8 Things You Need To Know Before You Go To Osaka
Come for the food, stay for the fun.
Osaka is a great place to base yourself when visiting Japan. In the centre of the Kansai region, a flight into its international airport places you just an hour-long train journey away from Kyoto, Nara and Kobe, and only a few more on the Shinkansen to Hiroshima or Tokyo.
Traditionally a working-class City, Osaka’s economic ups and downs have made it an intriguing place to experience the clash of Japan’s new and old worlds. But don’t mistake the former Japanese capital for a stopover. Osaka is full of hidden charms which make it one of the most eccentric and interesting places to visit in Nippon.
#1 Locals Speak A Different Language
Well, not a totally different language, but it’s certainly a distinct vernacular – just ask the rest of the country. One of the main aspects of the city’s unique culture is Osaka Ben, the dialect that – if attempted – will get you far with the boisterous locals.
Known to be harsher and more comedic than the official tongue, throw in an “okinii” (thank you) or a “wakarahen” (I don’t understand), and you’ll be sure to gain some props for your effort.
#2 It’s A City Of Bikes
Biking in Osaka is not for the faint-hearted, but once you get used to traversing crowds of pedestrians and fellow cyclists, it’s unquestionably the best way to get around. Osaka is split into two distinct areas: Kita (North) which refers to the area of Umeda around Shin Osaka station and Minamai (south) covering Dotombori and Namba. Biking from either of these hubs can get you out and about quickly.
There is bike parking near most urban train stations – just be careful to park in official-looking spots, as your bike could get compounded (and lord knows how to go about getting it back!).
The best way to get a bike is to ask your hotel before booking if they provide them for guests. Failing that, there’s always the train lines that service the city, which are easy to find and get around on, but not as fun as riding.
#3 The Food Is Next Level
Visiting Osaka means you’ve found yourself in the nation’s kitchen, a term that was bestowed on the city during the Edo period and has stuck around due to its modern reputation for delicious culinary delights.
When in Rome, you can’t go past Osaka’s most famous dishes – okonomiyaki (Japanese savoury pancake) and takoyaki (octopus balls), both finished off with a dressing of brown sauce, Kewpie mayonnaise, bonito flakes and seaweed. These dishes can be found on various street corners, stand up eateries and sit down restaurants. Just look for the busiest place and try your luck.
#4 There Are Hipsters
After taking the obligatory tourist shot with the Glico Man on Dotonbori, head to the western side of the Midosuji (the main street of central Osaka), and you’ll find counterculture haven Ame-Mura (America Village). Centred around the well-known young peeps hangout Triangle Park, the area is home to great vintage clothing and record stores, sneakers galore and all the John Lennon paraphernalia you can, ahem, imagine.
Head further west, and you’ll find Tachibana-Touri (Orange Street). The street and it’s surrounding blocks are full of zakka home wares and craft shops, not to mention cafes with slow-drip coffee, served to you by boys in Muji with man buns. Yep – you’ve stumbled upon hipster Osaka, minus the ‘tude.
Pull up an outside stool and sip on a local craft beer at Biotop (a retail space with a coffee shop); it’s a great place to people watch the afternoon away. Or, if you’re up for a western-style feed, head to the rooftop Cubierta for some pizza and salad.
#5 It’s An Otaku Paradise
If it’s a vintage Famicom console you’re after, look no further than Nipponbashi – locally referred to as Den Den Town. Osaka’s answer to Akihabara and not far from Namba station, here, you’ll find all the weird and wonderful Japanese toys and manga you’ve heard about on the internet.
Watch your step or you could unintentionally (or intentionally, if that’s what you’re after) fall into adult-only territory.
#6 Deep-Fried Food On Sticks Is A Thing
If you wander a little further south from Den Den Town into Shinsekai, you can find the best food invention ever – Kushikatsu. Kushi refers to the bamboo skewers that the food is on and you can find meat, vegetable and even cheese varieties here. Don’t forget to dip your fried goods into the tonkatsu sauce (but strictly no double dipping) and make sure you eat the cabbage they give you as a side – it’s a rookie error to eat all that deep fried food with nothing to soak it up.
In the centre of Shinsekai is the Tsūtenkaku Tower, a well know Osakan landmark with a super interesting history. Translated to English, Shinsekai means “new world”, which only adds to the Blade Runner-esque vibe of the area.
And while the tower doesn’t boast the views of the Umeda Sky Building or the newer Abenobashi Terminal Building, it’s worth a hike up to the observation deck to discover more about the eccentric Naniwa area where it’s situated.
#7 There Is An Eight-Level Bathhouse
Right around the corner from Shinsekai, you’ll find an onsen experience like no other – Spa World. This massive and quirky complex has European and Asian-themed spa levels which are single-sex only. Each level is decked out according to the bathing traditions of the area, but be aware – no swimmers are allowed in the baths.
In fact, it’s best to look up all the dos and don’ts on the website before you visit; things can get a bit awkward when someone is telling you what to do while naked. One important thing to note is that tattoos are traditionally connected to the underworld and criminal gangs in Japan. Today in Japan, it’s still taboo to have visible body art (which is pretty hard to hide when you’re naked), so if you’re inked, you may want to skip the experience to avoid being turned away – in the politest possible way, of course.
#8 The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter Is Here
Who needs to trek all the way to Florida to visit Hogwarts? Not you, because there is a Universal Studios in Osaka (USJ), and it scored its own wing of the Wizarding World back in 2016. It’s almost essential to dress up when visiting theme parks in Japan, so grab your best wizard’s robe, don your Gryffindor scarf and hop on the train to Universal City Station for a day of sipping butter beer and hanging with Hippogriffs.
If you’re feeling the magic, you can even get yourself a wand.
(Lead image: Redd Angelo)