When we were researching new places to visit in Japan this trip, we couldn’t help but notice the ocean of negativity surrounding Osaka. One of our guidebooks suggests it’s worth a day trip, or really a half-day trip might be more sensible. The other one actually says there is no reason to stay in Osaka when Kyoto is so near by. Undeterred, we chose to spend the first part of our holiday in Osaka and can now only assume that this is all part of some conspiracy to keep Osaka free from tourists.
In fact, that is one of Osaka’s great features – it was only when we took a day trip to Kyoto (take that, guidebook!) that we realised the total lack of tourists in Osaka*. If you’ve ever arrived at a sightseeing spot at the same time as a busload of English tourists, you’ll know exactly why this is a good thing. As well as that, Osaka has loads going for it. Here are a few of the places we visited, plus a little shopping guide.
* I expect we’d have seen some at Osaka Castle but we never quite made it there
Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
It has two Whale Sharks for starters. Whale Sharks are ginormous and the aquarium is a great outing with loads of viewing windows, the opportunity to get yourself photographed with a Whale Shark model while holding a pumpkin (I imagine other seasonal items are available) and a gift shop positively bursting with kawaii Whale Sharks and Porcupinefish. Plus I got to see an actual Clione for the first time (there is one in Picross that has always confused me as to whether it was something that actually existed). They are teeny weeny!
It’s situated beside Osaka Bay so there are lots of other activities and a giant ferris wheel too. There’s also a pretty good shopping mall next door which has shops dedicated to Hello Kitty, Rilakkuma and Ghibli, not to mention a good lot of gashapon.
Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan website (in English).
How to get there
It’s advertised all over the subway – take the Chuo subway line to Osakako (station number C11) and it’s signposted all the way – it’s about a ten minute walk from the station. You’ll see the shopping mall first and then the aquarium is the big building with a sealife mosaic! Entrance fee is ¥2000.
Tip! Check your hotel for freebie guides – ours had an coupon for a free otter toy on entry, which we promptly forgot to use, duh.
Tennoji is a great place to spend a day as it has a big garden, a zoo and an art gallery, so there’s lots to explore in one place. We just visited the garden but the zoo did look great fun if you have more time to spare (or maybe I was just swayed by the ultra cute zoo signage – the schoolkids seemed to be having a good time though). The garden is pretty big but you can do a few different walks so it’s up to you. As you enter there’s a picnic area with fountains, hilariously awful animal topiary and a nice little greenhouse. Further on another entrance has a typically Japanese pond with observation area, carp and bonsai. Walk round it for the pretty stepping stones and waterfall pictured and some nice views. Further on is a big lake and walks which take you up into the trees above and back along a nice bridge.
How to get there
Lots of options as Tennoji is on the Midosuji (M23) and Tanimachi (T27) subway lines, as well as the JR Osaka Loop. You can also get off at Dobutsuen-mae subway station (M22) if the zoo is your main destination. At Tennoji, take exit 5 and the main entrance is to your right, on the same side of the street. Entry to the garden is only ¥150 each. If you’re visiting the zoo, you get a joint ticket to see the garden too – I think that’s about ¥500.
Den Den Town
Again with the insults! Den Den Town is basically described as a disappointing shadow of Akihabara, Toyko’s electronics/anime/gaming/nerd zone. Sure it’s way smaller and less exciting but it still has some great shops. We liked Super Kidsland (lots of great character stuff), Melon Books (mostly anime stuff but it had the best gashapon in Osaka – try all the floors!) and there are lots of electonics and videogame/DVD shops. At the top of the main street is a covered market which has a Daiso and takes you to Namba station where you can shop for hours in the underground mall if you wish (we didn’t) or get a train/subway to pretty much anywhere in Osaka.
How to get there
I recommend getting the subway to Ebisucho (Sakaisuju Line – K18). You should come out beside or opposite Super Potato, depending on the exit. Carry on up that street for the other shops and when you hit a main junction beside Takashimaya you can turn left and the covered arcade is across the road. It will take you to Namba Station which has lots of subway and train lines.
This is the area we stayed in – our hotel was just a couple of blocks from this photo. Behind me is Loft, Uniqlo and more of that covered walkway, to the right you can just see Tokyu Hands. Underneath my feet is an underground shopping mall. Really, what else do you need? Shinsaibashi subway station is around the corner and well placed, taking you straight to Shin-Osaka for the Shinkansen, as well as the big station hubs of Namba, Umeda and Tennoji.
If you’re just visiting, you’ll find all the big brands on the street shown above and more in the covered walkway to the north and south. The Tokyu Hands is a big branch complete with cute cafe and there are different things happening outside every day, from free samples to a hot pie truck! Parco is opposite with a 6 floor Loft, full to the brim with cute homewares and stationery – you won’t find everything that the big Loft in Shibuya has, but it’s a good range. However, don’t assume everything you see will be available in other branches. For example, the Osaka Tokyu Hands had some amazing deals on stickers we never saw elsewhere.
Along the street are plenty escalators and lifts to take you down to the underground Crista mall. It’s not that great but does have a lot of restaurants and some smaller boutique shops.
The covered Shinsaibashi-suji is great for a wander and some food – you’ll find a bakery, Mos Burger, Shakeys and a Kit Kat branded shop that sells all kinds of crazy sweets and snacks (but oddly, no Kit Kats). In the other direction there are more shops and cafes and you can follow it all the way down to the river and on to Namba and Den Den Town.
How to get there
Shinsaibashi Station is on the Midosuji subway line (M19). Take Exit 1 and turn to your left around the corner of Louis Vuitton for the main shopping street with Tokyu Hands a block ahead.
A note on hotels
We stayed at the Hearton Hotel Minimisenba and it amuses me how long I spent deciding between that hotel and their other location in Shinsaibashi, since I was unaware they are actually only a few blocks apart! The locations are both equally good really. The hotel was pretty basic compared to others we’ve stayed at but extremely cheap and perfectly adequate for a few days, especially considering the location. I would definitely stay there again.
If you’re keen to try one of Osaka’s specialties – octopus dumplings – then why not take the trip to the Takoyaki “museum”. The name is misleading – there are no history lessons and no informative videos, just the opportunity to try as many different styles of takoyaki as your stomach desires (vegetarians may wish to go elsewhere!). You make your choice and pay at ticket machines so there’s no need to speak any Japanese – just hand over your ticket and you’ll soon have your piping hot takoyaki. And I do mean piping hot – I almost burned the inside of my mouth.
There is also a rather fantastic gift shop, where you can buy amusing takoyaki-related gifts for all the family – kawaii takoyaki and octopus phone straps abound of course but there’s everything from gift boxed crackers to octopus hats. Once you’re done with takoyaki, there are various restaurants, shops and amusements in the area but nothing that really caught our interest.
How to get there
It’s in Universal City, home of the Universal Studios theme park. This area is free so you don’t need to pay for the theme park, or you can do both. There’s a special train which goes from Nishi-Kujo on the JR Osaka Loop Line. You can’t miss it as the train is plastered with cartoon characters. There’s also another branch of the Takoyaki Museum in Odaiba, Tokyo.
Photos and more
The above is all we could fit into what was basically two full days in Osaka but there was plenty more we missed – Osaka Castle, the Sky Building observatory, the famous restaurant streets of Dotonbori and the waterfall out of town with an insect museum. We could easily have filled a week. I hope I’ve convinced you Osaka is worth visiting – but let’s just keep it between ourselves, okay?