1. Try okonomiyaki, an Osaka specialty
Where? Okonomiyaki Chitose, 1-11-10 Taishi, Nishinari-ku, Osaka
Why go? Contrary to what I thought a few years ago, okonomiyaki actually isn’t found all over Japan; it’s just Osaka and Hiroshima that traditionally do it. And you have to try it. Roughly translated to “cooked as you like it,” it’s a type of savoury pancake usually filled with pork and shrimp, and topped with a thick, almost sweet okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, seaweed and bonito flakes. And it’s the ultimate in Japanese soul food.
How long will you need? Most okonomiyaki places like this one are quite small, so you’ll often need to allow for more time to get a seat than to eat.
Cost? We paid just under AUD$10.00 for a shrimp okonomiyaki.
2. Check out an undercover shopping mall
Where? Janjan Yokocho Alley, a few minutes walk from Shin-Imamiya Station on the JR Loop Line
Why go? For a really different shopping experience! This indoor alley is basically a mish mash of shops selling everything from second hand watches to dried fish. And there aren’t many tourists around, so you get a really good sense of what life is like in Osaka for the local population. And if you’re happy to rummage around, you can find some really cool stuff.
How long will you need? Give yourself a good few hours if you like to shop.
Cost? Prices range from dirt cheap for old stuff and food to a little more expensive for the odd clothing boutique.
3. Shop for stationery
Where? U-Arts, 3-10,Namba Sennichimae,Tyu-o-ku, Osaka City
Why go? The Japanese have a love for stationery rivalled only by my own, and their stores are next level. There are the big ones like Muji and Tokyu Hands, but the little shops like U-Arts are even better. They stock pens and pencils, notebooks and washi tape, handmade decorative Japanese paper and origami pads, paint brushes and bookmarks… if a visit here doesn’t inspire you to create something, nothing will.
How long will you need? Normal people – half an hour. People like me – an hour or more.
Cost? Everything is very reasonably priced considering the quality.
4. See some very unique shrines
Where? Namba Yasaka Shrine
Why go? Lots of visitors to Japan like to see the shrines and temples, because they’re so unique to that part of the world. Then there are shrines like this one that are unique on a whole different level. Hidden in plain sight on an unassuming street, you turn a corner and come face to face with a giant lion’s head…
How long will you need? We were there for about half an hour.
5. Eat all of the food
Where? Dōtonbori – along the canal
Why go? This is where you’ll find the best food in the city, advertised by giant crabs, octopuses and puffer fish. Great dishes to look for typical to the area are gyoza (fried dumplings), taiyaki (wafer-type cake filled with something like custard or red bean paste) and takoyaki (octopus balls – fried batter balls filled with little pieces of octopus).
How long will you need? All night. And then the next night.
Cost? Most food is pretty cheap, but a general rule of thumb is that the tackier the signage, the more you’ll pay.
6. Play some video games
Where? All around Namba district
Why go? If you’re a child of the 80s or 90s, chances are you have fond memories of Street Fighter and Super Mario Brothers. For a few dollars per game, you can relieve the good old days on old school arcade games. Sounds a bit nerdy, but it’s more popular than you’d think.
How long will you need? Depends how much of a gamer you are – plenty of people are in there fore hours on end!
Cost? Usually only a few dollars per game.
7. Visit Osaka Castle and Park
Where? 1-1 Osakajo, Chuo, Osaka
Why go? The park is home to hundreds of cherry blossom trees if you’re lucky enough to be there in spring time, but if you’re not, it’s still just as beautiful. You can walk the moat-guarded grounds, check out the castle’s museum, or take a look at the shops selling Japanese tabi socks, furoshiki (gift wrapping fabric) and matcha beer.
How long will you need? Half a day – better to get there in the morning if you can.
Cost? Entry to the park is free of charge, the castle museum costs around AUD$8.00 per adult.
8. Do the character café thing
Where? Gudetama Café, Level 7 – Hep Five, 5-15 Kakudacho, Kita-ku, Osaka
Why go? Because you’re in Japan, the land of kawaii. They love their cartoon characters over there (we even saw Hello Kitty traffic cones being used at one point in our trip), and the character cafés are a really fun way to get into it. I chose the Gudetama Café, because the lazy little egg is my spirit animal, and I regret nothing.
How long will you need? An hour or so should do it.
Cost? Not super cheap – two matcha lattes and a dessert to share cost about AUD$22.00.
9. Try matcha flavoured everything
Why go? Matcha lattes were all the rage in Melbourne a few years ago, but it isn’t just a fashion statement in Osaka. Yes, they’re definitely cashing in on the tourist’s fascination with the green stuff, but it’s actually delicious. Start by trying actual matcha tea to get a taste. Then, the options are endless – soft serve, cookies, cakes, candy, husband even tried matcha beer.
How long will you need? Be on the look out alllll the time – we found that soft serve on the side of a really quiet street with not much else on it.
Cost? It’ll depend, but expect to pay a decent price for high quality matcha.
10. Catch a bullet train to your next stop
Where? They depart from Shin-Osaka Station.
Why go? The best way to get from one city to the other in Japan is by bullet train. They fly along at speeds of up to 320kph (yes, really), are super clean and comfortable, and on the way from Osaka to Tokyo, you’ll get an incredible view of Mt Fuji. Can’t get that on a flight!
How long will you need? You can get from Osaka to Tokyo in 2.5 hours.
Cost? Not cheap – around AUD$175.00 per person in standard class.