Neon lights in Dotombori

How to spend 36 hours in Osaka, Japan

Osaka was the last stop of our two week trip to Japan, and we had originally planned to spend two full days there. However, we made a last minute decision to stop off in Himeji along the way, to check out the newly restored castle. We ended up spending a good part of the day in Himeji, arriving in Osaka late afternoon. That only gave us a single day to explore the city. Of course, one day in a metropolis as big as Osaka is nowhere near enough, especially since Osaka has so much to offer. But it was enough for us to get a small taste of this amazing city.

The Dotombori Canal.
The Dotombori Canal.

Here are some tips to help you make the most of 36 hours in this bustling city:

What to see in Osaka:

Dotonbori

Dotonbori runs alongside the Dotonbori canal and was the highlight of our stay in Osaka. You just cannot visit Osaka without checking out this area. It’s the heart of Osaka, the centre of its nightlife and the city’s foodie mecca. There are colourful billboards, heaps of restaurants, and endless food stalls. Giant models of food such as Octopus, blowfish, and gyoza hang from restaurants’ facades. The most photographed facade is the big crab Kani-Doraku! Dotonbori is eccentric, trendy and the best place for people watching. It’s also the busiest part of town though, so be prepared to face the crowds.

Inside the Dotombori Arcade.
Inside the Dotonbori Arcade.
Entrance to Dotombori.
The entrance to Dotonbori.
The big crab Kani-Doraku!
The big crab Kani-Doraku!
Dotonbori by night.
Dotonbori by night.

Nearest subway station: Namba

Ebisu Bashi

Ebisu Bashi is a famous bridge crossing the Dotonbori canal. It offers the best views over Dotonbori’s famed neon nightscape. From this bridge, you can take the perfect photo of the Glico Running Man, one of Osaka’s famous icons. From here you can also head down to the pedestrian walkway for a nice stroll along the canal.

Ebisu Bashi and the Dotombori Canal
Ebisu Bashi and the Dotombori Canal.
The Glico Running Man.
The Glico Running Man.

Nearest subway station: Namba

Shinsaibashi

Shinsaibashi is Osaka’s premier shopping district. It’s huge, housing close to two hundred shops in a 600-meter long street. It has been Osaka’s most important shopping area for four-hundred years. You will find Japanese brands, but also your favourite international labels. We saw some quite odd shops there. My favourite was this canine clothes store. Yes, a store selling only clothes and accessories for pooches. They were the cutest clothes I had ever seen! Luckily the outfits were mainly made for small dogs, so our Bernese Mountain Dogs escaped humiliation!

Cute pooch dresses
Cute pooch dresses
Dog's Hawaiian shirts!
Dog’s Hawaiian shirts!

Nearest subway station: Shinsaibashi

Kuromon Ichiba Market

The Kuromon Ichiba Market is known as Osaka’s kitchen. This undercover market has almost two hundred shops and sells everything needed for Japanese cooking. There are stalls selling the freshest ingredients, such as fish, seafood, vegetables, and Kobe beef. They all come from regional sources. You can even find cooked food there if you’re in the mood to eat straight away!

Nearest subway station: Nipponbashi

Den Den Town

Den Den Town is Osaka’s version of Akihabara in Tokyo; it is famous for selling electronic equipment. Here you’ll find the latest products from Olympus, Canon, Panasonic or Sony, at a discounted price as well. Den Den Town also sells lots of themed merchandise for fans of manga and anime.

Den Den town
Den Den town – Photo by Gavin Andreson Flickr 

Nearest subway station: Ebisucho or Nipponbashi

Umeda Sky Building

The 173m tall Umeda Sky Building is Osaka’s most iconic structure. It was designed by Hara Hiroshi, who also designed Kyoto station. It’s home to the Floating Garden Observatory which gives you 360-degree panoramic views of the city. Getting to the top is half the fun because for the final five floors you need to ride the world’s tallest escalator. At the top of the building, two glassed-in escalators cross the void between the twin towers. It’s not for people who are scared of heights!

