osaka Castle is a symbol of ancient tradition in the history of Japan. It was built in the 16th century to herald the formation of the country of Japan from warring states.
Today, the castle houses an expansive museum that reiterates the traditions of Edo and Azuchi-Momoyama periods. The premises are praiseworthy, too.
There’s a lawn-covered park dotted with endless rows of cherry blossom trees that take on a delicate pink color in spring, making for a lovely Japanese image with the Osaka castle in the backdrop.
Plenty of waterways run around Osaka Castle. You can take the water bus service that cruises through the river and gives you the opportunity to get a bird’s-eye view of the famous historical sites of the city.
If you visit in summer, you can participate in the vibrant Osaka Tenjin-matsuri Festival and marvel at the gorgeous views of the fireworks shooting up in the air, as well as the fleet of ships going down the river.
And if you’re a coin aficionado, you can always visit the Osaka Zohei Museum located nearby on the western bank of the river. This museum is almost 100 years old and showcases more than 4,000 fascinating exhibits.
In spring, the spectacular backdrop of fauna at Osaka Castle paints a pretty picture, drawing large masses of crowds from around the globe.
An upscale section of Osaka City, Dotonbori is characterized by countless restaurants, amusement facilities and theaters that showcase captivating Bunraku performances, as well as contemporary art forms. Dotonbori is often seen as the symbol of Osaka. It’s home to the picturesque Dotonbori-gawa Canal that’s lined with masses of neon signs and illuminated advertisements, making the area even merrier and more upbeat at night.
The stone-paved streets of Dotonbori host numerous opportunities for entertainment; you can slink into one of the local eateries to have a hearty Japanese meal, or shop for ancient artifacts reminiscent of the early 17th century.
Whatever you do, don’t forget to visit the nearby Hozen-ji Temple. Click some pictures against the paper lanterns that hang on the temple gate and give off a peaceful orange glow at night.
One of the most iconic landmarks of Osaka, Tsutenkaku Tower has appeared in hundreds of movies and attracts up to 700,000 tourists every year. It was built in 1912 to herald the beginning of a new world. Often touted as the Eifel Tower of Japan, this magnificent tower stands a whopping 103 metres tall, and originally means “building leading to heaven.”
Tsutenkaku Tower is not just an object of wonder. There are plenty of things to do here, too.
First off, you can enjoy a unique view of the city skyline from the observation deck on the 5th floor. You can also get a bird’s-eye view of Billiken, a deity who is believed to bring fortune if you touch the soles of his feet. Then there is a globe-like neon sign on the terrace of the tower that shows the weather forecast for the day using a striking interplay of colors.
And, if you are looking for some hardcore entertainment, you can visit the Tsutenkaku Theater in the ground floor. The theatre showcases splendid performances of manzai (comical monologue), rakugo (comical storytelling), and even local enka (ballad) artists on weekends.
Hozenji Yokocho is a small yet upbeat street located to the north of Hozenji Temple. In fact, the term “Hozenji Yokocho” itself means “street beside Hozenji”.
This celebrated and cobbled alleyway takes on a lively persona at night when the neon lights come in around the 60 odd bars, cafes and cookie-cutter eateries. The elegant buildings and swaying street lamps exude an old-world charm that make you feel as though you have traveled a hundred years back in time.
This is also the gastronomic hub of Osaka. Thousands of tourists throng here to sample some mouthwatering Japanese delicacies including kushiage kebabs, okonomiyaki savory pancakes, teppanyaki grills and pork cutlets. This seemingly tiny alleyway is even the meeting spot of aspiring chefs who come here to train in Japanese cuisine.
The best way to start off with an eatery around Hozenji Yokocho is to follow your nose to one that looks scrumptious enough and just dig in.
Even if you’re feeling too sick to gorge on street food, you can always visit the nearby Hozenji Temple. Adorned with colorful lanterns, the temple gates are beautiful to behold. They’re believed to guard the spirit of Fudo, enshrined in the form of “Mizukake-Fudo,” a moss-covered statue that grants your wish every time you pour water on it!
Osaka Museum of Housing and Living
A remarkable recreational facility situated in the northeastern area of Kita, the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living stands today as the only reminder of the good old days. It depicts with stunning accuracy, the life and times of ancient Japan. The museum has managed to recreate life-sized buildings, streets, as well as WWII scenes from the glorious history of Japan. It also houses a model of the entire city of Osaka during the Edo period.
Visiting Osaka Museum of Housing and Living, you’ll get a good idea of how Osaka would have looked like centuries before. Learn more about Japan’s artistic and scientific advancements, as well as gain unique insights about the city’s culture through interactive exhibits and artifacts that depict different eras of history with striking finesse.
