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Osaka City Attractions - Things to do in the Kansai Capital
Osaka Travel Tips for the First Time Visitor
Osaka gets a bad press that you would do well to ignore. With possibly the best public transportation system in the world and some of the country’s most friendly and easygoing people, Osaka is a fantastic place to live or visit for a vacation. It is overwhelmingly safe – even in the supposedly dodgy areas – and incredibly convenient. You can be in Kobe, Kyoto or Nara in less than an hour, without having to worry about traffic or parking, and return to the bright lights of the Kansai capital for a bewildering array of dinner choices.
Here are ten things that you can do in Osaka without leaving the city. Of course, the number one activity here is eating, but since Japan has one restaurant for every 80 people, you don’t need to plan this; just wander down any street and make your choice.
To plan your travel, check out
Universal Studios Japan
This theme park is very much aimed at domestic visitors, so don’t expect a great deal of English beyond what’s absolutely essential. The rides are tremendous fun and due to Japan’s general lack of space, they are all crammed quite close together so you don’t need to do much walking. You will have to do a lot of standing in line however, unless you purchase an express pass booklet. One day studio passes are 5,800 yen for adults and 3,900 for children between four and 11 years old. The express pass booklets vary in price, but can cost almost as much as admission. If you live in Kansai, consider buying a one-year studio pass. If you buy one between the months of December and March, they are reduced to around 11,000 yen. You only need to go twice to make your money back.
The rides are fun, but don’t expect any extreme adrenaline rushes. They are all fairly gentle, but nevertheless mostly highly immersive, mixing actual physical motion with 3D cinema. Spiderman and ET seem to be the most popular rides. Jurassic Park is also excellent, and the Waterworld stunt show is quite spectacular, save for the occasional lame attempts at humor.
Access is via the JR loop line. You need to change at Nishikujo, where the USJ-bound trains should be pretty recognizable. As well as being brightly-decorated with Spiderman images and other characters, they are also the only trains in which the passengers actually talk.
Osaka Kaiyukan Aquarium
Considered one of the best
aquariums in Japan, Osaka Kaiyukan is intelligently designed to create a
real feeling of depth. You begin at the top and walk downwards in a spiral
around the main tank, in which are housed two whale sharks. There is practically every sea creature you
can think of in the aquarium – even the actual Cracken from Pirates of the Caribbean 3. OK, well not every sea creature, but they’ve got pretty close. The
café inside the complex isn’t great however, so it’s better to eat in one of
the nearby restaurants before or after your visit. Admission is 2,000 yen for
adults, 400 yen for kids between four and six and 900 for elementary and junior
high school pupils.
Access is via Osakako station on the Chuo line.
This is the center of Osaka nightlife, packed with bars, clubs and eateries, all
decorated with garish neon signs competing for your attention. On the bridge
you can watch some of Japan’s infamous hosts, with their early Bon-Jovi
hairstyles, snappy suits and cute man-bags, trying to attract ladies to their
bars. It’s a great place just to walk around, taking in the scenery and it
looks great in photos. Access is easiest from Shinsaibashi station, but it is
also a quick walk from Namba.
The Umeda Sky Building
This is Osaka’s answer to Tokyo Tower. It’s a strikingly modern, beautifully realized dual skyscraper, joined at the top by a “roof garden observatory” (but there isn’t any kind of garden at the top, so don’t expect any greenery.) It’s best to visit the observatory during the sunset, with the night view quite spectacular. During the daytime, it’s not difficult to believe that Kansai is the fifth largest metropolitan area in the world. The buildings end only where the mountains refuse to allow them. It’s only 700 for admission. Access is via Umeda or JR Osaka stations.
Kita and Minami Shopping
Minami (South) is the name
given to Tennoji, Namba and Shinsaibashi. Tennoji is great for cheap items of
clothing (assuming your waist is no wider than a broom handle) and accessories,
and also good value restaurants. Namba has lots of lively covered shopping
streets selling all kinds of products, and Namba Parks (which is adjoined to
Nankai Namba station) has lots of souvenir shops. It also contains some
slightly pricey clothes shops with some items in western sizes. There are
branches of Next and French Connection UK, for example. Shinsaibashi is the
trendier, more upmarket labels and stores.
Kita (North) is mainly the
Umeda area, with the enormous underground Whitey shopping center and several
gigantic department stores, including Hanshin, Hankyu and Daimaru. There are
also some great bookstores selling foreign books (head to Hankyu Umeda station
or the Hilton Plaza Building) and my favorite of all: Yodobashi Camera. The latter
is a monstrosity of an electrical store, with a dazzling array of PCs, cameras,
TVs, cell phones and just about anything else with a plug or space for
batteries. There is also a large Uniqlo in this building, which is good for
cheap clothes in western sizes.
Every March the sumo comes to Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium in Namba. It lasts for around two weeks, with each day starting around 8.30 and continuing until about six o’ clock. The highest ranking rikishi (wrestlers) enter at around 4pm, and you can leave and re-enter once if you get a stamp. You can take food and alcohol with you. You can buy tickets in advance from convenience stores but it is easier to just visit the arena once it is underway and buy tickets from the booth for whichever day you want to go. The cheapest tickets are 2000 yen but it is better to pay between 3,000 and 6,000 for an arena seat.
During this time you’ll often sea the lower ranked rikishi walking around Osaka in their robes.
This is the official sumo website: http://www.sumo.or.jp/eng/
Osaka Castle reminds me of the old joke: “I’ve had this broom for
20 years; it’s had 10 new handles and seven new brushes.” Osaka Castle is a recreation of a recreation of a recreation ad
absurdum (much like Cher’s face), but it’s still pleasant enough, and sits in
a pretty park, which particularly comes to life during cherry blossom season. Inside there is a museum, which probably isn't worth a visit in truth. It's much nicer to just grab and ice cream cone and stroll around the grounds.
The Open Air Museum of Old Japanese Farmhouses
OK, so it’s not the snappiest
or most exciting-sounding of places, but this is a great place to visit to
escape the hustle and, not to mention, bustle of the city. Set in the enormous
Ryokuchi park, it contains houses which have been transported from all over the
country. You can walk around most of the buildings to take in the atmosphere of
pre-industrial Japan. Admission is around 500 yen, and access is from Ryokuchi-Koen station
on the Midosuji subway line.
Toho and Namba Parks Cinemas
OK, you can see a movie
anywhere, but most westerners – or at least most Brits – are used to
experiencing movie theaters with sticky floors, crappy sound systems, squashed
legs and, worst of all, obnoxious meatheads yapping loudly throughout. The only
time I have experienced the latter problem in Japan has been because other westerners, so you are just
about guaranteed a peaceful, relaxing, and frankly luxurious visit. It won’t
make The Happening any more watchable, but either Toho Namba or Namba Parks
cinemas are really worth a visit. They are both within a few minutes walk of
the Nankai and Midosuji Namba stations. Tickets can be expensive (up to around
2,000 yen), but popcorn and drinks are relatively cheap.
The Natural History Museum
This doesn’t compare with,
say, the London Natural History Museum, but the exhibits of skeletons are
fantastic, and it makes for an interesting, tranquil couple of hours. The
museum is located in the huge Nagai Park, which itself is good for a few hours
of exploration, and access is via Nagai station on the Midosuji line. Nagai
Stadium hosted the World Athletics Championships in 2007.