Port city Osaka is known for its urban diversity, but it’s gotten the most attention as the “nation’s kitchen”. Experiences range from affordable to high-end, so here’s a guide for an adventure that won’t break the bank.
Day 1: Local quirks
Begin at Wad Omotenashi, a stylish café-gallery that serves traditional Japanese teas, and cool off with its green tea shaved ice (US$6.50; 1-9-14 Shinmachi). From there, walk south to Namba Yasaka Shrine (2-9-19 Motomachi) for a photo op with a massive and menacing lion head statue. The compact shrine is ostentatious and unorthodox, and is one of the nation’s most unique.
Further along northwards, in Dotonbori, the recently renovated, elongated Dotonbori Ferris Wheel offers 15-minute rides (US$5.50 per person) that elevate passengers to about 80m above the city center district. Belonging to discount retail chain Don Quijote, the wheel operates on a track that’s attached to the side of a building occupied by one of the chain’s stores. Get on to enjoy expansive views of the urban landscape.
Next, jump on a train to Expo Park and grab lunch at the wacky Gundam Café (US$11). It’s a short hop from there to the Tower of the Sun statue, whose psychedelic interior recently reopened to the public (US$6.50; reservations required).
Back in town, drop by the Silver Ball Planet (US$3; 1-6-14 Nishishinsaibashi) to shoot some pinball; they’ve got more than 100 classic machines to choose from. Then, sit down to dinner at Zauo (US$35; 1-1-13 Nipponbashi), where dining and fishing merge — yes, you have to catch your own dinner — before finishing the day with drinks at Bar Shinka (US$15; 1-1-7 Andojimachi), with its submarine interior.
- Day 1 costs: Shaved ice $6.50; Ferris wheel ride $5.50; Lunch $11; Tower of the Sun $6.50; Pinball $3; Dinner $35; Drinks $15; Total: $82.50
Day 2: Unusual thrills
From Sone Station (Hankyu Takarazuka Line), take a cab to the end of Itami Airport’s main runway, where you can see passenger planes coming in to land right over your head. Few airports let you get so close — bring along your earplugs!
Next, make your way to Namba for lunch at Mizuno (1-4-15 Dotonbori), a Michelin-recognized eatery that serves up okonomiyaki (savory pancake) for a reasonable US$15. Tummy filled, it’s time for the Rock Star café (2-7-7 Namba). Cat and dog cafés are old hat; Rock Star is all about lizards, geckos, chameleons and snakes (US$9 entry, plus a minimum order of one beverage, priced from $7.50).
Once you’ve enjoyed your creature comforts, stroll south and explore the lively electronics district of Nipponbashi. If you’re looking for a bargain gadget, pop into one of the many tech stores on the main drag. Continue on to Abeno Harukas, which at 300m in height, is the tallest building in Japan. The view from the top is breathtaking (US$13.50), but for an extra US$9, you can climb another level, strap on a safety harness and step onto a narrow deck for a true thrill.
A short walk away, you’ll find the historic Shinsekai district, an entertainment center that’s enjoying a resurgence. The area is famous for kushikatsu (deep fried bites on a stick), so park yourself at Yaekatsu in Janjan Yokocho Alley for dinner (US$20). Finally, end off with a long, relaxing soak at Spa World, which offers an array of themed baths (US$22).
- Day 2 costs: Lunch $15; Cafe $16.50; Abeno Harukas $13.50; Dinner $20; Spa World $22; Total: $87
Day 3: Great Outdoors
The city can get a little stuffy in the summer months, so head into the hills for some shaded relief. Get on the trail to the beautiful Minoo Waterfall, which takes about an hour to complete. To start, take the only exit out of Minoo Station (Minoo Line) and follow the clearly marked path along a paved road. Drop by Hisakuni Kousendou (1-1-40 Minoo) to boost your energy with some tasty deep-fried maple leaves (from US$3). The regional delicacy dates back more than a thousand years. Along the gently rising trail, look out for the beautiful Ryuan Temple, where people pray for luck in the lottery. You might also like to drop by the Minoo Park Museum of Insects (US$2.50; 1-8 Minokoen) to admire its collection of more than 5,000 critters. At the waterfall, take a moment to admire the surrounding natural beauty before heading back to the city.
