OSAKA

The first signs of human life and habitation in the area around Osaka were archaelogical findings of buried skeletons that dated back to 5-6th BCE. During the Yayoi period (300 BCE - 250 CE), the city experienced an increase of population as rice farming grew and the port became a greater point of trade. With archaeological discoveries of huge tombs, such as Emperor Nintoku's Imperial Mausoleum, scientists came to the conclusion that the city was also a centre for political engagement and royal authority.

When Emperor Kōtoku left Asuka, the then traditional capital city of Japan, it resulted in the relocation of the capital to Naniwa, now modern day Osaka, in order to oppose the immense pressure of the Sui and Tang Empires. It was at this time Emperor Kōtoku built the Naniwa Nagara-Toyosaki Palace in the new capital. Shortly afterwards, another city became the capital, but Naniwa continued being the center and connection for trade with nearby districts. Also relations with China and the Korean peninsula grew, therefore the port was developed as an entryway into ancient Japan for visitors from the Asian continent. Naniwazu Port served as a base for the arrival and departure of foreign envoys.

The 15th Century until 19th Century

In 1496, a Buddhist sect set its new headquarters in the strong and well fortified Ishiyama Hongan-ji temple. The government set up a siege for nearly ten years until the sect was driven out and the temple was destroyed. Instead of rebuilding the temple, the famous Osaka Castle was built in its place. Throughout the years, Osaka grew to become a vital economic centre and a major Japanese city. It also developed a rich art culture for instance, fostering ukiyo-e pictures (a genre of Japanese art) and Kabuki theaters (classical Japanese dance-drama). In 1837, a samurai called Ōshio Heihachirō started a rebellion supported by the locals because the government refused to help the many poor families. The government violently crushed the rebellion and Ōshio committed suicide after his defeat. Consequently, it can be seen that even a modern city like Osaka had its problems with poverty, hunger and more. In 1888, Osaka was opened up for foreign trade which led to another increase of urban developement and population.

The 19th Century to Present Day

During the 19th century, Osaka was expanded massively. The promising situation brought in many immigrants from Korea. Industrialisation and economic growth encourage the city to grow at fast pace and Osaka became one of the most modern cities in Japan. During the World War II, Osaka was hit hard by the American air raids and suffered plenty of urban destruction. Since the war, the city has rebuilt itself and today it is a major spot for tourism. The wide variety of the culture from the past still lives on and has something to offer for every tourist that visits.

One of Japan's largest cities, lies on the south coast of western Honshu at the point where the River Yodo flows into the wide sweep of Osaka Bay, which opens out into the Pacific. Its location on the Yodo delta with its network of watercourses and canals spanned by more than a thousand bridges has, deservedly, earned Osaka the nickname of the "Venice of the East." While the origins of Osaka date back to the mythological early days of the Japanese Empire, today it is undoubtedly one of the most modern cities in Japan, boasting a futuristic skyline along with countless impressive examples of modern architecture. Its world class status is cemented by its many cultural institutions, from its superb museums and art galleries to its ultra modern entertainment, theater, and music venues, which together add up to an endless list of unique things to do.

When planning your itinerary, bear in mind that Osaka has two significant city centers. If being close to the top dining, shopping, and entertainment experiences is an important factor, you will want to spend time in the Minami, or "South" district. Kita in the north, is the traditional business center of Osaka, and is certainly worth considering too. Whichever you choose, you will find an excellent transportation system as you go about your sightseeing and explore the best places to visit in the city.

Consider traveling to this popular destination in the quieter seasons, such as winter. You will avoid the crowds at the most popular attractions, and you will get the chance to experience unique sights, such as seeing Osaka Castle shrouded in snow and lit up at night. 

1. Osaka Castle

Osaka Castle is the symbol of Osaka and one of the main attractions. Completed in 1586 in just three years, its build was ordered by famed Japanese warrior and politician Toyotomi Hideyoshi, at the former site of Honganji Temple which was destroyed 13 years earlier. At the time, it was the largest castle in Japan. The magnificent castle was modelled after Azuchi Castle and was reputed as being unparalleled in the country.

