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Namba Osaka Travel tips; getting around, choosing a hotel, places to shop and what to do about money
For visitors to Japan’s second city, Namba is one of the options as a base from which to explore Osaka, Kansai and the whole of Japan. It’s convenient, less intimidating than Umeda with its huge crowds, and pretty easy to get to know. It’s also wonderfully lively, as one of the centers of Osaka’s nightlife. Here is some information for people thinking of coming to Osaka and making Namba their temporary home.
Getting to Namba and Getting Out
Getting to Namba
Getting to Namba from Kansai International Airport is really easy. From the airport follow the signs for trains until you reach the Nankai station. The gates are on the opposite side of the thoroughfare to where you'll need to buy your ticket. You want to travel on a Rapit Alpha or Rapit Beta train. It will cost 1390 yen (including a 500 yen reservation charge). You can travel on a regular train or take JR, but if you have luggage and are tired after a long flight, this is a far better option. The trains are spacious, you'll have a reserved seat, there will be room for your bags and it takes you straight into the center of Namba.
Getting to Namba from Itami airport is a little less luxurious. You can take the bus, which takes 30 minutes and costs 620 yen. Alternatively, you can take the monorail from the airport to Senri-Chuo station. The Midosuji subway line links Senri-Chuo directly with Namba station, so wait for a direct train and hop on. This will cost 710 yen and takes a little longer, depending on connections.
If you will be arriving in Osaka on the bullet train, then you will get in at Shin-Osaka station. Follow the signs to the subway and take the Midosuji line to Namba. You will be there in 15 minutes at a cost of 270 yen.
Getting out of Namba
Namba is one of Osaka’s major transport hubs, and the Midosuji subway line links it to all the other major transferring stations - Tennoji in the south, and Umeda then Shin-Osaka in the north. Shin-Osaka, where you can transfer to the shinkansen (bullet train) takes around 15 minutes on the subway. Umeda is eight minutes away and Tennoji around seven. Finding the subway is very easy in Namba; just head underground from anywhere in central Namba and there will be signs to follow.
You can take the JR loop line from Namba too, which provides access to Universal Studios Japan. JR Namba station is a little walk away from the center. To find it you can ask for directions to JR Namba (JR Namba wa doko desu ka?) or the OCAT building (OCAT biru wa doko desu ka?). Again, however, it’s just as easy to head underground and follow the signs to either of these places. The OCAT building is also a major intercity bus station so may be useful if you're travelling this way. It also provides shuttles to and from Itami airport, and – even more importantly – a free coach to IKEA!
Namba also provides an excellent base from which you can travel to other parts of Kansai. Nara, in particular, is within easy reach via Kintetsu Namba station. You also have the option of JR, which will be free if you bought a Japan Rail Pass. Kintetsu is the more convenient station to use however; again just head underground from anywhere in central Namba (i.e. around Nankai Namba station, Namba Parks or the Takashimaya department store/Toho cinemas building) and follow the signs. To get to Kintetsu-Nara station, which should take less than 45 minutes by rapid express, will cost 540 yen each way.
Koya-san, the famous Buddhist retreat in the mountains to the south, is also within easy reach from Namba. From Nankai Namba station (which should be easy enough to spot!) it should take between an hour and a half and two hours. It will cost between 1230 and 1730 yen each way, depending on whether you are using a special, reserved service.
From Namba Osaka to Kobe
Kobe is just slightly more awkward as you’ll need to take the Midosuji line to Umeda and then change to another line to reach it. For JapanRailPass users, you should use the JR option, which should take around 45 minutes, including the subway. JR Umeda station, just to confuse you, is called JR Osaka station. However, it most definitely is in Umeda, so don’t worry! Changing in Umeda is not particularly difficult, but it is the busiest part of Kansai and can be a little intimidating during peak periods. Make sure you allow lots of time to negotiate the crowds and make your connections, but try not to panic as there will always be another train along soon enough. It is Japan, after all!
From Namba Osaka to Kyoto
The same applies if you would like to visit Kyoto. You need to get to Umeda first via the Midosuji line, and then you can transfer to the JR line (or another line should you prefer). It should take around 45 minutes altogether.
From Osaka to Kyoto by bullet train
Given the longer time waiting for eligible bullet trains* and the extra few minutes to travel up to Shin-Osaka, it probably won’t be worth pursuing this option for convenience alone. However, we all love to travel in style and, for JapanRailPass users, you can do this for free, so consider taking the Shinkansen to Kyoto instead. It’s a great way to experience Japan’s extremes of ancient and modern.
