Osaka is without a doubt one of Japan’s gems, even if it’s not exactly a hidden one! This historic city has been the centre of Japan’s trade for centuries, and is the country’s food capital, but many visitors skip stopping by when they visit Japan. Even if you can only spare a day, Osaka is a must visit destination, and here’s why we think you should add this underrated city to your bucket list!
Ask any Japanese person why you should visit Osaka, and their first answer will always be “food”. Osaka’s nickname of the ‘Nation’s Kitchen’ might have more to do with the fact that historically the city was home to a huge number warehouses where merchants would pass stock up on their way to other cities. But it’s also very fitting since Osaka is the food capital of Japan. A meal here will set you back less than its equivalent in Tokyo or neighbouring Kyoto, making it the perfect city for foodies on a budget, especially if you check out the street food scene and explore the department stores where you’ll quite possibly find the best sushi of your life in the basement. As far as street food goes, in Osaka there’s a couple of staples that were born and bred in this city and have been perfected by locals over the years. From okonomiyaki, a thick, eggy pancake filled with shredded cabbage and your choice of prawn, octopus or meat before being topped with okonomiyaki sauce and mayonnaise; to takoyaki, a kind of dumpling filled with octopus that’s crispy and gooey all at the same time, Osaka’s street food scene is not to be missed! But one of the best places in the city to eat okonomiyaki is at Mizuno, where you mix and match your flavours and eat it straight from the grill.
You’ve might have seen the locals, known as Osakajin, hurrying too and from work in their suits and commuting at rush hour, and decided the city isn’t for you. But visiting Osaka for yourself will show you just how welcoming the locals here are, and give you a fresh perspective on Japanese people and city life. Osakajin are known for being talkative, friendly and more humorous than locals from Japan’s other major cities (but we do still love Tokyo and Kyoto!). Renowned for their openness and upfront personalities, to some this may seem like they’re a little brash, but above all they have a larger than life funny streak - the city actually is where many of Japan’s comedians come from. Don't be afraid to chat to them, ask for information or even to take a picture together! They’ll love it and be more than happy to oblige, and you’ll be making some amazing memories of Osaka and its locals to take home with you.
It’s a shopper’s paradise
Keep your purse strings closed if you’re visiting Tokyo or Kyoto first, because Osaka is the real shopper’s paradise! With prices here cheaper than other major cities, you’ll be able to pick up even more unique souvenirs and local goods than you’d have imagined! Most shops also have a ‘duty free option’, so as long as you carry your passport with you, they’ll knock 8% off the price - and who could argue with that? You can’t argue with history, and the city has been Japan’s trade centre for thousands of years so it’s not surprising that even today shopping and finding a bargain or two is a reason to visit! From more electronics than you even knew existed (and didn’t know you wanted until you saw them!) in futuristic DenDen town, the electronics hub of the city to hunting for vintage threads in Amerikamura, browsing luxury and designer stores in Shinsaibashi to shopping centres so big you feel you could almost get lost in them in Tennoji, there’s something for everyone in Osaka.
Bunraku, which literally means ‘puppet theatre’ in Japanese, is a rarity you’ll struggle to find anywhere outside of Osaka, which has been the capital of bunraku since the Edo Period. You might yawn and think that puppets are for children, and surely this couldn't be a reason to visit Osaka, but you couldn't be more wrong. This art form is being kept alive at the National Bunraku Theatre, where performers train for years before making it on stage and become part of a painstakingly synchronised troop which is made up puppeteers, the ‘gidayū’ narrator and the ‘shamisen’ player. Unlike puppet shows in the West whose audience is children, in Japan, puppet theatre is truly regarded as a moving form of art which can only really be appreciated by adults. In Osaka, bunraku could better be likened to a ballet performance than a children’s puppet show; there’s a magical quality to the harmonious movement of the puppets and the music.
It’s the perfect base in the Kansai region
Although many visitors head straight for Kyoto, choosing Osaka as your base will save you money and can give you more of an authentic Japanese experience. The city has excellent transport links to Nara and Kyoto, and you can quickly and easily reach both - Kyoto is just 15 minutes away using the Shinkansen and to get to Nara takes just under an hour. Of course, discovering the rich history and beautiful cultural heritage of Kyoto is a must for any traveller in Japan, it can quickly become expensive to stay there. Neighbouring Osaka has less of a touristy vibe, and much more authentic food options, so it’s a no brainer to start your adventure in the Kansai region here!
Onsen in the city
Need to relax after all of that sightseeing? In Japanese culture, onsen and sento (thermal baths and public baths) are hugely important, and have been for thousands of years thanks not only to their relaxing properties but as treatment for chronic diseases. Visiting a traditional onsen in Japan is a unique cultural experience that’s not to be missed, and whilst the most magical are secluded in forests and mountains far from the city, Osaka isn’t lacking in spas you can visit for the day. Even in the city itself there are hot springs you can escape to when you feel like a little r&r but don’t have the time to make the trip out of town. Even in the very heart of Osaka, near to the JR Osaka Station, you’ll find a spa whose hot waters spring out from over 1000m below ground!
Osaka has countless possibilities when it comes to nightlife, and here more than anywhere else in Japan, all good nights out start with a great meal! For dinner, do as the locals do and choose one of the many ‘all you can eat and drink’ options. It might not sound like gourmet cuisine but for around 2500JPY you’ll be able to try a mix of whatever you fancy and start your evening with a bang! If dinner followed by bar hopping sounds like your kind of thing, make a beeline for the Umeda neighbourhood. But if you’re up to clubbing, Namba is the place to be; with countless nightclubs open all night, you can party the night away and then head for a 24 hour ramen joint on the way home like the locals do!
For a real local experience spend at least one night exploring Osaka’s izakaya. Izakaya are traditional drinking houses where locals gather after work to enjoy a few drinks and share tasty plates of gyoza and yakitori - the perfect dishes to accompany a beer. These bars vary between tiny joints with just five or six stools squeezed in to bigger establishments where tables spill outside into the streets. Don’t miss stopping by a tachinomiya too. These street front bars where customers stand as there are no chairs are synonymous with Japan’s nightlife, and you’ll find plenty of them in the tangle of tiny streets in Osaka, especially around train stations.
Hello, curious traveler!
Embark on a unique experience with Hello, curious traveler!
Embark on a unique experience with Our personalized, private tours, led by local hosts, make you feel like you’re exploring the city with a knowledgeable friend. We’ll take you to well-known sights and reveal Osaka’s hidden gems, unveiling stories typically missed by traditional tours. So unscript your journey, and see Osaka through the eyes of our local hosts!
Top private experiences in Osaka
We’ll pair you with the perfect host
There is no better way to see a city than with a friend who lives there. This is why we carefully match guests with their perfect host based on interested, personality and type of experience so they can discover a city beyond the tourist trail.
Make your inbox happy with our travel tips and inspiration as well as exclusive offers and first access to new services.