When one thinks about visiting the Land of the Rising Sun, Tokyo, Japan’s capital in the Kanto region, would be the first city that comes to mind. But let’s not forget about Osaka, Japan’s largest city in the Kansai region and the second largest metropolitan area in the country. Native Tokyoites and Osakans have a long-standing rivalry, in terms of cultural superiority, of which I must say it’s quite hard not to compare the two major cities.
While this is by no means a guide perpetuating the battle of the cities, I’ve rounded up my top few picks to illustrate that, in the realm of tourism, Osaka is truly a destination to be reckoned with.
This guide will highlight must-try street foods and break down my favorite places to shop at. Move aside Tokyo, the spotlight’s on Osaka this time.
Takoyaki and Okonomiyaki
✉️ Dotonbori, Chuo Ward, Osaka 542-0071
Ⓜ️ 2 min from Namba to Shinsaibashi Station on the Midosuji Line
Osaka is affectionately termed the nation’s kitchen – and with good reason. For the ultimate Osakan culinary experience turn to its street food. Takoyaki and Okonomiyaki are two delicacies that originated from Osaka. Derived from the word “Okonomi”, meaning “what you want”, Okonimayaki is a savory pancake that is mixed with an infinite combination of ingredients including pork, seafood, cabbage, chicken, beef, and egg. Once the mixture is cooked, the pancake is topped with Okonomiyaki sauce; Japanese mayonnaise, seaweed flakes and bonito flakes. Similar to Okonomiyaki, Takoyaki is also made from a flour-based batter but configured differently (configured? I am such a game girl). They are served as balls filled with octopus chunks (tako), tempura bits, green onion and pickled ginger. A modern take on this specialty includes the incorporation of unconventional ingredients such as cheese and bacon. Budget friendly and relatively easy to stumble upon, I came across countless roadside vendors in my stay, especially along the Shinsaibashi-Dontobori district.
✉️ 1-6-14 Nishishinsaibashi, Chuo Ward, Osaka 542-0086
Ⓜ️ 3 min from Shinsaibashi Station on the Midosuji Line
Osaka’s equivalent of Tokyo’s Harajuku district, Amerikamura (lit. American village) is the place to flaunt your urban street-cred. Named for the area shops that sold goods imported from the West Coast of the United States in the 1970s. Since then, Amerikamura has been the heart and soul of youth and pop culture. Designer vintage stores, retail stores featuring independent labels, cafés and art galleries (with Western accents) line the street. My sneaker obsession led me to several stylish street wear retailers carrying rare, limited edition kicks. For those of you on the hunt for that perfect pair of sneakers to up your cool factor, you’re bound to find a pair that tickles your fancy – especially if you’re looking for Air Jordan’s! To satisfy your sartorial needs, the Sankaku Koen (Triangle Park) situated in the center of this area is a great spot to people-watch and keep up with current fashion trends. Amid the flurry of shopping, some down time watching strangers pass is rewarding.
✉️ Minamihorie-dori, Nishiku, Osaka 550-0015
Ⓜ️ 3 min from Yotsubashi Station on the Yotsubashi Line
If shopping at Amerikamura wasn’t enough for you, take a 5-minute wander down to Tachibana Dori (Orange Street) to indulge in even more retail therapy. While the overall feel of Amerikamura is free spirited and organic, I would characterise Orange Street to be the more upmarket and refined counterpart. Originally street lined with furniture stalls in the Edo period, you can still experience a bit of the history and nostalgia as nestled between boutique stores and cafés are age-old furniture retailers. BioTop, situated at the entrance of the street is my favorite spot for various reasons. Firstly, this lovely concept store is filled with plants – a harmonious juxtaposition against the shop’s urban, concrete interior. Secondly, you can get quality coffee and decadent pastries at their café. Lastly, the brands BioTop carries are unique and wonderfully curated.
Hankyu Entertainment Park
✉️ 5-15 Kakudacho, Kita Ward, Osaka 530-0017
Ⓜ️ 3 min from Umeda Station on the Midosuji Line
Located in the Umeda district, Hankyu Entertainment Park (HEP Five) is not just your average mall. Home to over 100 shops and a giant red Ferris wheel HEP Five is the mall that is not like an amusement park, it is an amusement park. Take the ferris wheel at night for a panoramic night view of downtown Osaka, harbor and all. Don’t be shocked to find that floors are arranged according to gender as the intention here is to give shoppers a more personalised shopping experience. Food wise, the top level of the mall is a sprawl of gourmet food where you’ll find everything from Japanese to Italian. I was excited to learn that HEP Five has the most Purikura machines in the city (the famous “kawaii” sticker photo booths). The most enjoyable part of taking Purikura is the freedom to edit and alter your appearance to your heart’s content. When in Japan do as the Japanese do.
Pokémon Centre Osaka
✉️ Daimaru Umeda Store 13F, 3-1-1 Umeda, Kita-ku, Osaka 530-8202
Ⓜ️ 5 minute walk from Nishi-Umeda Station on the Yotsubashi Line
You can’t call yourself a true Pokémon master if you’ve never been to the Pokémon Center. This well-loved game/anime is brought to life at the franchise’s biggest outlet (9000 square feet). Located on the 13th floor of the Daimaru department store, Pokémon Center Osaka features tons of merch, games and even a communal space for fans to battle each other (Pokémon trading card game). From plush toys to food products, almost every single item imaginable has been Pokémon-ized. A little fun fact: This year marks Pokémon’s 20th anniversary. As with many other “OG” fans, this game was a huge part of my childhood and it was impossible to contain my excitement when I was there (grown men were literally prancing around). Whether you’re an otaku or just a tourist passing through, a piece of Pokémon merchandise would make a great souvenir.
About the Author
An occasional homebody, you can find Nicole taking long walks around Singapore with her French Bulldog. But you can bet your last morsel she’s always ready to hop on a plane for her next misadventure. Bring some tonic, she’ll provide the gin.
Follow Nicole on Instragram @neecolly.