The idiosyncratic mood of this metropolis is perhaps best reflected in its nationally-televised manzai teams: duos who put on bawdy performances in the manner of Abbot and Costello. The flip side is the city's reputation for aggression. Osaka is very safe compared to other world cities of the same size, but to think of it as little more than colorfully rough and ready is to do it a disservice. Rather, it is a source of bubbling cultural energy, beauty and historical richness.
The central business district is at the northern hub of Umeda, just three stops south on the Midosuji subway line from the Shin-Osaka bullet-train station. A conglomeration of businesses, deluxe hotels, retail high-rises and, at night, countless karaoke bars full of red-nosed "salary men," Umeda is as close as the city gets to the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. The numerous international hotels that have sprung up over the past few years make Umeda the natural choice for the business traveler or adventure-seeking tourist who wants to travel in comfort. The district is also served by several train and subway lines.
Inside Hankyu Station is the mammoth bookstore
Three stops south, the Midosuji subway line will bring you to Shinsaibashi, the center of Osaka's youth scene. Be sure to stop by Triangle Park in the center of
Go a little further west to Yotsubashi-suji Street and Naniwa-suji Street, two boulevards running parallel to Midosuji (all suji run north-south and all dori run east to west). On and between these thoroughfares and running north up to Minami Semba you will find an array of newly established boutiques, jewelery stores, health shops, ethnic shops and bars, cafes and restaurants that cater to a more chic and yuppie crowd.
The east side of the tree-lined main boulevard of Midosuji is dominated by
Namba is the next subway stop south, and by walking just a couple of minutes further down, you will get to Nankai Railway's Namba Station with its gigantic, brown, modern
If you walk southeast from Namba to Sakai-suji, or take the Sennichimae subway line one stop to Nipponbashi, you will arrive at Osaka's discount electronics mile, the place for cameras, computers, stereos and electrical appliances. At the end of Sakai-suji is Osaka's rather clumsy but nationally famous answer to the Eiffel Tower,
The next stop south is Osaka's southernmost hub, Tennoji, which is home to a large concentration of places to shop, eat and drink, both ancient and modern. These include
Nearby are Tennoji Park, the city's newly refurbished Zoological Gardens, and the
For some more ancient history, visit Osaka Castle, the seat of Japan's unifying lord, Hideyoshi Toyotomi. Nearby is Kyobashi, home to Osaka Business Park. A walk around the river between Kyobashi and Tenma is worth it for the peaceful riverside paths and the elegant old buildings.
Finally, for a day of fun with a bit of sea air there is the newly developing harbor area of Nanko, where the main attraction is a very modern aquarium.
While not as packed to the walls with sights and sounds as Tokyo, there will be no shortage of things to do in Osaka. Historically a city dominated by Japan's merchant class, entertainment has a long history of thriving here. From large sports stadiums and theme parks to museums and theaters, Osaka has many choices to offer visitors looking to be entertained.
There is no bigger entertainment attraction in Osaka than Universal Studios Japan, which opened in the Spring of 2001, and is exceeded in size only by Tokyo Disneyland in terms of popularity and prestige. The expansive complex is made up of several miles of rides, entertainment shows, and demonstrations, with some of the most spectacular thrills and special effects you will find anywhere in the world. There are numerous opportunities for shopping, eating and relaxation here as well at the Universal Citywalk.
One of the more interesting theme parks is Freizeit Tenbencho, an indoor water park in Osaka's Minami-ku, which has swimming pools, giant slides and other attractions that provide fun for the whole family. Another option located only a few minutes from Osaka Station in the Hep Five shopping mall is the Umeda Joypolis, where you will find a number of small-scale thrill rides at reasonable prices. In the same building, positioned on the roof, there is the enormous Hep Five Ferris Wheel that rises some 340-feet above central Osaka. One other amusement complex in Osaka is Festivalgate, an eight-story structure that houses shops, restaurants, a movie theater and several rides, including a roller coaster that wraps around the building.
Another entertainment possibility with universal appeal, especially among Osaka residents, is the Osaka Dome, where the Kintetsu Buffaloes, demonstrate why they are among the nation's top contenders. Take a seat in the rowdy bleachers for an unforgettable experience. Japanese baseball fans are incredibly spirited, and Osaka's fans are notoriously noisy and rambunctious. Only 15 minutes west of Umeda Station, just over the Hyogo prefecture border, is the home stadium of the Hanshin Tigers baseball team, Hanshin Koshien Stadium.
