Osaka is one of Japan’s biggest port cities, a commercial hub with centuries of fascinating history. But it’s also one of the most unique cities in the country, where the locals are loud and proud of how they do things differently. Alongside a reputation for being less conservative than the rest of Japan, the city is known for its addiction to food - it’s known as a “kuidaore” city, meaning to ruin oneself by indulging in food and drink - and its locals for their wicked sense of humor. Osaka will welcome you with open arms, and then invite you for a drink, but it still helps to know what you’re getting into, which is where this Osaka travel guide comes in. If you arm yourself with some essential Osaka travel tips, you’ll be able to experience fascinating history, contemporary nightlife, and one of Japan’s most important melting pots. So, here are the essential Osaka tips for travelling within Osaka.
You must try the local cuisine
As if the phrase “kuidaore” city wasn’t enough, Osakans have another saying they affectionately like to quote: “eat and drink until you die”. It’s safe to say that when it comes to culture, food is a huge part of it. If you’re wondering what to eat in Osaka, the important thing to remember is you literally can’t go wrong, but the city’s iconic dishes are always a good place to start. There are many famous dishes that originated in Osaka, such as okonomiyaki, takoyaki (octopus balls), udon, kushikatsu, and omurice. Much of Osaka’s gourmet is not particularly expensive, either, and is always tasty. If you’re unsure where to eat in Osaka, start with the street food - it’s often fresh, tasty, and authentic.
Use the metro as your main form of transport
The city has several public transportation options, but one of the most common Osaka travel tips shared by locals and return visitors is to use the subway. Although many tourists opt for the city’s JR Pass, the subway in Osaka is often quicker and easier. What’s more, the metro is one of the cheapest ways to get around, and it offers a fascinating insight into everyday life in the city. Just keep in mind the tip that it’s considered rude to eat on public transport, so save your snacking until you’re off the train.
The Canal City
But this being said, one of the most rewarding Osaka travel tips is to skip the usual modes of transport, and at least once take a boat trip to explore the city. Osaka is often referred to as a canal city, because as many Osaka travel guides will tell you, ten percent of the land in this city is actually under the sea level. In the fifteenth century, Shogun Hideyoshi Toyotomi built a network of canals, and in the Edo era, they used these very canals for transport to and from the city’s businesses. The canal is still in place to this day, and you can still use it to travel around Nakanoshima, Yodoyabashi, Osaka Castle, and Dotonbori.
Osaka has its own intonation
One of the fascinating things to know about Japanese culture and language is that some regions have their own intonations - accents or pronunciation, as well as certain unique phrases - when it comes to speaking Japanese. Osaka's intonation is called Osaka-ben or Kansai-ben, which is very different from what you’ll hear in other major cities like Tokyo. This means several common phrases will change when you’re in the city. For example, “thank you” is not “arigatou”, but rather “ookini” in Osaka. If you want a good local expression to use, try “eraikoccha”, which means “oh my goodness!” And if you want to make a local Osaka resident’s day - and one that will undoubtedly come in handy when you’re sharing a few drinks with new friends in an izakaya - try the phrase “Osaka ga meccha suki desu”. It means” I love Osaka so much!” in Osaka’s dialect.
The city has a great sense of humor
Osaka is a city full of comedians, and this is certainly not limited to the pros. While there are many famous Japanese comedians who hail from Osaka, even the city’s ordinary residents go out of their way to be friendly and make people laugh. Many people say that it’s the city’s history as a commercial port which has allowed such a welcoming and comedic nature to flourish. There aren’t many places in Japan where stopping someone in the street will be met with a joke as a response, and don’t let the fact that you can’t speak Japanese put you off. Especially in the city’s izakaya (traditional Japanese bars), the staff and other locals will go out of their way to pull you into a conversation, even if they don’t speak a word of English!
Osaka is located in the humid subtropical climate zone, so because of this, the weather in Osaka is defined by four distinct seasons. Its winters are generally mild, with January being the coldest month. Still, snowfall is rare in the city. Spring weather in Osaka is mild, but towards summer it gets warm and humid. This is also Osaka's rainy season, and between June and July you should expect some downpours - to be met with good humor, of course. Summers in the city are hot and humid, with the hottest month being August when highs reach 33.5 °C (92 °F). This makes fall in Osaka one of the best times to travel, as the temperatures cool and the tourist numbers are slightly lower.
Visit the Uemachi Plateau and the ancient ruins
The Uemachi Plateau is a plateau in Osaka, and it’s a great place to start a trip to the region. It extends from the Osaka Castle to Tennōji in the south, and is widely considered the birthplace of the city. Here you’ll find some of Osaka’s earliest signs of human habitation, including Morinomiya ruins and human skeletons estimated to date back to between the sixth and fifth centuries, BC. It’s a fascinating place to visit, and important landmark in Osaka. If you’re interested in learning more about Japan and Osaka’s history, then a visit here should be high on your list - before visiting the city’s more modern attractions.
Enjoy the modern aspects of the city
Although the heart and soul of the city lies in its many historical places, much of Osaka’s personality and most recognisable features lie in its modernity. There are famous high-rise buildings that offer incredible views over the city, such as Abeno Harukasu, the Umeda Sky Building, and the Osaka Prefectural Government Sakishima Building. If you’re a fan of architecture, there are several famous buildings to track down while you’re there as well. These include the "organic building" designed by Gaetano Pesce, “Church of Light” by Tadao Ando, “Louis Vuitton Osaka Hilton Plaza” by Kumiko Inui, and “namBa HIPS” by Shin Takamatsu. It’s a remarkable modern city, and these iconic buildings are often the best way to appreciate its present and future.
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