Japan City Guides: Osaka 大阪
Osaka is Japan's third biggest city, and the metropolis of the Kansai region. Osaka is a port city, and historically the merchant capital of Japan. The traditional greeting among citizens of this friendly, unpretentious "work hard, party hard" city is mohkare-makka, or "Are you making money?". Visitors will appreciate the more neighborly ethos of Osaka, in contrast to the mind-your-own-business mood of Tokyo.
Osaka has long identified itself by kuidaore ("ruinous eating") as opposed to Kyoto's kidaore ("ruinous dressing"), and there are several Osaka-born dishes that you must try, starting with the okonomiyaki savory pancake, if you are to say you have experienced Osaka.
Osaka's main centers are laid out north-south, making it easy to navigate and sample the various atmospheres, from the glitzier north to the earthier south.
Things to see and do in Osaka
In the late 1980's and early 1990's the Kansai area with Osaka at its heart was producing 5% of the world's GDP. Those heady days may have passed as the Kansai area and Osaka have been overtaken by such mega-cities as Shanghai, Shenzhen and Tianjin in China but Osaka and its hinterland of the Kansai region still remain a powerhouse in the Japanese economy.
Osaka has been an important port and mercantile city in Japan since the early Edo Period and before since Toyotomi Hideyoshi founded Osaka Castle in 1596. Osaka supplied goods such as rice, sake, ceramics and fineries from Kyoto to the capital in Edo (Tokyo) by sea.
Osaka, like Tokyo, is divided into distinct areas each with their own unmistakable character: Nakanoshima is the cultural and administrative center of Osaka located on an island in the Yodogawa River, Den-Den Town (an electronics shopping area in Daikokucho and Osaka's equivalent to Tokyo's Akihabara), Umeda, Shinsaibashi and Namba are the places for shopping and nightlife.
The new developments near Osaka Port on the coast at Tempozan including Osaka Aquarium and the nearby Universal Studios have become the new reasons to visit the city. The southern part of the city around Tennoji, which includes the historic temple of Shitennoji, Shin-Sekai (New World) and Osaka Zoo has its own particular draw.
Spa World near Dobutsuen-mae Station (Osaka Zoo) in the Tennoji district is a super onsen with a capacity of 5,000 bathers who can wander bath areas modeled on those of Turkey, India, Rome, China and other countries.
Tsuruhashi is Osaka's Korea Town with a unique ambiance and a good opportunity to sample Korean food.
Osaka is divided into Kita (north) and Minami (south). Kita is the main business area of the city located around JR Osaka and Umeda stations, whereas Minami is the shopping and entertainment district centered on Namba and Shinsaibashi with the more earthy Dotombori roughly in the middle of the two places.
Dojima-gawa and Tosabori-gawa are the two rivers that divide Kita and Minami, with the administrative area of Nakanoshima sandwiched between the two.
Osaka-jo Castle (near Kyobashi Station) is one of Osaka's main attractions and the large Osaka-jo Koen (Osaka Castle Park) has bands and other cultural and music events in the grounds on weekends.
Umeda Sky Building is a 173 meter high building formed of two separate tower blocks connected at the top, somewhat reminiscent of the Grand Arch in La defense, Paris. Completed in 1993, it was designed by architect Hiroshi Hara who is probably best known for the new Kyoto Station.
Osaka's many excellent museums include the Osaka City Museum of Fine Arts, Peace Osaka dedicated to Japan's World War II experience, the Museum of Oriental Ceramics, the Suntory Museum (now the Osaka Tempozan Special Art Gallery), the Osaka Museum of History, the Liberty Osaka Museum (Osaka Human Rights Museum), which details such taboo subjects as Japan's Burakumin, foreigners and the environment, the National Museum of Art in Nakanoshima and the Instant Ramen Museum.
The National Bunraku Theater holds performances of traditional Japanese puppet theater and is the best place in Japan to catch this unique art form.
There are Tourist information centres in Kansai International Airport (KIX), JR Osaka Station (tel 06-6345-2189), Shin-Osaka Station (tel 06-6305- 3311), JR Namba Station under the OCAT train terminus (tel 06-6643-2125) and Tennoji Station (tel 06-6774-3077).
-International ATMs are to be found in the OCAT Building, Namba; OPA Building Shinsaibashi.
Osaka Nagai Stadium is home to the J-League's Cerezo Osaka and was a venue for the 2002 World Cup. Take the Midosuji Line Subway to Nagai station - more Nagai Stadium info. Gamba Osaka, the other J-League team in Osaka play at the newer Osaka Expo '70 Stadium in Suita.