Sports in Osaka are hardly limited to baseball, however. Although their popularity does not quite surpass that of the local baseball teams, Cerezo Osaka and Gamba Osaka are two professional J-League soccer teams that command quite an energetic following. Each team has its own stadium, and loyalties in Osaka are fiercely divided between the two.
Besides baseball and soccer, there are also dozens of other sporting events you can catch throughout the year at the Osaka Dome and other venues. These include a yearly sumo tournament, professional kick boxing and pro wrestling matches, among others. Those wishing to participate in sports are best advised to pay a visit to Maishima Outdoor Activities Center where, besides camping grounds and picnic areas, there are numerous facilities for various amateur sports. As well, the Osaka Pool in Minami-ku has world-class facilities for competition swimming that are open to the public all year, and ice skating in the Winter.
Music and Theater
On a more cultural level, Osaka is well-known for its live entertainment, both music and theater. One of the more prestigious locations to catch live music is the Blue Note Osaka, where only the best jazz, R&B, blues and rock bands headline.
A few other popular live houses where you can catch some high-energy rock shows include Shinsaibashi Muse Hall, Club Quattro Shinsaibashi, Rockets, Umeda Heat Beat, and Bayside Jenny in the Tenpozan area. For easier listening, the Big Cat in the Big Step shopping center frequently hosts musicals and classical concerts, and for the best live comedy acts, the Namba Grand Hanam is legendary. Numerous comedians and drama acts that are now rooted deeply in Japanese popular culture made their debuts here.
Museums and Galleries
Looking for an educational day out? Look no further than Osaka. For Japanese, Chinese and Korean art, try the Municipal Museum of Fine Art. Another option is to spend an afternoon viewing the fascinating displays of world culture at the National Museum of Ethnology, or to gain some insight into ancient Japanese culture at the Osaka Prefectural Museum of Yayoi Culture. The National Museum of Art, with its contemporary displays, and the Suntory Museum Tempozan, with its 20th Century posters, also come highly recommended.
If you are looking for some simple, free entertainment in the form of people-watching, then the best place for you is the "American Village," or Ame-mura. This area, comprising several square blocks of the Shinsaibashi, is jammed with shopping centers and retail outlets, restaurants and bars, and people from all walks of life, more than you will find anywhere else in the city. It is here, among all the diversity, that you realize Osaka is indeed one of the world's largest cities and a delightfully entertaining one at that!
There are so many hotels in Osaka that you would need months to spend a night in each one of them, which is exactly what you would expect of West Japan's largest city. What may come as a surprise though, is how easy it is to choose a hotel. While the city seems to sprawl endlessly, the hotels tend to be concentrated in certain areas.
In the district immediately south of Osaka Station there are a number of well-recognized names, but none more so perhaps than the Hilton Osaka. The rooms are large and luxuriously furnished, and the hotel offers a host of business and entertainment facilities as well as four fine restaurants. Also on the south side, within easy walking distance of the station, you will find the Ritz-Carlton, Osaka. With 40 floors, the views are absolutely splendid. The hotel, like the Hilton, has everything you need: a pool, a sauna, business and fitness centers, and several fine restaurants.
An indigenous hotel chain with as much claim to quality as these two is the Osaka ANA Hotel. Although slightly farther from the main station, the ANA Hotel offers facilities and services that make its only slightly less convenient location irrelevant. From the pool and sauna to its expansive banquet rooms, your stay is guaranteed to be a pleasant one.
There are a number of other hotels in the "station-south" area that, while unable to match the above-mentioned hotels in facilities, are still considered superior accommodations. These include the Osaka Dai-ichi Hotel with its commanding views and the Hotel Granvia Osaka. Just a little farther south, across the Dojima River, is the quasi-island of Nakanoshima, where you will find the RIHGA Grand Hotel and the RIHGA Royal Hotel. The facilities of the latter place it in the same class as the Hilton and the Ritz Carlton, while both of these "island" hotels are popular for their location.
Visitors to Osaka hoping to stay away from these high-energy locations may want to look east. The Imperial Hotel Osaka could be described as breathtaking. Located along a lazy river that is often spotted with recreational craft, the hotel has superior facilities that include a pool, sauna, fitness center and conference/banquet rooms for any occasion, as well as six fine restaurants that overlook the river.
One of Osaka's most popular areas is Chuo-ku and its surrounding districts, including the bustling shopping and entertainment districts of Namba and Shianbashi, so you can be sure that there are some quality accommodations here. The top pick is arguably the Swissotel Nankai, Osaka. Only a minute from Namba Station, the hotel offers exquisite rooms and ample business and relaxation facilities. Only slightly less impressive—only because it does not have the same health facilities—is the Nikko Hotel Osaka. Rooms on the upper floors of this towering hotel give an unbridled view of the city.
