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.
Here are some tips to help you make the most of 36 hours in this bustling city:
What to see in Osaka:
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.
Nearest subway station: Namba
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.
Nearest subway station: Namba
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!
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.
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!
Admission to the observatory: ¥1000
Nearest subway station: Umeda, Higashi-Umeda or Nishi-Umeda
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.
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.
Specialities of Osaka:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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