This article follows on from A guide to Osaka, Japan, published recently here on the Indie Travel Podcast.
Osaka is an incredible city, full of quirks and culture. It’s a great place to base yourself during your time in Japan, due to its proximity to other cities as well as for what it has to offer for itself.
Like in Tokyo, much of the ‘old’ Osaka was destroyed by air raids during WWII, so that the cityscape is quite drab and doesn’t have much of the traditional Japanese charm that the visitor might have imagined.
However, there is the impressive landmark, Osaka Castle, surrounded by a beautiful park, as well one of Japan’s oldest Buddhist temples (Tennoji to the south-east of the city) and a shinto shrine (Sumiyoshi Taisha, in a suburb in the south-east). As everywhere in Japan, smaller shrines and temples can still be discovered in many back streets.
If you like modern art, history, theatre and museums, or only one of these, you will love Osaka.
Traditional Japanese arts that can be seen in the city include Kabuki theatre, Bunraku (a form of puppetry with puppets that are played by three people each) and rarer forms of entertainment such as Takarazuka, an all-female musical ensemble famous all over Asia that performs in the suburb of the same name.
Osaka has some outstanding museums, including the unique Peace Osaka, which tells Japanese history of the 20th century as it is (a rare thing, as Japan is still refusing to officially acknowledge many of their war crimes); the Osaka Museum of History, housed in a futuristic skyscraper that offers a great view over the city AND is built on top of the ruins of the ancient Naniwa palace; The National Museum of Art with contemporary art, mainly from Asia; as well as the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen museum, dedicated to the inventor of instant noodles.
For families or the young at heart, Osaka is home to one of the biggest aquariums in Asia, as well as Universal Studios Japan, the city’s answer to Disneyland Tokyo.
Day trips from Osaka
Japan is a big country, and if you only have limited time and funds, basing yourself in Osaka and skipping Tokyo altogether might be a good solution. It’s quick to get around Osaka thanks to the subway lines and public transport in the surrounding Kansai area is affordable, fast and efficient.
Osaka is only 40-50 minutes on the local train (US$8 return ticket) from Kyoto, which makes it a great base for exploring the old capital — Kyoto and its hostels are notoriously expensive and it doesn’t really have a night life, anyway.
Another beautiful day trip from Osaka is Nara, another ancient capital with many temples and shrines in a big park area that is also home to hundreds of semi-tame deer (messengers from the gods, according to Japanese belief). Ask people who have visited Japan – chances are that if they have been to Nara, they will name it as their favourite part of the trip!
Kobe to the north-west of Osaka (20 minutes by trains tops) sadly is famous for the big earthquake that destroyed much of the city in 1995, but the city has bounced back (no trace of the earthquake except for the harbour land memorial) and is a friendly, metropolitan, but easy-to-navigate city with a beautiful harbour area, a cute Chinatown and many hangouts for travellers and expats.
This is just a small selection of the sights in the area, so before you have a nervous breakdown over the prospect of getting to Osaka from Tokyo: having to organise a cross-Japan trip or fork out the cost of a JR Rail Pass, have a look at flying direct from your point of origin to Osaka/Kansai International Airport. Chances are, these flights will be cheaper than those going to Tokyo!
Interested in Japan? Check out our Japan country page.