Thursday, 3 March 2011

Osaka, Kansai’s culinary capital…

Osaka is a must see destination for anybody intending on visiting Japan. Not only can you get flights straight to Osaka (depending on where you are flying from) but the airport itself is truly unique as it has been built on its own artificial island and makes for great viewing when coming in to land!

Kansai International airport

Osaka itself can be reached via Nankai Railway’s limited express train which takes you straight to Namba station in approx 39 minutes, Namba being a great base if you are intending to stay a few days in Osaka. Osaka is home to some of the most iconic images of Japan. You may just recognise a few of them…

Kani Doraku...specialises in kani (crab)

Zuboraya doesn’t just specialise in blowfish!

Glico, the makers of popular Japanese confectionery such as Pocky and Pretz

Osaka is currently Japan’s third largest city, behind Yokohama and the capital Tokyo. Due to the vast amount of space the city occupies, Osaka is home to a number of popular tourist attractions which I highly recommend you visit as some of them could easily rival those found in Tokyo! All the attractions are easily accessible via Namba station (we found anyway) and take no more than 30 minutes to reach.

Osaka castle
Osaka castle is a must for anybody interested in the history of Osaka and the castle itself. When visiting the castle, it is recommended you start from the top (where you have a fantastic panoramic view of the city as well as the castle grounds) and work your way down. At the front of the castle there are a number of fast food vendors (octopus balls are a delicacy in Osaka) and gift shops… and if you go on a hot day like we did, there is a decent selection of vending machines to cool off!

Feeding the birds...

Octopus balls

View from the top

Strolling around the castle grounds is a must. The area is particularly popular during the cherry blossom viewing season. If you can’t get there for April/early May when the blossom is in full bloom, fear not! It is still a pleasant place to take a stroll if you have a bit of time to kill.

The ‘Road Train’ which runs between the Otemon Gate and the Sakuramon gate

Signs available in English

Depending on how you approach the castle it is possible to visit the castle and include some of the area’s other main attractions too. On leaving Osaka-jō station, take a walk around the vicinity of Osaka-jō Hall, a multipurpose arena used for everything from concerts to sports championships. After visiting the castle head to Hokoku Shrine, one of a number of Toyokuni shrines built in honor of the most famous shoguns Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
Outside of the grounds, away from the shade of the plum groves is the Osaka Museum of History. A fantastic museum which explains the history of Osaka through the use of lively displays and pictures. Information in English is very limited but there is more than enough to look at to get an idea of what you’re looking at. At each level there is a section where you can sit and watch the castle in the distance

Osaka Museum of History

Sumiyoshi Taisha is a beautiful Shinto shrine located in the Sumiyoshi ward of Osaka and is one of the most important of the Sumiyoshi shrines in Japan. The shrine is a stones throw away from the station and sits opposite a large garden. If you appreciate shrines and gardens then this will be a real treat. The area is peaceful and the buildings are stunning. The shrine ’shop’ sell a number of good luck charms or omamori and are run by the shrine maidens called ‘miko’.  

Sumiyoshi Taisha grounds

Hozenji Yokocho
Hozenji Yokocho is a long , narrow alley lined with restaurants and bars and is noted as the place where the atmosphere of old-time Osaka is projected. The original area was bombed during WWII, but has since been restored and has become one of the best places to eat and drink. 

The Osaka Aquarium and Tempozan Harbor Village is another highlight of Osaka and must not be missed. Not only is it one of the largest aquariums in the world, but it is also home to an impressive collection of fish and mammals including the giant Whale shark. There is also the opportunity to get hands on in the ‘touching pool’ where you can stroke a number of sharks and rays.  There are two gift shops in the aquarium and a number of decent shops and restaurants in the Tempozan Harbor Village.

The Tempozan Giant Ferriswheel
Osaka Aquarium exterior

The Umeda Sky building offers some of the best views of the city, but not suitable for those who suffer from vertigo! It is the seventh tallest building in Japan at over 40 storeys high and features The Floating Garden Observatory. A definite must!

Umeda Sky building

Dōtonbori is Osaka’s number one tourist attraction. Here is where tourists, as well as the Japanese themselves, come to eat and shop and see some of the famous sites Osaka is famous for. Osaka is noted as the culinary capital of Japan and Dōtonbori is the place to go to sample some of Kansai’s delicacies such as takoyaki (octopus balls) and okonomiyaki (a kind of omelette/pancake dish mixed with fish or shrimp and topped with cabbage and an egg). Here is where you will find the famous crab restaurant Kani Doraku and Zuboraya with its blowfish lantern.

Dōtonbori, Osaka’s number one tourist spot

The above are but a small number of attractions to visit while in Osaka. Other places can be found in guidebooks available at your local bookstore, I recommend any by Lonely Planet, Rough Guide or Berlitz. We only spent four days in Osaka but had we had more time, we would still have found plenty more places to visit. My Japan blog is available here and features our trip to Osaka as well as Kyoto and Tokyo


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