Osaka is Japan’s 3rd largest city and a major port but often left off tourist itineraries. However it’s a vibrant modern city with a historic castle, amazing food and friendly locals with plenty for you to discover.
Osaka – A Quick History
Osaka first became notable when Emperor Kotoku built a castle here in 645. Osaka was briefly the capital of Japan before the imperial court moved on to Nara. Osaka’s waterfront position meant it was an important gateway to China and Korea and soon became the main economic area of Japan. This wealth meant that Osaka had a flourishing arts scene. The city was also known for its food and was nicknamed the “kitchen of Japan”.
Osaka was one of the first ports to open to foreign trade in the 19th century, and grew rapidly to become the main commercial centre of Japan. It suffered heavy bombing in WWII but was quickly rebuilt after the war ended. Osaka is now the third largest city in Japan and a recent programme of regeneration has made it a vibrant modern city.
International flights arrive at Kansai airport, situated on a man-made island in Osaka Bay. A standard train from the airport takes around 45 mins to reach the city centre (¥890). For a few yen extra (¥1390) you can travel to the city on the Rapi:t train, designed to look like a sci-fi comic train. This line is slightly quicker and only takes 30 mins.
Itami airport is 10km north of Osaka but only handles domestic flights. Connect to the city centre on regular buses, or take a limousine bus directly to your hotel (around ¥2000 per person).
There are also regular intercity buses, JR trains and private rail lines (although you won’t be able to use a rail pass on these). The main station is Shin-Osaka to the north of the city centre. Some JR services arrive at the more central Osaka station. Both stations connect on to the local subway system.
Osaka also has several ferry services that run to other parts of Japan, as well as international services to Shanghai.
Where to Stay
As many visitors to Osaka are traveling on business, there are a large number of western style chain hotels. You can get some good deals here outside of peak times and the high standard of transport in Osaka means that most locations are in easy reach of the city centre.
The Umeda area around Osaka station has plenty of luxury options, and is convenient for getting around the city. If you want to enjoy the nightlife of Osaka, try staying in the Shinsaibashi or Namba districts in the southern part of the city. These areas also have more accommodation options to suit a range of budgets.
Must See Osaka
Osaka castle is the most visited attraction in Japan. The site has been in use since the 1500s, but the current castle is a mix of original buildings and reconstructions as the castle has been destroyed several times in various wars and sieges. As well as the castle, the grounds feature several parks, gardens and impressive gateways. The castle itself has English guides and shows documentaries about the history of the site with English subtitles.
Osaka Museum of History
Set in an impressive modern glass building, each floor of the museum is dedicated to a different period in Osaka’s history. The museum culminates with a full scale replica of the interior of the Naniwanomiya Palace on the top floor. The top floors also have great views out to Osaka-jo and the port.
Floating Garden Observatory
Built on a platform connecting two skyscrapers of the Sky Building, the Floating Garden Observatory gives fantastic views over Osaka and the bay. A glass elevator takes visitors 170m up to the observation area. In the basement of the Sky Building you’ll find Takimi-Koji gourmet street; a replica of an old Osaka street with historically themed restaurants.
The river island of Nakanoshima is home to several of Osaka’s best museums. There’s the Museum of Oriental Ceramics, as well as the National Museum of Art Osaka. The island is also home to a small park and the Osaka Science Museum.
This museum is the first to cover human rights in Japan, something which is often swept under the carpet. The museum looks at ethnic minorities in Japan, as well as treatment of women, disabled people, the caste system and environmental issues. English language guides are available.
Osaka is renowned for its great cuisine, and the Kuromon Ichiba market is a great place to pick up a snack or unusual Japanese ingredients to take home. There are also some shops selling kitchen equipment and utensils which make great souvenirs.
Find out more about Osaka on their official tourism website.