27 Things to know before going to Osaka for First Timers

Last Updated on July 20, 2021 by Christine Kaaloa

osaka running man sign

osaka running man sign

 

Osaka is the third largest city in Japan. It is known as the Kitchen of Japan with hearty street food, a friendly spirit, and unique and quirky character.  I like to think of it as the wild child of Japan. This is one city, you won’t wanna miss! I’m going to take you through things to know before going to Osaka.

Watch Best things to do in Osaka

Things to know before going to Osaka

Whether you’re traveling to Nara, Kyoto, Kobe or anywhere else in the Kansai area, there’s a possibility you’ll be passing through Osaka. When I initially arrived, I knew I should’ve booked for longer, so I’m going to take you through my list of best things to do in Osaka.

1. Get an ICOCA card

For Osaka, I got an ICOCA card. You can use it anywhere in the Kansai region so its worthwhile getting. I used it for my trips to Nara and Kyoto also. The  PASMO and SUICA card (good for all trains and buses) work also. Upon leaving, you can get your deposit back by turning it in to the station master at the airport.

Tip: Get a Japan SIM card unlimited 4G Data so you have access to internet and Google Maps

2. Osaka Amazing pass

If you’re traveling to Osaka for the first time, the Osaka Amazing Pass might be a great addition to your trip. The pass covers 30+ attractions (either it’s free or discounted) and an unlimited use of metros, tramways and buses.  I got a two day pass and the attractions it covers are cool. I tried to squeeze in as much as I could.

3. Namba Station can be disorienting

Arriving into Namba Station can be disorienting. Namba station is one of the largest metro stations in Osaka, connecting you to main spots like Dotonbori, Shinsaibashi and Kansai International airport. It also has six stations. If you get lost, find the nearest station master. If you can find it Osaka Tourism Office is also located there and they offer free city maps!

4. Stay in a  Capsule hotel

A capsule hotel is a type of hotel that Japanese salarymen used to use in 1970s after missing the train home from work. It’s a no fuss sleeping pod where they give you a sleeping outfit and toiletries for your stay. Some may even give you a bag of welcome goodies! I wanted to be close to Dotonbori for the first half of my trip, so I stayed at Capsule Astii Dotonbori Osaka. Check out my video below.  The second half of my trip, I tried Hotel A-style , a female only capsule hotel. It was not as exciting and was full with ladies, but a decent option if you are a female traveling alone.

4. Dotonbori River Walk  

Walking along Dotonbori River Walk is a quiet canal walk lit with building signage, wedged behind the bustling Dotonbori street.  It separates Dotonbori from Shinsekai. The most famous sign is the Running Man sign.

5. Tombori River Cruise

How does a short river cruise sound to you? Tombori River Cruise is a 20 minute cruise down the atmospheric Tombori River walk. Departs every half hour Monday-Friday 1pm to 9pm, Saturday/Sunday/Holidays 11am to 9pm. Location:  Tazaemombashi Pier, 5 min northeast from Namba Station.

Tip: This cruise is included in the Osaka Amazing Pass

6.  Take a photo with the Glico Running Man

The Glico Running Man sign has been a landmark mascot of Dotonbori for over 80 years.  Overlooking the Dotonbori river, it’s actually the logo of a famous Japanese candy company)

7. Dotonbori Food Street

If Osaka is the kitchen of Japan, Dotonbori is the foodie soul of Osaka. One of the top attraction of Osaka is Dotonburi, the largest street food street in Osaka. Covered in lights and giant blow up seafood signage this is street food heaven. Sink your teeth into hot and tender takoyaki or stir up your own okonomiyaki.

Read : Best foods of Osaka

8. Fall in Love with Takoyaki

One of the best things to do in Osaka is to experience takoyaki. Takoyaki is deep fried breaded squid balls. Crisp on the outside and soft and breaded oozy on the inside. They are sold literally everywhere in Osaka and are a must if you want a heavenly snack. I’ve tried these in the U.S. and they do not hold a candle to Japan in crispness and heavenly oil. I still have dreams about Osaka takoyaki. Some joints offer different types of takoyaki with sauces and dips.

