Osaka’s retro-yet-modern vibe gives it the feel of a cult 80s movie set in the future. Images of the kaleidoscope of neon that lines Dotonbori canal in the downtown Namba district contrast with the postcard fame of Osaka castle, while the landmark Umeda Sky Building signals a new era.
As a center of Japanese subculture music and fashion, Osaka is a city that marches to the beat of its own funky drum.
Japan’s third-largest city, it’s also one of its tastiest – food is a big and proud part of Osakan’s identity who are reputed to spend more on food than anything else. It’s an important part of the Osaka experience to ‘kuidaore’, or eat until you drop, and there’s an enormous variety of local foods to choose from. Takoyaki and okonomiyaki are the most famous dishes to try, while there’s also kushikatsu, teppanyaki, kitsune udon, as well as the city’s own versions of ramen and kaiseki cuisine.
Osaka can be divided into two main areas; the uptown Kita in the north and the downtown Minami to the south which roughly equate to day and night in the city. Kita is where you’ll find the central station and business, commercial and retail hub of Umeda. Head to the Floating Garden Observatory on the 39th floor of the Umeda Sky Building for some spectacular views of the city’s skyline.
History fans should stop by Osaka castle which houses an interesting museum inside the main keep. Spend some time around the Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade, Den Den Town, Shinsekai and hub of youth counter-culture Amerikamura to witness how WWII shaped the city. When the sun sets, it’s time to explore the infamous Namba district and the 24-hour eating and entertainment along Dotonbori. This is where you’ll find the giant crabs and other creatures robotically waving from the sides of buildings which only makes the whole neon arcade trippier than it already is.
Japan’s only Universal Studios is in the Osaka Bay area, a conglomeration of man-made islands, as is the impressive Osaka Aquarium. Both are enormously popular during the holidays but are great places to take kids, especially if you need a break from the intensity of the city center.