*Japan Rail Pass users cannot travel on Nozomi trains, which are the most regular.
You can check out travel times to other destinations here.
Osaka Namba Hotels
There are plenty of excellent, reasonably priced hotels in the Namba area. Here are two examples of which I have some personal experience:
The most noticeable hotel is the huge four-star Swissotel Nankai, which towers over the area above Namba Parks. It is very well connected to the transport infrastructure and to the excellent Namba Parks shopping complex. There is an express hotel elevator, which goes from the ticket gates of Nankai Namba (which connects directly to KansaiInternationalAirport). The price will depend on who you are booking with but there are definitely some good deals to be had. The rooms are smaller than one would expect for a four star hotel and for most of the luxuries an extra fee is charged. Breakfast is extraordinarily expensive. Since you will be staying on top of a three dimensional maze of wonderful and cheap Japanese and European-style restaurants, you should probably make you own plans. Otherwise, given the general plushness of the place and its location, Swissotel Nankai would make a great choice. The views from some of the higher rooms are incredible at night.
Namba Oriental Hotel
Another option is the Namba Oriental Hotel, which is around a three minute walk from Nankai Namba station. Frequent problems occur here for non-smokers, who are often placed in smoking rooms regardless of the booking requirements. Be prepared to stand your ground if this happens to you. Otherwise, the rooms are of a decent size and cabled Internet access is provided. There is no view (the hotel is located in a covered shopping street) but the location is excellent. In the same building as the hotel there is the Hub, a British-style pub. It is authentic in every way - save for the lack of drunken violence and general buffoonery. There is also a Cappriciosa, a familiar Italian restaurant with great value lunch sets, a Chinese buffet restaurant and even a Wendy’s hamburger place. Amataro, an awesome izakaya (Japanese bar) also has a branch there. Step out of the hotel front door and a countless array of other bars and restaurants will be awaiting you. While The Namba Oriental Hotel places you right in the heart of Namba’s nightlife, there is no need to worry about this. It is incredibly unlikely you will feel threatened at any stage of your visit.
Namba is a great place for shopping. In addition to the shotengai (covered shopping streets) that snake around the entire area, there is the shiny new Namba Parks shopping mall. It is deceptively large, but tastefully designed and lit, to give a relatively peaceful experience to its visitors. It contains shops selling pretty much everything (except electronics for which there are more options to be explained below) but is mostly on the pricey side. The 6th and 7th floors have some top-notch restaurants, selling Japanese and foreign dishes. The 7th floor has an awesome all-you-can-eat French-Italian place called Luxious, and the Kua Aina Hawaiian hamburger joint on the 6th is also very popular with westerners.
Linking Namba Parks with Den Den Town is a large electronics store called Labi 1 Namba. Head on past Labi 1 to reach Den Downtown, which is a cultural as much as a shopping experience. Den Den Town is a geeks’ paradise, with countless independent stores selling comics (manga) and animated movies (anime) and well as new and used electronics and adult toys – as in figurines for adults to play with and in the other sense… There are also lots of “maid cafes” where the waitresses dress up in manga-style costumes and serve food and drinks in a ritualistic way. Most of these places have large “NO PHOTOS” signs so please be respectful of everyone’s right to be weird in peace.
Another option for electronics is to visit Bic Camera, which is around a five minute walk from Nankai station. It is enormous and hideously loud, but great fun for electronics fans. It is usually possible to find an English speaking assistant to help you if you have questions about a product or want to make a large purchase. The only larger electronics store in Osaka in Yodobashi Camera in Umeda, which can probably be seen from space.
From Bic Camera (or from the Namba Midosuji station) you can enter Namba Walk, a huge underground shopping promenade selling mainly clothes, but other bits and bobs too - for much better prices than you’ll find in Namba Parks. There are some very reasonable women’s shoe shops and it’s also a great place to buy neckties for less than 1000 yen. You can buy ties in Japan for 100 yen, but the patterns of the 1000 yen kinds are less likely to induce ridicule, migraines or even vomit.
Sorting out your travel money
Another thing that visitors need to consider is money, and it helps to be in a location where you can have easy access to your cash. While credit cards are becoming more common all the time, NEVER assume that this will be the case. Traveller’s checks can be awkward to change but are one option. Another is to let your bank know you’ll be coming here to avoid having your withdrawals blocked, and take money from your debit card at an international ATM. Citibank, Shinsei Bank and the Post Office all have international ATMs. There is a Shinsei Bank ideally located opposite Takashimaya, next to Starbucks and Jankara karaoke. The cash points here are bilingual and really easy to use.