9. Okonomiyaki

Osaka is the birth home of okonomiyaki. Basically it’s a Japanese pizza pancake of fried cabbage, flour and various fixings from egg to seafood. Some restaurants have fryers at your seat and allow you to make your own okonomiyaki. Other places will serve it to you ready made.

10. Osaka Mascots

Osaka’s wild and quirky character is defined by the mascots it is known for: takoyaki, Kuidore clown guy, the Glico Running Man and the Daruma kushikatsu guy.

Osaka has some unique mascots characteristic of its city, culture and food. These all give a unique glimpse into the spirit and history of Osaka.:

Takoyaki is a popular food of Osaka, putting the city on the street food map. It is a deep-fried breaded octopus ball snack.

The Kuidore clown in Dotonbori is symbolic of a building in Dotonbori and the easy-going, humor-hearted personality of Osakan people,

Glico Running Man is the athletic nature of Japanese and the Olympics.

Daruma Kushikatsu guy is the Daruma icon for a brand of kushikatsu and the original makers of the deep fried snacks. Osaka is the originator of kushikatsu and you can visit the original shop that sold kushikatsu in Shinsekai. The daruma doll is a symbol of perseverance and luck in Japan.

Billiken is the mascot of Shinsekai and is a type of happy and lucky Buddha. Ironically, the origins are not Japanese but American, but the golden, big belly buddha sits as a good luck charm outside some of the businesses.

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11. Search for Osaka Limited Edition drinks

Did you know Osaka has their own signature Coke? Japan loves their limited edition snacks/drinks and cities can have anything from their own Coke can to Starbucks drinks.  Be on the lookout for them.

12. Laugh at Comedy & Namba Grand Kagetsu

Did you know Osaka is the city of laughs? Not really but it is known for housing the best standup comedy.  The Namba Grand Kagetsu theater is famous for it’s lineup of famous standup comedians.

13. Kuromon Market

Kuromon Market is Osaka’s oldest market. Once a traditional market for locals, today the market has changed to attract tourists who  flock for seafood and selfies! It’s a little on the pricey side compared to other famous markets across Japan

Getting There: Get off at Nippombashi Station, Exit 2.
 542-0073 Ōsaka-fu, Ōsaka-shi, Chūō-ku, Nipponbashi, 2 Chome−4−1, 玉五郎 , 

14. Visit Shinsekai

If you love the old vibe old carnival vibe of Coney Island,  then you will adore Shinsekai. Literal translation, Shinsekai means New World. It is part of Amerika Mura (“American Village”), a district in Osaka which sold to American imports in the 1970s.  Shinsekai was one of my favorite spots.

Shinsekai history has a checkered past as it used to be one of Osaka’s slums and red light districts. Today it has a bit of that seedy character with naughty arcades and adult video rental shops, but is also electric with youth and food. 

See my Shinsekai travel guide for more

15. Tsutenkaku Tower 

If you are visiting Shinsekai, then you cannot miss Tsutenkaku Tower. It advertises Hitachi and looks like a sky needle. There is an observation deck inside and an explanation of the district’s history.   

16. Try Kushikatsu

 Kushikatsu is deep fried skewers you can dip into dipping sauce for a crunchy flavorful bite. You’ll find anything from vegetables, cheese, chicken and meats, even mochi can be skewered up and placed on the menu.

Tip: Shinsekai is the best place for kushikatsu. As the birthplace of these deep fried skewers, you’ll find a handful of restaurants selling kushikatsu.

 

17. Ganso Kushikatsu Daruma

Ganso Kushikatsu Daruma is the birthplace of kushikatsu and is a famous chain of kushikatsu eateries. The original shop in Shinsekai located in an alley street and is a shoebox eatery with standing room only.

18. Stroll in Osaka Park  

As the second largest park in Osaka, Osaka Park is quite large. The park winds around the moat. It is one of a top spot for viewing cherry blossoms. There are almost 600  cherry trees.  

Getting there: Either Tanimachi 4-chrome Station or Osakajokoen Station. It can take 20 minutes to get to Osaka castle from either park entrance.