Kyocera Dome Osaka is home to the Orix Buffaloes baseball team, while the Hanshin Tigers play at the iconic Koshien Stadium.
Nightlife & Eating Out in Osaka
Fine dining, cool bars, jazz and raucous clubbing - Osaka has it all. Nightlife areas in Osaka include: Umeda, Namba (Nanba), Shinsaibashi and America-mura (Ame-mura). Kita-Horie and Minami-Horie, west of Midosuji from Shinsaibashi also have some trendy locales. Osaka's main gay area is in Doyama, close to Umeda.
Look out too for Osaka's tachinomiya - the city's signature stand-up bars and eateries.
Shopping in Osaka
Osaka is known for its excellent shopping and people come from all over the Kansai area of west Japan to shop in the elegant department stores of Umeda as well as visit the warren of small shops in Umeda's Underground Shopping Area.
Constructed in the 1960's five subterranean avenues radiate out from Osaka Station City: Diamor Osaka, Herbis Osaka, Hankyu Sanbangai, Dojima Underground Shopping Center and Whitey Umeda - with its historic 1960's fountain.
Namba has its own underground malls: Namba Walk, Namba City, Namba Nan Nan and Crysta Nagahori. Above ground is the Shinsaibashi-suji arcade with around 180 shops, Amerika mura, Horie and Minami Senba for youth fashion and the big brand outlets at the intersection of Midosuji and Nagahori-dori.
Namba Parks, designed by by Jon Jerde, the American architect responsible for Canal City in Fukuoka, boasts a series of roof-top gardens on its exterior and inside there are floors dedicated to restaurants offering a variety of cuisines, an 11-screen cinema and various shopping outlets.
South again in Tennoji is a revamped Kintetsu department store at Abeno Station, Abeno Harukas, Hoop and Abeno Park Q's mall, the largest shopping mall in Osaka Prefecture.
Osaka is centrally located and is easy to base yourself in the city and visit other locations for day or half-day tours.
Japan's ancient capital of temples, shrines, gardens and palaces can be reached in under one hour.
The port city of Kobe is only 30 minutes away and offers historic Western-style houses, a Chinatown and a pleasant ocean-side environment.
Mount Koya offers a cooler mountain-top climate and beautiful forested hills with many temples of the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism.
The temples and parks of Nara are only 50 minutes from Osaka Station City using the JR Yamatoji Rapid Service or 33 minutes from Tsuruhashi Station to Kintetsu Nara by Kintetsu train.
Okayama, Himeji, Kurashiki
Okayama with its famous Korakuen garden, Kurashiki and the famous Himeji Castle are also close to Osaka. Okayama is 45 minutes from Shin-Osaka Station on the shinkansen, change at Okayama and Kurashiki is a further 17 minutes by JR Hakubi Line train. Himeji is 38 minutes by shinkansen bullet train from Shin-Osaka Station or an hour by normal Special Rapid Service from Osaka Station City in Umeda.
Travel from Kansai International Airport to downtown Osaka in under an hour by JR "Haruka" train, Nankai "rapi:t" train to Namba Station or airport bus.
The regular JR kanku kaisoku from Osaka Station, Kyobashi, and Namba takes just over an hour and 50 minutes from Tennoji Station to KIX.
The journey from Tokyo to Shin-Osaka Station, which is north of the city center, by Tokaido Shinkansen Nozomi super-express takes 2 hours thirty minutes or by Hikari Shinkansen 2 hours fifty-five minutes stopping at Kyoto, Nagoya and Hamamatsu.
Heading south and west from Shin-Osaka Station there are Shinkansen bullet train connections to Kobe, Hiroshima, Fukuoka and Okayama and on to Yamaguchi and Fukuoka (Hakata Station) for onward rail connections south in Kyushu on the Kyushu Shinkansen.
Osaka has other rail connections to Kyoto (JR and Hankyu Lines from Umeda and Keihan Line from Yodoyabashi), Kobe (JR and Hankyu Lines from Umeda), Nagoya (Kintetsu from Namba & Tsuruhashi) and Nara (Kintetsu from Namba & Tsuruhashi).
Osaka Station City opened in 2011 and is the massive new development over the Osaka Station JR tracks. Osaka Station City includes a number of department stores (Isetan Mitsukoshi, Lucua, Daimaru), restaurants, as well as a multiplex cinema, the Hotel Granvia Osaka and several urban roof gardens.
Discount Tickets For Travel In Osaka
The Osaka Unlimited Pass (One-Day Pass; 2000 yen) and (Two-Day Pass; 2,700) both offer unlimited use of Osaka trains and buses in addition to admission to 24 attractions in the city. Passes can be purchased at the Visitors Information Center upon presentation of your passport.