Almost all Hideyoshi's military commanders were required to contribute stones for its construction, the largest being the Higo-ishi stone, near the south entrance, standing nearly 6 meters high, 14.5 meters long, and brought by the celebrated General Kato Kiyomasa from the island of Shodo. After Hideyoshi's defeat in 1615, the castle was destroyed, only to be rebuilt by the Tokugawa shoguns for reasons of prestige. Again destroyed after the fall of the Shogunate, the castle was reconstructed in its present form in 1931.

Highlights include the five-story, 42 meter-tall main tower containing a great museum with exhibits related to the history of the castle and the city. It also offers superb views over Osaka from its upper floors. Also of interest in the Osaka Castle Park is the Hokoku Shrine dedicated to Hideyoshi and his family.

Opening Hours:

Daily 9.00am to 5.00pm

Entrance Fees:

600 yen to enter the castle

How to get there by subway:

Osaka Business Park St (N21) / Osakajokoen Station

Osaka Cycling Tour:

Magical Trip offers Osaka Bike Tour, which can help you discover the hidden secrets of Osaka. On this tour, you will go on a cycling adventure around Osaka Castle and the neighborhood.

Osaka Castle

2. Shitennō-ji Temple

Osaka's best known temple, Shitennō-ji, can trace its roots back to 59 CE and was Japan's first Buddhist temple. Although rebuilt numerous times through the centuries, with the most recent reconstruction takingk place in the 1960s, this lovely temple remains the oldest such religious site to be officially administered. Highlights of a tour include the site's 5 story pagoda along with a number of other exquisitely decorated buildings including the Golden Pavilion (Kondō) with its fine statues and paintings. The Lecture Hall (Kōdō), and a lovely covered corridor linking 3 of the site's gates. 

Shitennō-ji Temple

3. Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan

Looking a little as if it might be made of giant Lego blocks, the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan is well worth exploring. One of the world's biggest such attractions, this walk through aquarium takes guests on a fascinating tour of a number of marine habitats, including the Pacific Ocean and Antarctica, along with the Great Barrier Reef and Monterey Bay. A variety of Japanese marine life is also featured, including freshwater species, as well as native reptiles and mammals. There are 27 tanks, the biggest being nine meters deep and capable of easily accommodating large marine life including manta rays and sharks.

Opening Hours:

Daily 10.00 am to 8.00 pm

How to get there by subway:

Osakako Station (C11). 10 mins walk from the station.

Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan

4. Tempozan Ferris Wheel

Providing some of the best views over Osaka, particularly of the port area and the Tempozan Harbour Village in which it is located, the massive Tempozan Ferris Wheel is one of the largest such attractions in Asia. At more than 112 meters (367 feet) tall and with a diameter spanning 100 meters (328 feet), this huge Ferris wheel has been in operation since 1997 and offers a thrilling 17 minute journey that is especially enjoyable at night when the wheel is lit up in a variety of different colors dictated by the weather (orange when sunny weather is forecast, green for clouds, and blue for rain). Thrill seekers can opt for one of the special "see through bottom" cars for an incredible all round view of Osaka Bay. Afterwards, be sure to visit other Harbour Village attractions, including the Cruise Ship Santa Maria, the Legoland Discovery Center, and the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan.

Tempozan Ferris Wheel

5. Umeda Sky Building

Osaka boasts many fine examples of modern architecture. Perhaps the best known is the aptly named Umeda Sky Building (Umeda Sukai Biru), a stunning landmark consisting of two office towers joined at the top by a large platform like structure. It is this rooftop structure that draws visitors, due largely to the network of bridges and an escalator, which join the two towers, providing plunging views of 170 plus meters (557 feet) that send shivers down the spines of those sensitive to heights. The views from the rooftop observatory and garden, aptly named the Floating Garden Observatory, are simply stunning. Afterwards, be sure to wander the urban garden at its base with its pleasant paths, fountains, and ponds, as well as a fun underground market designed to resemble early 20th century Osaka.