Read Top spots in Kansai for Cherry Blossom Viewing

19. Osaka Castle & Museum

Dating back to 1583, the Osaka Castle & Museum sits inside Osaka Park.  Inside the castle, there is a museum inside which costs 600 yen.  Plan at least 2 hours to see around the castle and grounds. If you’re visiting during cherry blossom season or festival time, plan for much longer. The castle is lit up every day from sunset until 11PM.

Getting there: Either Tanimachi 4-chrome Station or Osakajokoen Station. It can take 20 minutes to get to Osaka castle from either park entrance.

20. Shopping at HEP 5

Hep 5 (Hankyu Entertainment Park) shopping mall sits in the Umeda district and houses a giant plastic red whale sculpture and floors of shopping and entertainment. If you look up, you cannot miss this building– a giant Ferris wheel sits atop and you can see a lovely view of Osaka city from it. There are cute theme cafes (visit the Egg Cafe) and restaurants. Visit the top floors of HEP 5 Shopping Mall for virtual game experiences.

Located:  A few minutes from Osaka Umeda Station on the Hankyu Railway.
5-15 Kakudacho, Kita Ward, Osaka, 530-0017.

21. HEP 5 Ferris wheel experience

Next up my Osaka Amazing Pass takes me to lofty heights with the HEP 5 Ferris wheel. It is a ferris wheel on top of the HEP 5 Shopping Mall and shares an incredible view of Osaka and Osaka Station from up high.

22. Reach high at Umeda Sky Building & Floating Garden Observatory

Umeda Sky Building has one of the most incredible 360 views of Osaka. From outside, the twin tower design is impressive, and it is moreso when you see it from inside and the top. The floating garden observatory offers one of the best views of the sprawling city of Osaka.

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23. Get your worries eaten away at Namba Yasaka Shrine

A mere 8-minute walk from busy Nankai station and Daikokucho Station , the Namba Yasaka shrine is the Buddhist home of the Namba’s forbidding guardian lion.  Famous for its lion-shaped stage, the shrine looks like it is from a Coney Island amusement park but is said to eat demonous spirits and bad luck.

Getting there: 2 Chome-9-11 Motomachi, Naniwa-ku, Ōsaka-shi, Ōsaka-fu 556-0016, Japan

24. Osaka Museum of Housing and Living

Located in the Kita area, the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living provides an informative look at how Osaka lifestyle was in the Edo Period. It also showcases houses of the Meiji, Taisho and Showa periods. http://konjyakukan.com/

Located: Tenjinbashisuji 6-chome Station, 530-0041 Osaka Municipal Housing Information Center, 6-4-20 Tenjinbashi, Kita-ku, Osaka

25. Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan

Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan is one of the top 10 largest aquariums in the world. The aquarium is 9 meters deep and filled with 5,400 tons of water. The tank descends around 4 to 5 floors (or 9 meters/30 feet deep) and you can view it at each level until you reach the bottom. It’s a phenomenal experience.  You can see many manta rays, sharks, fishes… and one giant whale shark. Hours: 10AM – 8PM Website: http://www.kaiyukan.com/language/eng/index.htm

Getting There: Off at Osakako station (near Tempozan Harbor Village), and walk for 5 minutes to KAIYUKAN. Near the giant ferris wheel.

26. Amerika Mura

Built in the 1970s, Amerika Mura (“American Village” or “Yankee Town”) celebrates all things American.It sells a lot of American imports from jeans to vintage clothing. 5 minutes from the Shinsaibashi Station and a stone’s throw from Dotonbori, a visit to this area is convenient. They even have their own Statue of Liberty!

27. Getting to Osaka

The best way to get to/from KIX to Osaka is taking Nankai Rapi:t airport express train. It takes around 45 minutes to Namba Station. Then take a subway or taxi to your destination.

Getting a Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass)

The Japan Rail Pass is the perfect option if your itinerary is crunched with cities and very little time. JR Pass Options are sold in 7 day, 14 day and 21 day categories. Note: you can only buy these passes outside of Japan.

 

What would you add to this list of things to know before going to Osaka? What are your best things to do in Osaka?

 

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