One-day passes are available for unlimited use on the subway, city buses and New Tram every day except on No-My-Car-Days.
The cost of a One-day pass is 850 yen for adults and 430 yen for children aged 6 to 11. No-My-Car-Day passes cost 600 yen for adults.
The Kansai Thru Pass is available to overseas visitors for 2-days (4,000 yen) or 3-days (5,200 yen) and allows unlimited travel on most private trains (not JR) and municipal subways and buses in Kansai. Available at Tourist Information Centers in Kansai and Itami Airport and KIX.
The Yokoso Osaka Ticket from Nankai Railways costs 1,500 yen and allows free travel on the journey from KIX to Namba plus unlimited travel on Osaka municipal buses and subways.
The Osaka Visitors Ticket (550 yen) is valid on the Osaka subway, buses and New Tram for one day.
The Osaka Kaiyu Ticket offers free admission to the Osaka Aquarium and unlimited travel on the Osaka subway, buses and New Tram for one day plus various discounts on Osaka sightseeing attractions in the Osaka Bay area. Price 2,550 yen for adults.
The Enjoy Eco Card offers unlimited travel on Osaka's subways, New Tram, and city buses plus discounts on various attractions in the city. The Enjoy Eco Card is prices 800 yen for adults (600 yen on weekends and National Holidays) or 300 yen for children.
The Multiple Ride Card is a pre-pard card offering a slight reduction on multiple journeys on the Osaka subway, New Tram, and city buses. 3000 yen is good for 3,300 yen's worth of fares.
The Icoca & Haruka is an IC card (Icoca) that can be used all over Japan on JR lines, subways, most private railways, buses and for shopping, plus a discount ticket for the Kansai International Airport limited express train. Purchase at KIX; price 3,000 yen one way from the airport or 4,000 yen round trip.
The pre-paid Rainbow Card comes in denominations of 500 yen 1,000 yen, 2,000 yen, 3,000 yen and 5,000 yen for adults and 500 yen and 1,000 yen for children aged 6-11. The Rainbow Card is valid for travel on the Osaka subway, the New Tram, and city buses. The Rainbow Card is also valid for travel on parts of the Surutto Kansai transport network, including the Hankyu, Hanshin, Kita-Osaka Kyuko, Keihan, Nankai and Kintetsu lines.
The pre-paid Multiple Ride Card is valid on the Osaka subway, New Tram and city buses. A 3,000 yen adult card is good for 3,300 yen's worth of travel, the 1,500 yen children's card affords 1,650 yen's worth of travel for minors.
The Hankyu Tourist Pass offers unlimited travel on all Hankyu lines connecting Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe. The pass is available for One-day (700 yen) or Two-days (1200 yen) to visitors with tourist visas. Available at Hankyu hotels and main stations.
The Kintetsu Rail Pass can be bought at Kansai International Airport (KIX) and costs 3,800 yen for 5 days travel on Kintetsu and Iga lines.
The JR West Kansai WIDE Area Pass offers unlimited travel for five days for 8,500 yen on JR west trains including the Sanyo Shinkansen to Okayama, the JR Loop Line, Kansai Airport Line and other JR lines. Available to foreign travelers with tourist visas at KIX or other main JR stations. The JR West Kansai Area Pass is similar without the Shinkansen part and costs 1-day 2,200 yen, 2-days 4,300 yen, 3-days 5,300 yen & 4 days 6,300 yen.
The Osaka Municipal Transportation Information Center (Tel: 06 62119503) is located at Namba Station and has detailed information in English on the Osaka subway and city buses and the various travel passes available.
Hours: Mon-Fri 9am-7pm: Sat, Sun & public holidays 10am-7pm
There are day and night highway bus connections to most large cities in Japan including Tokyo, Nagoya and Nagasaki. Local buses in Osaka connect with subway stations and railway stations rather than criss-cross the city. Enter through the back door and pay the driver when you exit the front door. Osaka buses (color coded red) accept IC cards such as PiTaPa, ICOCA and Surutto Kansai cards.
There are ferry services from Osaka Port to Beppu and Shibushi in Kyushu. There are also ferries to Shanghai leaving Osaka Nanko once a week. The ferry departs Osaka Port on Friday and arrives in Shanghai on Sunday. The ferry then leaves Shanghai on Tuesday arriving in Osaka on Thursday. The cheapest round trip fare is 30,000 yen with an extra fuel surcharge. See www.shanghai-ferry.co.jp for further details
Osaka Visitors' Information Center
Tel: 06 6305 3311
JR Shin Osaka Station
Osaka Tourist Information Center
Tel: 0724 56 6025
Kansai International Airport