Over the years I’ve travelled to some spectacular countries and destinations. And of course, there’s still so many places on my wish list. But when I hear people say they’re heading to Japan, I can’t help but swoon. It’s one of my favourites – in particular Osaka. This city with its sprawling landscape is almost as vast as Tokyo, but it somehow has a quaintness that is missing from the capital city. It’s a little slower in pace, a little easier on the wallet and yet it still possesses the same charm, same friendly locals and the same distinguishing characteristics that set Japan apart from others.
There’s pros in each seasons columns on when to travel. Head there in winter and you can delight in the frosty air and Christmas spirit. Spring gives way to Japan’s iconic cherry blossoms. Summer brings the famed Tenjin Matsuri festival and Autumn, fire coloured trees throughout the abundant parks that call longingly to tourists and locals.
My fiancé Jeremy has just returned from a holiday to Japan (lucky guy went only 12 months before too!) and it’s left me feeling nostalgic about our time visiting the country. So I’ve put together a list of reasons why I fell in love with Osaka to help inspire you to travel there. And if you need even more eye candy, make sure you check out the Japan National Tourism Organisation website which has every reason and more why you should visit the wonderful country.
REASON 1: THE NIGHTLIFE
Osaka is a city that doesn’t sleep. At night it comes alive, with neon lights illuminating the streets and advertising an array of food, drink and entertainment. If there’s one place you definitely need to go at night, it’s Dotonburi. There’s almost too much choice!
And the crowds are here but it’s manageable to navigate. We spent so much time hitting up the arcades (yes… we became a little addicted to the skill based claw machine games) or whetting our whistles at local small bars. They’re pint sized and have wonderful atmosphere – you attack them one by one. Have a drink, converse with the locals, and then move on to the next spot. It’s all part of the charm. And they’re all right next to one another making it even easier. The music is diverse, so there’s something for everyone – though mainstream pop is definitely easy to find.
But if that’s not your jam, what is very cool is that the Osaka Aquarium is open until 10pm so you can head that way to do some sight seeing and soak up what is known as one of the best aquariums ever. It spans over several stories! Plus, follow that up with a visit to Tempozan Harbor Village’s ferris wheel which is lit up and harbours a great view across the water.
REASON 2: THE FOOD
The food… ohhhh the food. Where do I even start? There’s so many ways to approach the food scene in Osaka, but if your experience is anything like mine was, you’ll find this city to be the best foodie spot in Japan.
There’s an array of fried goods that beg to be eaten. The likes of kushiage (deep fried sticks you dip into a communal sauce – no double dipping allowed!) was my favourite, and there’s locations in Dotonburi which allow you to get your fix. And of course the katsu: breaded pork that is juicy, tender and just so delicious you have to get it.
But it goes even further. Hit up the markets and purchase fresh oysters to gulp down, uni (sea urchin) to slurp up the delicate gold or roll the dice and try fugu – blowfish.
If that’s not your scene, there’s still so much more to devour. Japan has a huge vending machine culture, but my favourite were the ramen machines. There’s no sticky language barrier issues here, simply insert your money, make your selection and it will spit out a ticket. Head through the doors behind the machine and take a seat at the counter – your food will be only minutes away. Yes maybe it’s a bit kitsch, but for the few we tried – it doesn’t compromise on quality. The ramen in Osaka really is exceptional. Deep, heady broths that are accompanied by the chefs interpretation of sauces, noodles and accompaniments. I particularly like the black garlic which was prominent at the ramen spots in this city.
And while I long for ramen every day of the week, there’s some other truly memorable food ventures to check out in this city like Pablo’s cheesecake (yes it’s so worth the wait for this creamy goodness) and of course okonomiyaki. For this dish I highly recommend you visit the most famous location in Dotonbori called Mitsuno. They make the cabbage pancakes right before your eyes on a hot plate, customising it as per your order. The line was long to dine here, but I’m glad we persevered and waited. I can see why they say it’s the best!
REASON 3: THE NATURAL BEAUTY
Despite being a city all about that hustle and bustle, there’s some beautiful parks and gardens that you can find true tranquility in. We visited during Autumn and were treated to the most dazzling array of golds, oranges and reds that contrasted so well against the cloudless blue skies.
It’s the kind of nature that takes your breath away. I found it almost a spiritual experience, with leaves floating on the wind by us; crackling under our feet as we walked.
My pick? Minoo Park which is a sprawling garden on the outskirts of Osaka. It features a 33m high sheer waterfall, and a hiking trail which extends over 3kms making it perfect to visit and enjoy for a few hours. There’s also a few shops, a temple and other sites along the walk. I definitely recommend you check out Ryuanji Temple which is part of the Shugendo mountain worship religious sect – and make room for the Autumn delicacy of lightly fried maple leaves. Sounds weird, but it’s a delicacy that is unique to this location.
Alternatively there’s also Hoshida Garden, which has a 280 metre long suspension bridge right above the trees. You’ll feel like a giant walking on air for this unique view. Though if you’re sensitive to heights this might not be the best option!
REASON 4: UNIVERSAL STUDIOS
I loved Universal Studios. A LOT. Yes the lines can be long, but the people are so polite and there’s an order to the chaos with efficiencies like ticketing for time spots to visit busy areas like Harry Potter World. And there’s lots to eat, drink and see between rides so you don’t feel like you’re constantly waiting the entire visit.
My tip: arrive as soon as the park opens and go straight into that magical realm so you can experience the rides and attractions there before the crowds overtake the area. Butterbeer is totally where it’s at, not just for those who love the fictional series (that’s me!), but for those who are looking for a sweet liquid treat. On cold days, get a hot glass to warm your insides otherwise you can cool down with the normal variety.
I loved the opportunity to tour Olivanders, the wand shop, and purchase a little souvenir to take home with us. They say the wand chooses the wizard – so should it concern me that I brought home Voldemort’s?
But there’s more than just that slice of heaven at Universal Studios. It comes with some other wonderful rides and sections like the heart stopping water drop for Jurassic Park, the famous Amazing Adventures of Spiderman and the classic Hollywood Dream. Tackle as many rides as you can early on so you’re minimising your lining time – you’ll have the best time. And of course, get your fill of the park snacks – that’s half the fun!
Convinced to hit Osaka as your upcoming travel destination? I hope so! But trust me, these are just a few reasons why you should visit – it’s truly magical. If you’ve been and have a wonderful memory or experience, I’d love to hear them below in the comments.
Disclaimer: this is a sponsored post, written in conjunction with JNTO.