TRAVEL: Explore Osaka, Japan’s no. 2 less frenetic city
Most people start their Japanese adventures in Tokyo, as it’s the largest city, (biggest world population at 40 million!) and easiest to get to on a direct flight.
Tokyo is wild, colorful, electric and jammed with people. But as cool as it is, how about a smaller, less intense city that also happens to be considered the street food capital of the country, will be the home base for the upcoming Expo 2025 and has so many cool out of the way izakayas (pubs) and restaurants to visit?
Say hello to Osaka, which is in the heart of the Kansai region, also home to the historic city of nearby Kyoto, which is chock-full of old temples and Japanese culture the way it once was, where you’re most likely to find geishas and many people walking down the streets in their kimonos.
Osaka, Japan’s no. 2 city (3 million population plus) has the street food, wild ways of Japan and amazing backstreets, which I explored in my two-part PhotowalksTV episode from Osaka.
Please do me a favor and watch, and then read more about the city below.
In the above video, I bring you to the six definitive photo spots in Japan’s second city. Please watch!
This is the electric district, Osaka’s version of Tokyo’s Shibuya, with giant neon signs everywhere you look, a bridge over water that is a gathering place for all the people who want to pose in front of the signs. One particular sign gets them every time. The giant running man of Glico, the Japanese candy maker best known for Pocky treats. People love to pose with their arms extended, to emulate the running guy. The bridge leads to a back-street known for its street food.
This is where you buy two local delicacies: the Takoyaki, a fried octopus ball and Okonomiyaki, a pancake like food that’s topped with meat and sauces. It’s not hard to figure out where to get them: vendors sit under giant signs of octopuses, crabs and the like. (You’ll also find many Izakaya’s (bars with food) full restaurants and knick knack shops in Namba.
Not exactly a photo opp, but an experience. The jiggly cheesecake made by the Rikuro bakery fresh daily is an only in Osaka treat, sold at one of the 12 locations for the baker, and people stand on long lines to pick it up. It’s quite a unique taste.
Umeda Sky & Harukas
To catch a killer overhead shot of Osaka, way higher than you could ever get from a drone, pay 1500 yen and take the elevator to the top of two buildings. Umeda Sky takes you up just over 40 stories, while the Harukus building goes up 60 flights. However, you can catch a free view from the 16th story deck as well, which is plenty high. I prefer the view from Umeda, and it’s more centrally located, right near the Osaka station, which is where most trains lead to and send you to connect to other parts of the city.
Probably the second biggest tourist gathering in the city, after Dotonbori, an old historic castle dating back to the 1600s that was rebuilt in the 1930s. Huge crowds gather here to pose in front of it and street performers entertain the crowds. If you want the shot, get here early, and stand by the moat to catch the reflection of the castle in the water.
The old Expo Park, (“Expo ’70 Banpaku Kinen Kōen” in Japanese) is on the site of the old World’s Fair from 1970. (The Expo is coming back in 2025 to Osaka, but will be in a new location.) The park has a museum, food stalls and a cafe, and a huge statue, the Tower of the Sun, considered the symbol of Expo ’70.