Opening Hours:

Daily 10.00am to 10.00pm

Entrance Fees:

1,000 JPY

Book Tickets Online:

Umeda Sky Building Floating Garden Observatory Tickets

How to get to there:

Approx 10 minutes walk from Osaka or Umeda Station

Umeda Sky Building

6. Universal Studios Japan

One of the city's newest attractions, and quickly becoming one of the top things to do in Osaka, Universal Studios Japan is also one of the city's busiest sites, attracting around 10 million visitors each year. One of only four Universal theme parks worldwide, the Osaka location offers a number of well known pop culture franchises, along with a few unique to the location. Recent additions include Hollywood Dream: The Ride, a fun rollercoaster that actually travels backwards at times; rides based on the Spiderman movies; and Universal Wonderland, a family-friendly area perfect for those traveling with younger kids.

Uniquely Japanese themed entertainment and characters are found in rides based on games and TV shows in the Universal Cool Japan area, including Monster Hunter and the One Piece Premier Show. Also of interest to fans of both the books and movies is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, based on the popular rides in Universal's Island of Adventure in Orlando, Florida.

To avoid line-ups, be sure to look into the handy Universal Express Pass.

Opening Hours:

Daily 8.30am to 8.00pm

How to get there by JR:

Universal City – JR Sakurajima Line

Universal Studios Japan

7. Hozenji Temple

Located in an alley in Dotonbori, Hozenji is renowned for its moss covered deity Fudomyoo, a god (kami) that protects people from evil and grants wishes. It is customary to pour water on the kami as an act of purification. The statue has been drenched with water throughout the years that it has become completely covered in moss.

How to get there by subway:

Namba Station (M20/S16)

Hozenji Temple

8. Dotonbori

Dotonbori is a large scale downtown with the entire area of Dotonbori filled with an unbelievable number of shopping arcades, restaurants and amusement facilities. It is often selected as a scene in movies as the symbol of Osaka. For local signature cuisine make sure to try Takoyaki & Okonomiyaki when in Dotonbori. Also tourists’ favourite Ichiran Ramen & Ippudo is also in this area.

Downtown Dotonbori

9. Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine

Sumiyoshi Taisha also known as Sumiyoshi Grand Shrine, is one of Japan oldest Shinto shrine. It enshrines three gods that have long been worshipped for protecting the nation, sea voyages and for promoting waka (31-syllable) poetry.

How to get there by train:

Sumiyoshitaisha Station – Nankai railway

Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine

10. Tennōji Park and Zoo

Osaka's largest green space, Tennōji Park (Tennōji Kōen), serves as a place of respite from this otherwise busy city. Noted for its many fragrant flower beds and, in spring, its cherry blossoms, the park is a delight to explore thanks also to its many fun sculptures, ponds, and bridges. It is also home to some of Osaka's most important tourist attractions, including the Tennōji Zoo, opened in 1915 and featuring a variety of species including lions, giraffes, and elephants, housed in such a way that they seem to be roaming the African savannah. Also worth a visit is the hippo pool and reptile house.

Hot Tip: Try to time your visit for the free tours of the park's greenhouses and other areas not usually open to the public.

 

Tennōji Park

11. Tsutenkaku Tower

Shinsekai’s biggest attraction has always been the Tsutenkaku Tower. The original tower built in 1912 was designed to resemble the Parisian Eiffel Tower on top and the Arc de Triomphe at its base. The name “Tsutenkaku” can be translated as “Sky Route Tower” and at 64 meters (209 feet) high it was the 2nd biggest structure in Asia at the time. This first tower was badly damaged by a fire in 1943, and disassembled shortly afterwards. In the post-war years however, local people campaigned for a new tower to replace it and the current tower was built in 1956. Standing at 103 meters (337 feet) tall it was designed by the architect Tachu Naito, who also designed Tokyo Tower.