Osaka may be rife with prestigious Buddhist shrines, but the Sumiyoshi-taisha Shrine deserves a special mention. This impressive shrine embodies the true spirit of the Shinto religion and represents the island nation’s mythology and heritage with perfection.
The shrine was built in the third century in a simple Sumiyoshi-zukuri architectural style, characterized by simple lines rather than flamboyant curves and bold colors. Lush green grounds and a beautiful flora that changes every season surround Sumiyoshi-taisa Shrine.
If you looking to rejuvenate in a serene spot away from the hustle bustle of the city, then a quick trip to Sumiyoshi-taisha Shrine is a must! Strolling in the beautiful landscaped gardens around is a serene experience; you can even rent a bike to ride along the Taiko Bridge that spans a tiny pond and lies ahead of the traditional stone gate. Whether you are interested in religion or architecture, this shrine is worth a visit.
Kema Sakuranomiya Park
A serene riverside park sporting clear lakes, lush greenery and up to 4,700 gorgeous cherry terrace, Kema Sakuranomiya Park is built on the terrace bridge spanning Temmabashi Bridge and Kema Araizeki. Incorporating timeless pieces of architecture such as the Water Square and Mint, as well as clean walking trails, this park is a great place for jogging, strolling and even doing yoga.
Kema Sakuranomiya Park has to be your final go-to spot on your Osaka itinerary. It’s surreal expanse will relax your mind and replenish your energy stores. The sight of the endless rows of cherry trees will stay in your memories long after you’ve returned to the humdrum of daily life. You can also spot some exotic birds here and take magnificent pictures of cherry blossoms to brag to your friends back home.
National Bunraku Theater
An ode to the popular Bunraku form of puppet theater developed in the 17th century, Bunraku Theater is recreational center that holds several memorable plays every year. Each is characterized by an intriguing combination of music, puppetry and storytelling.
Skilled and trained puppeteers move puppets harmoniously to deliver an enthralling theatrical performance to the audience. The story of the play is narrated by a trained chanter who serenades the different characters.
Besides enjoying a magical evening imbibing this traditional art form, you can visit the ground floor of the museum for a free exhibition on Bunraku. There’s a reading room, as well, for those who wish to know more about Japan’s performing arts.
Don’t let hunger come between you and your love for the theatre. Attack your appetite with a Japanese lunch boxes (Bento) sold next to the entrance.
Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
Touted as one of the biggest aquariums of the globe, Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan is famous for showcasing a dizzying array of marine life, right from Arctic sea animals to dynamic tropical fishes.
The entire aquarium is designed in the form of a spiral. Visitors explore the deeper segments of the ocean life before moving on to shore-dwelling animals such as seals, penguins and sea otters.
The whale shark, located in the central tank and accompanied by sharks and stingrays, is definitely one of the biggest attractions at the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan. Tanks on the ground floor specialize in marine animals that visitors can touch and caress.
It’s difficult to be bored when touring the most enigmatic site in Osaka. The views of the otherworldly water tanks are sure to make your eyes pop. Watch as the whale sharks swim slowly like submarines in the massive tank, stirring both feelings of fear and awe.
And when you become famished from all that photography and gaping, head off to the nearby restaurant and gorge on Japanese delicacies while enjoying views of the ocean ahead. You might just be in time to capture the exquisite view of the sunset over Osaka Port. Oh, and don’t forget to take a picture with the life-sized replica of a whale shark at the souvenir corner!
Dotted with endless stores of high-end brands, Shinsaibashi is the ultimate stop for fashion-lovers in Osaka. However, the neighborhood is not just a mecca for shopping.
Shinsaibashi is home to some exciting attractions as well, ranging from luxurious fine dining restaurants to fun nightclubs. After all, shopping and dining at Shinsaibashi are indeed among the most entertaining things to do in Osaka!
The most fascinating part of Shinsaibashi is the vast 580 meters-long shopping arcade that runs from Dotonbori to Nagaghori-dori Street. It contains up to 180 stores including extensive department stores, independent fashion boutiques, brand retailers, tea shops and cafes.
You can shop till you drop in Shinsaibashi, and discover some of the latest fashion trends in clothing, jewelry, footwear and accessories.
Don’t forget to make your way through the offbeat alleys to lay your hands on the more traditional handicrafts such as scrolls and kimonos.
Summary: The best things to do in Osaka, Japan
Still unsure of how to plan out your trip to Osaka? Get started quicker with these last-minute suggestions:
- Want the quintessential Japanese urban experience? Scroll along Dotonbori at night to witness the endless blaze of neon surging into the sky.
- Time to chow down on some Osaka food? Duck into the restaurants and eateries around Hozenji Yokocho to fill your belly with the city’s most appetizing delights.
- Feel the need for relaxation? Find your inner peace in a quiet corner in the grand expanses of Kema Sakuranomiya Park.