The Umeda buulding from the ground.
Looking up at the Umeda Sky Building from the ground.
The observation deck of the Umeda Tower
The observation deck of the Umeda Sky Building.
Great view from the top!
A great view from the top!
The world tallest elevator.
The world’s tallest escalator!

Admission to the observatory: ¥1000

Nearest subway station: Umeda, Higashi-Umeda or Nishi-Umeda

Osaka Castle

Although Osaka Castle is nowhere near as impressive as Himeji, it’s a popular attraction in Osaka, especially for first-time visitors. Unlike Himeji, this isn’t the original castle, but rather a concrete reconstruction from 1931. The original castle suffered many turbulent times including wars, lightning strikes, and fire. Along with an observation deck, you will find an informative museum inside that describes the castle’s history. Stroll around the grounds to get the best views of the castle itself.

Osaka castle
Osaka castle – Photo by Marufish Flickr

Admission: ¥600

Nearest subway station: Tanimachi 4-chrome Station

Where to eat:

Dotonbori is the best place to experience Osaka’s food culture, with many types of eateries available on its main street or side streets. In Dotonbori you can try all of Osaka’s specialities.

Street food vendor in Dotombori.
A street food vendor in Dotonbori.

Specialities of Osaka:

Takoyaki

Takoyaki is grilled Octopus. This snack has a filling of octopus slices, pickled ginger and green onion, covered in a flour and egg batter. Takoyaki is cooked in a special takoyaki pan, which moulds the ingredients into small balls. It makes a great street food.

Some Takoyaki.
Some Takoyaki.

Okonomiyaki

If you’ve read our previous posts on Kamakura and Hiroshima, you will know that we tried many different Okonomiyaki while in Japan. Osaka has its own version of the famous Japanese pancake. They mix shredded cabbage into a flour based batter, along with many other ingredients such as squid, prawns, octopus and various meats.

Try Chibo in Dotombori for some of the best Okonomiyaki in Osaka.

Awesome Okonomiyaki at Chibo.
Awesome Okonomiyaki at Chibo.

Negiyaki

Negiyaki is made by frying a thin batter of flour and water, with lots of spring onions on top. It’s like a vegetarian Okonomiyaki.

Negiyaki a vegetarian Okonomiyaki.
Negiyaki, a vegetarian Okonomiyaki.

Taiko-Manju

Taiko-Manju is a Japanese baked sweet. Cooked in a steel drum, it is made from a batter of flour, eggs, and sugar, with steamed bean paste oozing from the middle.

Where to stay in Osaka:

Since you will spend most of your time in the  Shinsaibashi-Dotonbori area, I highly recommend staying in that district to save on the cost of public transport. There are many places to stay, ranging from the luxurious, down to mid-range hotels, and even hostels.

We stayed at the Best Western Hotel Fino. It was very well priced, very clean and the location was perfect. The rooms were very small but we found this to be the case everywhere in Japan. It’s just a few minutes walk from the funky Dotombori district, with its great food and nightlife. It was perfect for us.

Accommodation in Osaka

Use the search box below to find your accommodation in Osaka:

Dotonbori by night.
Dotonbori by night.

Conclusion:

Though our time in Osaka was short, we enjoyed it very much. It is so different from the rest of Japan. Like Tokyo, it is a modern Japanese city, with neon lights and new buildings everywhere. But it was also a lot more casual, people were friendlier, and the food culture was like nowhere else in Japan.

With just 36 hours in Osaka, we did not even scratch the surface of what this dynamic metropolis has to offer, but we made a good start. It was a brilliant way to end our already amazing trip to Japan. We know that we’ll be back there before long.

If you have any suggestions, or if you want to share your own experiences, feel free to comment below. If you enjoyed this post please don’t forget to share it.

Read more

A Visit to Japan’s Most Spectacular Castle, Himeji

10 Things to do on Your First Trip to Kyoto

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