Ultimate guide to Osaka for the first-timer

Japan, or Nihon/Nippon in Japanese, is a charming country in many ways. Known for its technological advancements (and of course, sakura and sushi), this island country in East Asia still retains its timeless traditions that are fused with modern life.

Made up of 6,852 islands in total, Japan offers a long list of destinations for the world to see with Osaka being the most visited city.

Osaka is the second largest city in Japan after Tokyo and considered the soul of Japan in many ways.

While Tokyo is more polished but costly to live in, Osaka is a charming, more laid-back city best known for its food, fun and nightlife — with history and culture peeking through.

That being said, the idea of exploring Osaka can be overwhelming, especially for first-timers. So here’s a guideline to ensure you don’t miss out on any of the fun.

1. Osaka Castle

Osaka Castle should be the highlight of your trip. It is arguably Osaka’s most prominent landmark backed by a long history dating back to 1583.

This majestic castle has withstood a series of attacks but in 1931, the present ferro-concrete reconstruction of the castle tower was built. Today, the new and modern castle houses an informative museum that documents its rich history.

The highlight, however, is the surrounding park and green space spanning about two square kilometres, best known as one of Osaka’s most popular hanami spots during the cherry blossom season.

2. Dotonburi

Located in one of Osaka’s two major city centres, Minami (south) Namba, Dotonburi is the liveliest and most colourful area in Osaka at night with hundreds of bright neon lights and vibrant streets teeming with people.

It’s a popular shopping and entertainment district with the street running parallel to the 400-year-old Dotonburi canal.

The bridge over the canal is a popular spot to take photos of the Glico Man and gigantic Kani Doraku crab.

3. Shinsaibashi-suji Shopping Arcade

Apart from Dotonburi, the Shinsaibashi-suji Shopping Arcade is another popular area in southern downtown.

Claiming to be Osaka’s premiere shopping centre, this retail haven combines chain retail stores and trendy boutiques together with expensive department stores and top designer fashion labels running approximately 600 metres long.

Thanks to the covered pathway, you can enjoy your shopping come rain or shine. The centre attracts about 60,000 shoppers a day on weekdays and twice as much on weekends.

4. Tenjinbashi Shopping Street

The Tenjinbashi Shopping Street is located in Kita (north) Umeda. Claiming to be the longest in Japan spanning approximately 2.6 km with nearly 600 shops, the street is divided into six areas that include Osaka-like restaurants, old specialty shops, clothing stores and other commercial shops.

5. Umeda Sky Building

The Umeda Sky Building is a skyscraper also known as the “New Umeda City”. It is 173 metres tall and is one of the tallest and most impressive buildings in Osaka with an open-air observation deck on its roof called the Kuchu Teien or “Garden in the Sky” Observatory.

The observation deck offers great views of the city through either its windows or open-air deck.

6. Shinsekai

To the west of Tennoji Park lies a retro downtown area of southern Osaka named Shinsekai, one of Osaka’s most interesting neighbourhoods.

Literally translated as “New World”, this district was neglected for decades after the war.

Today however, Shinsekai is a haven for old eating and drinking establishments with one of the highlights being Jan-Jan Yokocho Lane – a dining and shopping street with Japanese-style pubs and cheap cafeteria-like restaurants.

7. Tsutenkaku Tower

Constructed in 1912, Tsutenkaku Tower was originally modelled after Paris’s Eiffel Tower. It is Shinsekai’s biggest attraction and has become a symbol of pride for Osaka.

The steel tower is 100 metres high with the main observatory at a height of 91 metres and an open-air deck on top of the main observatory.

You will also find a statue of Billiken – a God said to bring good luck to those who stroke the bottom of its feet.

8. Keitakuen Garden

An oasis in a concrete jungle, Keitakuen Garden lies within the Tenoji Park right behind the Osaka City Museum of Fine Art.

Not known to many, the hidden sanctuary is a peaceful garden following the concept of a formal Japanese Chisen-kaiyushiki garden with a pond in the centre.

The garden was designed by Ogawa Jihei, who many consider a pioneer of modern Japanese garden design.

9. Tempozan Ferris Wheel

Located within the Osaka Bay area, the world-class Tempozan Ferris Wheel is the city’s largest spanning 100 metres in diameter.

It offers a 15-minute tour of the sky, giving you far-reaching, panoramic views of the bay area and the city’s skyscrapers beyond from a height of 112.5 metres.

10. Hozenji Temple

Located nearby the busy district of Minami, Hozenji Temple is a small but quaint temple that lies between Dontonburi and Shinsaibashi-suji Shopping Arcade.

Tucked away in the narrow, stone-paved atmospheric Yokocho alley, this historic hidden temple built in 1637 pays homage to Fudo Myoo, one of the five Myoo, or Wisdom Kings.

The fierce kings were the guardians of Buddhism and, more specifically, the Five Wisdom Buddhas.

Be sure to make a wish at the Mizukake-Fudo statue by the temple and don’t forget to explore the alley which boasts more than 60 traditional restaurants and “izakaya” along the narrow path.

This article first appeared in uppre.com