After Tokyo, Osaka is the 2nd largest city in Japan. Once a booming port and industrial center, visitors now flock here to get a taste of Osaka’s famous cuisine.
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That’s not all Osaka has to offer – the city proudly preserves centuries of history, from the theatre traditions of kabuki and bunraku to the towering walls and wide moat of Osaka Castle – but when your stomach starts to rumble, you’ll understand why Osaka is considered Japan’s food capital.
What To Do
Wondering what to do in Osaka? Eat! Osaka isn’t called the food capital of Japan for nothing, and you’ll want to save room for all the local favorites. There’s yakiniku, where diners select their desired ingredients, then grill them at their table. Yakitori are grilled chicken skewers, while the meats and vegetables of kushikatsu are skewered, battered and then deep fried. Two of Osaka’s most famous foods are okonomiyaki and takoyaki. Okonomiyaki, a savory pancake stuffed with meat and vegetables, means “grilled as you like” and your ingredients and topping options can be as varied as that sounds. Takoyaki are dough balls, traditionally filled with octopus but now available in many different flavors from streetside stalls.
Kuromon Ichiba is Osaka’s famous food market, with over 150 stalls selling local vegetables, fresh seafood and meat. See something you like? Many shops can cook your food to go, and the market features seating areas if you’d prefer not to eat on your feet. For more shopping head over to Minami, where you can find everything for sale in the various shopping areas within, from luxury brands to kitchen utensils. Don’t miss Dotonbori, where giant crabs and octopuses hang overhead and the neon lights shine all night.
If you’re traveling with kids (or even if you aren’t!) make sure your visit to Osaka includes a trip to Universal Studios Japan. This large theme park features thrilling rides, heart-stopping roller coasters and a cast of familiar characters, including the recent addition of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction. Another popular choice is the Osaka Aquarium, one of the world’s largest. Permanent exhibitions here showcase sea life from around the Pacific Ocean, but the highlight is the massive tank that boasts a variety of sea life – including the aquarium’s resident whale shark.
For a different kind of theme park, check out Spa World, a multilevel complex devoted to Japanese public baths. A variety of themed saunas and pools are available, so relax and enjoy a soak between Moroccan arches, in a traditional wooden tub or beneath the watchful eye of a Greek statue. The complex also includes a large swimming level with waterslides and a kids’ pool.
Make your way to Meiji no Mori Mino Quasi-National Park for an impressive outdoor getaway not far from Osaka. In the late fall, the trees here turn a striking red and gold before shedding their leaves, but this forested valley park is beautiful in any season. Be sure to hike to the end of the valley, where a waterfall cascades dramatically down a rocky face to create a picture-perfect nature scene.
What To See
Bunraku is a traditional style of theatre in which complicated puppets are controlled by multiple puppeteers who appear on stage with their charges, dressed in black. This tradition of puppetry has been preserved in Osaka, and shows are held multiple times throughout the year at the National Bunraku Theater.
Osaka is home to some fascinating ancient shrines and temples. Shitennoji Temple, the oldest temple in Japan, was founded in the 6th century. It’s worth the price of admission to tour the inner grounds and get a closer look at the beautiful temple garden and towering five-story pagoda. The Shinto shrine of Sumiyoshi Taisha was founded in the 4th or 5th century, and some of the structures on the extensive grounds are over one thousand years old. Newer but no less impressive is the Namba Yasaka Shrine. Here, the centerpiece of the shrine can be found in the mouth of a giant stone lion’s head, nearly 40 feet tall.
Discover Osaka’s samurai past at Osaka Castle, a park and museum complex first established in the 16th century and surrounded by massive stone walls and moats. You can get the best view of the Osaka skyline here, and the 250 acres of trees, walkways and gardens could be explored for an entire day. Enter into the castle itself and you’ll be treated to a history museum focused on the fascinating story of the castle and the samurai who built it.
Off the Beaten Path
If you’re looking to take home an unusual memento of your trip to Japan, Osaka has you covered. While the okonomiyaki won’t make it through customs in your luggage (and think of the mess!), there’s some offbeat options that will keep much better for the trip back home.
Restaurants in Japan often display extremely realistic fake food of all kinds to tempt customers inside and make ordering a snap. Have you ever wondered where it comes from, and how it becomes so lifelike? Make a reservation at Morino Sample, and you can tour a factory where professional (fake) restaurant cuisine is still made by hand. Even better, you’ll get to try crafting your own sample food.
Step beneath the giant octopus sign in Dotonbori and up the stairs to visit Dotonbori Konamon Museum, a small museum dedicated to Osakan favorites like okonomiyaki and takoyaki. There’s a counter to buy real takoyaki below, but if you’re already full, you can make an imitation takoyaki here to take home.
Among Osaka’s many foodie claims to fame is the instant ramen noodle, which was invented here in the late 1950s. Take the train north to the suburb of Ikeda and you’ll find the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum, a bright and cheerful homage to all things instant noodle. Discover the humble origins of instant ramen and see varieties from around the world. Then, you’ll have the opportunity to create your own completely customized serving of instant noodles – decorate the cup, choose your sauce and dried ingredients, then vacuum seal it for a take-home treat you can’t find in your local supermarket.