Osaka is Japan’s second city, though much less hectic than its boisterous older brother, Tokyo. With less emphasis on tourism and more focus on livability, Osaka has a laid-back vibe that gets under your skin and provides a great representation of what it means to live in Japan today.
The city is also Japan’s foodie capital, especially around the canals of the Dotonbori district. After dark, restaurants, bars, cafes and street food stalls compete for attention with flashing neon signs, moving signs and colorful storefronts.
Look out for the famous Glico Running Man as you put your taste buds to good use. Try local delicacies, such as takoyaki octopus dumplings, okonomiyaki pancakes and kushikatsu fried skewers, all washed down with a cup of sake. Or, participate in a street food safari tour, where your local guide will also take you off the beaten path, introducing you to the izayaka (bars and pubs) in the backstreets of the district.
Between meals, there is plenty to see in Osaka. The wedding-cake tiers of Osaka Castle are worth a visit, though the current building is a reconstruction and home to a museum on the history of the building (the castle has been destroyed several times throughout history by both accidental fires and purposeful warfare).
Osaka is also a very family-friendly destination, with attractions such as Universal Studios Japan (featuring a very popular Wizarding World of Harry Potter section) and a world-class aquarium appealing to youngsters.
The city is a great base for further exploration of the country, with possible day trips to Kobe, Nara, Himeji and other surrounding destinations, available, due to Japan’s fast, convenient and efficient train system. Osaka is also the gateway to the Kansai region, which includes the sacred site of Mount Koya and its vast monastery complex.
Osaka is a relaxed introduction to Japan, especially if you’re flying into Osaka Kansai International Airport, where some of our Japan itineraries begin. With great food, a chilled atmosphere and plenty of things to do, it’s easy to see why Osaka slips into the number one spot for many of those who visit Japan.