On the way back to town, alight at Tenjimbashisuji Rokuchome Station (Tanimachi Line) for a stroll along Tenjimbashisuji Shopping Street. Quench your thirst at the tiny Pederu juice stand (from US$3; 5-6-5 Tenjinbashi) and enjoy lunch at Otto Otto (4-6-17 Tenjinbashi), which offers a 10-piece sushi set for US$9. Then, hop across the street to Nakazakicho, a district known for its independent stores and eateries. Pick up homemade organic granola at La Granda Familio, before heading to new café Shimako, for a coffee and chiffon cake (from US$8).
- Day 3 costs: Maple leaves $3; Museum entry $2.50; Juice $3; Lunch $9; Cafe $8; Total: $25.50
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Marvelous museums: Give your trip a little context by dropping in to some of Osaka’s museums
- The Open-Air Museum of Old Japanese Farmhouses features more than 10 farmhouses from across the country, which have been dismantled and reconstructed in a park in the north of the city. Hundreds of years old, the unique design of each one reflects the different local climates and ways of living. Entry costs US$4.50. 1-2 Hattoriryokuchi, Toyonaka; occh.or.jp/minka
- The Panasonic Museum opened in March this year to mark the 100th anniversary of the technology giant’s launch. Exhibits include a replica of the founder’s home and workshop in which the company was born in 1918. There’s also a section devoted to the company’s approach to product design. Enjoy a dazzling display of gadgets and home appliances created over the last century. Entry is free. 1006 Oaza Kadoma, Kadoma-shi; panasonic.com
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Where to stay: Three well-priced places to rest and relax in
- Ark Hostel & Cafe Dining: Smart and stylish, Ark Hostel is a short walk from Higobashi Station (Yotsubashi Line) near Umeda. Dorm beds come with access to a kitchen and coin laundry facility. The adjoining Ark Cafe is also open for lunch and dinner. 1-15-11 Edobori, Nishi-ku; ark-osaka.jp/en
- Guesthouse Nest: Located in a quiet district that’s close to the Tennoji area, Guesthouse Nest is a modern hostel that offers bunk bed dorm rooms, Western-style rooms with twin or double beds and Japanese-style tatami rooms. 2-4-14 Teradacho, Tennoji-ku; global.osaka-guesthouse-nest.com/en-gb
- Home Hostel Osaka: Recently opened in Shinsekai district, Home Hostel Osaka is a family-run accommodation option with 23 rooms. The property features dorms, private rooms and Japanese-style rooms. Facilities include a kitchen, coin laundry, tatami lounge area and rooftop terrace. 2-1-11 Ebisuhigashi, Naniwa-ku; homehostel.jp/osaka/eng
How to get around
Hop between attractions, in no time at all, with the city’s excellent subway system or super-useful Kanjo-sen (or Loop Line). Prices are reasonable for single journeys, but a better deal may be found with the one-day Eco Card for US$7.50 (US$5.50 on weekends).
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Where to drink
Go where the action is: Misono Building in Namba. The second floor (head up the exterior spiral staircase) houses more than 50 tiny bars. The space offers the easiest bar crawl ever, and you’ll be able to make lots of new friends as you make your way around. Expect to pay around US$5 for each drink. 2-3-9 Sennichimae
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Where to eat: Scoot down the narrow alleys off the city’s main roads to discover these cheap but delectable eats
- Isono Ryoutarou: How about some conveyor-belt sushi, which was invented in the Osaka in the late ’50s? Try Isono Ryoutarou for a cheap meal made up of US$1 plates. 12-35 Nanbasennichimae, Chuo-ku; fb.com/isonoryoutarou
- Hokkyosei Restaurant: Omurice (omelette and rice) is said to have originated at this very restaurant almost 100 years ago. It continues to draw a crowd today, so it must be doing something right. Prices start at US$7. 2-7-27 Nishishinsaibashi; hokkyokusei.jp
- Kudararikyu: Near Tsuruhashi Station and smack in the middle of Koreatown, Kudararikyu offers the best of Japanese-style Korean food. Dig into yakiniku (barbecued beef) and horumon (barbecued offal). 5-5-48 Momodani; kudararikyu.jpn.org
This article first appeared in the June 2018 issue of Smile magazine.