On the less expensive end of the spectrum, the modern Kaneyoshi Ryokan has comfortable, Japanese ryokan accomodations in an incredibly convenient location, within walking distance of many of the city's most popular dining and entertainment options. Equally convenient and moderately priced is the Mitsui Garden Hotel Osaka, which offers Western-style accommodations along with both Western and Japanese cuisine.
Near Osaka Castle, there are a number of hotels that border this beautiful, historical and architectural draw, but none surpass the New Otani Osaka. The facilities contain everything you would expect from a superior-class establishment. There are 13 different restaurants to choose from!
Lastly, and somewhat separated from the rest, being located in Suminoe to the west, in what is known as the "Bay Area", is what is perhaps Osaka's finest hotel, the Hyatt Regency Osaka. The views of the bay are exemplary, and while the hotel gets top marks for form and function, it offers impeccable service as well. If you are looking for the ultimate in accommodations, this may be the place for you.
The Japanese have a special term that sums up the people of Osaka: kuidaore, which literally means "eat till you drop." This is good news for visitors. Whatever tickles your fancy is available here, whether it be a local specialty or something from one of the far off corners of the globe. In Osaka you can dine on the tightest of budgets or splurge and spend a month's wages on one meal. The choice is yours!
Okonomiyaki, a thick savory pancake made of shredded cabbage and diced seafood or meat, is a famous Osaka dish that has now spread throughout Japan. It is often grilled by diners at their tables and usually topped with a brown sauce, a sprinkle of dried seaweed powder, and shaved bonito flakes. Check out Kiji Umeda to sample some of the best of this local favorite.
Then, of course, there's sushi, but although you will find many restaurants serving it, such as Kakiyasu in the Hep Navio shopping center and Daidaiya, you should also make a point of trying some of the regional flavors, such as Kagoshima-style noodles from Kamitora, where they make them fresh by hand. For a substantial meal at rock bottom prices, there is an amazing selection of restaurants specializing in noodles here, and if eating them while enjoying a fantastic view of the city sounds good to you, try out the soba and udon noodles at Kineya. Or for something really special, try chanko ryori, the staple fare of sumo wrestlers in training, at Gomasuri Chanko.
The top Japanese restaurants in Osaka, such as Kanidoraku Honten, serve kaiseki ryori. Be prepared to pay top prices in these restaurants, but what you get for your money is a total culinary experience. Waitresses in kimonos will serve you a gorgeous selection of seasonal seafood and vegetables, including sashimi, tempura, boiled vegetables, pickles and soup, artistically laid out on exquisite ceramic platters. Not to worry though, you can still get great, authentic Japanese food without the high price tag and elaborate service at such comfortable, yet traditional places like Wakamatsu.For something even less formal but just as delicious, try the okonomiyaki at Sennichimae Hatsuse, which has been making the local speciality since 1945.
Osaka is also blessed with European restaurants that cover just about every country on that continent, and Chuo-ku is one of the best places to find your favorite international cuisines. If Italian is what you're after, the seasonal menu at Pietra Santa is sure to please, or for tastes from the Asian mainland, sample Thai at Krungtep or indulge in Indian cuisine at Bombay Kitchen Shinsaibashi, a popular local spot. England (Pig & Whistle) and Ireland (Key Point) are also well represented in the form of pubs that serve pub fare accompanied by British and Irish beers.
One of the biggest attractions in Konohana-ku is Universal Studios Japan, and like its American counterparts, the Universal Citywalk Osaka is a great place to go to find some favorite, albeit more Western, flavors like BubbaGump Shrimp, a chain familiar to many Americans. Wolfgang Puck Cafe offers the celebrity chef's signature style of California-style cuisine to tourists visiting the Citywalk, and Kua' Aina is the place to go if you're craving a burger and fries that have a Hawaiian flair. For those not headed to Universal Studios, the Hard Rock Cafe is another well-known option in Konohana-ku, where hopeful visitors may have the chance to catch a glimpse of some of their favorite celebrities from both the music and movie industries.
If you had to name just one thing not to be missed during a visit to Osaka, it might just be the food. From the foreign to the downright familiar, it's all available here, and it's everywhere. So whether your preference is to lounge in a fine restaurant, or snack on a local specialty from the cart of one of the city's many ubiquitous street food vendors, there will be no shortage of options in this fantastic food-lovers paradise.