The tower today is packed with souvenir shops and amusements and has two observation decks on the 4th and 5th floors from which you can enjoy a panoramic view of the city. The fee to go to the top is 500 yen. Lines for the observation decks can be long on weekends and holidays, so the best time to visit is on a weekday. The tower has been illuminated at night with LED lights which change color with the seasons. The top two bands of color on the tower are also used to give the next day’s weather forecast and the clock on the east side of the tower is said to be the biggest in Japan. 

Tsutenkaku Tower

Subways and trains are the best way to get around Osaka. A prepaid Icoca card is the BEST way to pay for transport (but a Suica or Pasmo card from Tokyo will also work just fine). Taxis are excellent but expensive. Buses are not recommended for short-term visitors.

Getting Around Osaka Osaka covers a huge area, but it is all connected by a superb public transport system.

Here is how to get around the city:


Osaka is huge but it is very easy to get around using the city’s excellent public transport system. 5 of the city’s main hubs are conveniently located on the Midosuji subway line, that runs north to south right through the heart of the city.

From north to south, here they are: Shin-Osaka, Kita, Central Osaka (Honmachi), Minami, and Tennoji.

There are only two main tourist centers: the Osaka Castle Area and the Osaka Bay Area, that are off the Midosuji subway line.

The Osaka Castle Area is easy to reach from Kita by the JR Osaka Loop Line, or from Honmachi via the Chuo subway line.

The Osaka Bay Area is also reached by the Chuo Line or the JR Yumesaki Line.

You can ride the JR Osaka Loop Line with a Japan Rail Pass, but if you just want to explore Osaka for the first few days after arriving in Japan, it is best to activate your pass on the morning you leave Osaka and use it for your long-distance train travel (ie, use the pass to pay for expensive intercity travel, not for cheap local travel).

A prepaid Icoca card is easily the best way to pay for train and subway travel in Osaka. If you are coming from Tokyo, your prepaid Suica or Pasmo card will also work just fine.

1. Takoyaki

Takoyaki is the classic Osaka snack: easy to make, with simple ingredients, and extremely tasty. The standard recipe for these ball shaped dumplings is a batter or eggs and flour filled with sliced octopus, ginger, spring onions, and tempura crumbs. When cooked, the dumplings are pasted with a sweet brown sauce, and then topped with mayonnaise and a sprinkling of powdered nori seaweed, and dried flakes of bonito.

Takoyaki

2. Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki is a savory pancake made from eggs, flour, grated yam and shredded cabbage. Into these basic ingredients you can add whatever you like: pork, squid, shrimp, cheese, tomato… the list goes on. In fact “okonomiyaki” basically means “grilled stuff you like”. Over the top is a dressing of brown sauce, mayonnaise, powdered nori seaweed, and dried bonito flakes.

Okonomiyaki

3. Fugu

Fugu or blowfish is a special delicacy, usually eaten raw, which is famous for being poisonous if prepared by unskilled hands. Actually, though, you don’t need to worry about fugu’s reputation for danger. All fugu chefs are specially trained in its preparation for three years before they qualify for a license. These days people only die from eating fugu if they are foolish enough to prepare it at home.

Fugu

4. Kushikatsu

Kushikatsu are skewered kebabs of meat, seafood, or vegetables which are breaded and deep fried to a crispy golden finish before being served up with a variety of dipping sauces or flavored salt. Typical items on a kushikatsu menu are pork, beef, shrimp, pumpkin, sweet potato, onion, lotus root, quail’s eggs, asparagus wrapped in bacon, and shiitake mushrooms. Although, today kushikatsu is popular all over Japan, it is believed to have originated at the Kushikatsu Daruma restaurant in the Shinsekai district of Osaka in 1929.

Kushikatsu

5. Yakiniku

Yakiniku is simply barbecued beef. The standard method is to grill bite sized morsels of beef over a charcoal griddle and then dip them in sauce before eating. This style of barbecue is believed to have been developed in Japan by Korean restaurant owners and the best yakiniku restaurants are still Korean.

Yakiniku