Fabulous Osaka is much more than the first point of entry for millions of visitors to Japan. Though many never make it out of Kansai or Osaka International airports, countless others discover and fall in love with Japan’s anti-Tokyo. Part of a vast metropolitan area, along with Kobe and Kyoto, which is more than 17 million people strong, Osaka is the party, drink, and gourmet capital of Japan.
The city was the early political capital of the country as well, way back in the 7th century. Much later, hyper-development put Osaka on par with Birmingham or even Manchester in terms of industrial output. Though no longer the economic center of Japan, metro Osaka is still a financial powerhouse with a gross domestic product above that of many nations.
Like the rest of urban Japan, the city is a collection of wards or Ku. Osaka has 24 wards, one more than Tokyo in fact, and many districts set up specifically for commerce, leisure and entertainment, and business. In this regard, Osaka is no different from many large metro areas in China, South Korea, and indeed, Japan.
Here are 10 must-see attractions in Osaka that certainly deserve your precious tourist time.
The Sumiyoshi Grand Shrine is one of the most historic in Japan. The Sumiyoshi ward landmark in Osaka dates back to the year 211, incredibly, and bears a unique style of architecture that has made it a national treasure.
Though a concrete reproduction, with very little left of the original late 16th-century structure, Osaka Castle is nonetheless one of the most recognizable landmarks in Japan. The monument covers over 15 acres of land in central Osaka and is open to the public.
Osaka Museum of History
With evidence of human occupation as far back as the 6th century B.C., Osaka’s legacy is rich. The city has been the stage for some monumental events in the history of Japan, all of which get major face time at the Osaka Museum of History. The facility, in addition to being a great museum, offers wonderful views of the city.
A Buddhist temple built in 593, most of what remains of Shitennoji was constructed over the past several decades. The beautiful shrine, easily accessible by subway, hosts a great flea market on the 21st of every month.
Umeda Sky Building
Six buildings are taller than Umeda Sky in Osaka but none are even remotely as weird. Twin 40-floor towers link at the top to form one of the oldest skyscrapers on record. Definitely worth a visit, however, if only for the rooftop observation deck.
Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum
A favorite with backpackers and college students, the only Ramen noodle museum in the world is certainly a break from the norm. Still, after a visit, one has to give Momofuku Ando his props. The prominent instant noodle pioneer died at the age of 96 in 2007 in the Ikeda area of Osaka, which is where the museum can be found.
Open Air Museum of Old Farmhouses
Within Ryokuchi park in Osaka is a collection of Edo period farmhouses, carefully remade from scratch and completely authentic in appearance down to the last detail. As a result, the Open Air Museum is a great place to see how people lived in this part of Japan hundreds of years ago.
Osaka Science Museum
Osaka was the first city to build a science museum and planetarium in Japan so it’s no major surprise that the city’s present-day modern Science Museum is a terrific facility. The facility recently underwent a major renovation and is better than ever, with a next-generation digital planetarium dome and more interactive workshops for visitors (albeit in Japanese).
Dotonbori is one of the most popular streets in Osaka and runs adjacent to a canal of the same name. A former red-light district, the street is now a major retail and restaurant thoroughfare, with myriad neon signs that attract tourists and locals alike. Osaka is first and foremost, a major food city and Dotonbori is where hordes of people come to practice kuidaore, which loosely translates as “eat into ruin”.
There are several areas that will satisfy your inner shopper but Shinsaibashi is probably the best. Certainly the most frenetic, as anyone who ventures here on a Saturday afternoon can attest. From local shops to big malls, luxury brands to bargain stores, Shinsaibashi has it all and pioneers many of the fashion trends that fester with Japanese youth. However, Umeda is worth a trip for electronics, and the 2.6 km Tenjinbashi-suji commercial arcade is pretty cool as well.