TRAVEL GUIDE TO OSAKA by Sylvia L.
Sylvia L. is a Global Explorer, Fellow Foodie, Fashion/Beauty Junkie, and Music Lover. She is a bonne vivante who lives for good fashion finds, chases unique experiences, music, art and food around the world. If you share the afore-mentioned interests, her travel post will serve as a guide for where to eat, shop, stay and play.
Osaka is known as the nation’s kitchen — 天下の台所 (tenka no daidokoro) — not for its delicious food, but more as a comparison to the kitchen of a Japanese home. Specifically, this saying is a metaphor comparing the warehouses that stored rice and various goods to the resourceful abundance of the kitchen which store most items in a traditional Japanese household.
During the Edo period, Osaka, located next to Japan’s former capital Kyoto, quickly flourished into the commercial and logistical center of Japan. Seeing as Osaka attracted merchants from across the nation, feudal lords built warehouses, which housed rice, produce and other goods to be distributed back to Edo (modern day Tokyo). Therefore, if Japan were a house, Osaka would be named the nation’s kitchen.
Residents of Osaka are also known to be gluttonous with this famous saying: 大阪は食い倒れ— Osaka wa kuidaore — roughly translating to “to ruin oneself by extravagance in food.” Even as a visitor in Osaka, I was guilty of ruining myself with the 5 meals I was eating a day.
Cash is king. Most restaurants only accept cash.
Download the Google Translate app so you can actually read menus, as most of them are only available in Japanese.
Download Tabelog to search for restaurant recommendations, read unbiased reviews, and make reservations.
Book all restaurant reservations in advance to avoid disappointment.
Wear comfortable shoes, but also comfortable, clean, and hole-free socks as some restaurants require you to remove shoes before sitting, and all dressing rooms in shops require you to remove shoes before entering the dressing room.
Bring your passport with you at all times so you can get a tax refund when shopping.
Uber works in Japan, but expect to pay a premium when you use any type of car service.
The best way to travel around is by subway.
Don't forget to try a variety of Japanese fruits, like the Conomi brand muscat grapes that taste like cotton candy and plum (but are only in season from April to October), and the gorgeous pink and white colored strawberries. You can usually buy these fruits in the basement level of department stores.
Where to stay
We stayed in Kitaku, which is very central with tons of department stores and restaurants around. Note that Osaka does not have a huge selection of high-end boutique hotels like Tokyo. Here are some places I recommend:
Where to eat
We drew from various blogs and friend recommendations to bring you these restaurants.
Tempura Tentomi — This place specializes in ebi tendon (shrimp tempura) and all the shrimps are live in the water tank before being served. They have a very limited menu since they only specialize in ebi tempura and fish tempura. I ordered the ebi tendon, which is served with a tempura sauce poured over the tempura and rice. Jocelyn's and my favorite was the fish wrapped in shiso leaf. Note: This place is cash only! It's a bit hard to find and it’s on the 2nd floor.
Human Beings Everybody Noodles (Jinrui Mina Menrui) — This was my travel partner, Jocelyn L's favorite ramen restaurant. The clear broth and fresh in-house ramen really brought out the umami flavor. It is worth the wait. Try to get there before 7:30PM to avoid rush hour. Note: This place is cash only!
Kuromon Ichiba Market — This is a market full of stands offering street food, fruits, vegetables, and raw, grilled or BBQ seafood. It's a nice place to taste a bunch of local flavors. Note: This place is cash only!
Yakitori Ichimatsu — You must book ahead of time for this one, even a few weeks in advance.
Dotonbori area — This is the area that made Osaka famous for its street food
Sanukiudon Byakuan — Expect long lines for this restaurant
Harukoma Sushi — Affordable spot for sushi
Endo Sushi — Open for lunch only
Jinen Shimizucho — Good for sushi
Yonemasu — Good for Kaiseki
Ramen Yashichi — Good for shoyu (soy sauce) and shio- (salt-) based ramen
Where to play
Osaka is also known for its nightlife. These recommendations come from a friend who used to be a host/guide in the city.
"If you want nightlife, there are some bars in the radius around Dotonbori (Nanba 難波 district), but you can head west to Amemura アメ村 (American village) where all the clubs are situated, and where all the foreigners can be found."
In the Shinsaibashi / Nanba area:
Misono building — This is a must. Enter the lobby and take an elevator up to a floor that is full of small bars. Think apartments converted to bars. It has a cool vibe and is not loud inside, so it's a good place to start the night with some friends.
Cinquecento — This is a small bar filled with foreigners and affordable drinks. It's located on the ground-level, so you can't miss it.
Sam & Dave One — This is a nightclub chain all over the Kansai region. It's really popular with foreigners.
Giraffe — Another nightclub that draws in more of a Japanese crowd.
Bar Heaven — This is one of the only after-hours spots, open until 10am. The entrance is located at the bottom of the stairs.
In the Amemura area:
Farplane — Eccentrically-designed bar. Think Japanese punk, with dildos. This club doesn’t get too busy and is worth a visit.
Ghost Ultra Lounge — This is a club I've never been to but always saw lines outside when walking by.
Club Triangle — Find it right next to Triangle Park.
Shinsaibashi area 心斎橋 — If you want to go shopping, check this area out during the day, in particular the North end of the Shinsaibashi shopping arcade.
Hep5 — If you're near Umeda station, this multi-level mall has lots of fashion stores. It also has a marvelous Ferris wheel, though we did not get a chance to ride it this time.
Amemura — Shopping in the American village is where all the trendy kids go for clothes for Western vintage (expect to find lots of denim). All the stores here are close together, and you are in the right place if you see skateboarders hanging out at Triangle Park.
Osaka castle — This is the top sight to visit in Osaka. It is grandiose and surrounded by a beautiful park.
Umeda Sky Building — Go at night for spectacular views of the city and all its bridges. If you're traveling with someone, you can sit on an electronic heart-shaped love couch and light it up by holding hands.
If someone mentions the Tsutenkaku 通天閣 tower as a sight, do not bother visiting. The view is not that great, and it's in a sketchy part of town. The only reason to visit this part of town is for Spa World — a building with both Asian and European styled onsen (baths) that costs about $20-$30 and gives you access from 10:00AM to 8:45AM the next day.
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