Osaka was formerly known as Naniwa. Before the Nara Period, when the capital used to be moved with the reign of each new emperor, Naniwa was once Japan’s capital city, the first one ever known.
With a population of 2.5 million, Osaka is Japan’s third largest and second most important city. It has been the economic powerhouse of the Kansai region for many centuries.
In the 16th century, Toyotomi Hideyoshi chose Osaka as the location for his castle, and the city may have become Japan’s capital if Tokugawa Ieyasu had not terminated the Toyotomi lineage after Hideyoshi’s death and moved his government to distant Edo (Tokyo).
Osaka Castle with its huge lawn park. The bustling Umeda Underground Mall and Namba are also main attractions.
Osaka prefecture located in the center of Kinki region in the Midwest Japan covers the smallest prefecture land area in Japan, but boasts of largest population and highest population density second only after the capital, Tokyo. Mountains surround three sides of the prefecture and the west faces the arc-shaped Osaka Bay. Since it is close to former capitals of Japan Kyoto and Nara, it prospered as an important point for land and water transportation as well as a commercial city.
Places to visit in Osaka
1 Universal Studios Japan
Osaka’s Universal Studios Japan (USJ) is a must-see attraction for many visitors to Japan. Here is our full guide, with transport information, ticket information and insider tips to skipping lines and getting the most out of your visit.
Universal Studios Japan (USJ) was the first theme park under the Universal Studios brand to be built in Asia. Opened in March 2001 in the Osaka Bay Area, the theme park occupies an area of 39 hectares and is the most visited amusement park in Japan after Tokyo Disney Resort.
Universal Studios Japan is well worth a day if you are in Osaka. It’s easily accessible from the city, and the large park (much bigger than Universal Singapore) has plenty to keep you busy all day.
2 Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
Kaiyukan is one of Japan’s most spectacular aquariums, world-renowned for its innovative presentation. Kaiyukan shows the aquatic animals of the Pacific Rim at their most vibrant and dynamic, by recreating the natural environment of their habitats.
At Kaiyukan there are over 15 large tanks, each recreating a specific region of the Pacific Rim, taking visitors on a virtual tour of the Pacific Ocean. The tanks include, “Japan Forest,” which recreates a sunlit, beautiful Japanese forest; the icy, snow-clad “Antarctica;” and the centerpiece of the aquarium, “Pacific Ocean,” a 9 m deep, 34 m long tank containing 5,400 tons of water, serving as the home of whale sharks, the largest fish species in the world.
Visitors start their tour of the aquarium on the 8th floor and slowly spiral down floor by floor around the central tank. Some of the tanks stretch over several floors, making it possible to observe the animals from different depths and perspectives. New exhibition space was added to the aquarium in March 2013.
3 Tenjin Festival (Tenjin Matsuri)
The Tenjin Matsuri is a sensational summer festival in Osaka full of rituals, dance and music and featuring a procession of portable shrines. The celebrations culminate in a dazzling fireworks display that lasts for an hour and a half.
This raucous festival is over a thousand years old, and honors Sugawara Michizane, the Japanese deity of scholarship and learning.
- The festival began in the year 951 at Tenmangu Shrine
- On the night of July 25, a 100-boat parade floats down the Okawa River
- The Tenjin Matsuri is considered one of Japan’s top three festivals
4 Osaka Castle
The castle is a must see, but going inside is not worth the entrance fee. Osaka Castle is located within a nice park within Osaka. It is a really pretty building and location and well worth a visit. It is highly recommended to allocate at least two to three hours at Osaka Castle, which will allow a decent amount of time to really soak in the scenery, from the man-made to the natural. For first-time visitors to the Kansai region of Japan, Osaka Castle is an absolute must-see destination.
5 Sumiyoshi Taisha
One of Japan’s most renowned shrines, Sumiyoshi Taisha is the head of approximately 2,300 Sumiyoshi shrines throughout Japan.
At the beginning of each year, more than 2 million worshippers visit the shrine to pray for health
and prosperity in the coming year.
Encompassed by natural beauty, the shrine grounds overflow with spiritual spots offering a profound sense of history,
such as the Sorihashi arched bridge (Taikobashi) – an emblem of Sumiyoshi Taisha – sacred trees over 1,000 years old,
numerous cultural properties, and the main shrine hall, which is a designated national treasure.
Sumiyoshi Taisha is the main and most famous of over two thousand Sumiyoshi shrines found across Japan. Sumiyoshi shrines enshrine the kami (Shinto gods) who protect travelers, fishermen and sailors at sea. The shrines are therefore usually found close to harbors.
Shinsekai is a district in Osaka that was developed before the war and then neglected in the decades afterwards. At the district’s center stands Tsutenkaku Tower, the nostalgia-evoking symbol of Shinsekai.
The area was developed into its current layout following the success of the 1903 National Industrial Exposition, which brought over five million people to the neighborhood within just five months. Shortly after the expo closed its doors, work began to improve and update Shinsekai.
7 Umeda Sky Building
The Umeda Sky Building is a spectacular high rise building in the Kita district of Osaka, near Osaka and Umeda Stations. It is also known as the “New Umeda City”. The observation platform of this observatory is a bridge connecting the two towers of the Umeda Sky Building, whose roof features a doughnut shape that provides an unobstructed 360-degree view. While enjoying the breathtaking sights you can also directly feel the wind―which at 170 meters off the ground can get quite strong. From this observatory you can not only see all of Osaka but as far away as Awaji Island. The basement of the building houses the Takimi-Koji gourmet street with old fashioned images of Osaka from the 1920s.
The 173 meter tall building consists of two towers that are connected with each other by the “Floating Garden Observatory” on the 39th floor. The observatory offers great views of the city through its windows and from its open-air deck. In the basement, there is a restaurant floor that replicates a town of the early Showa Period, while offices occupy most other floors.
8 Minoo Park
Minoo is most known for its colourful fall foliage but this would be a gorgeous spot to visit at any time of year if you have a half day or more available. The walk from the train station along the river through the valley and up to the Minoo Waterfall is about 3 km and it’s a good easy walking path all the way. Minoo Park is a forested valley on the outskirts of Osaka, just north of the urban sprawl. During the fall, it is one of the best places in the Kansai Region to see the autumn colors in a natural setting, as opposed to the attractive fall foliage found at temples and gardens. The colors are usually best in the second half of November.
9 Osaka Bay Area
Osaka Bay Area, mostly famous among Japanese and international families, is a well-known attraction zone that houses a lot of large-scale entertainment complex. Osaka Bay Area is a good place for a group of family and friends to hang around and enjoy a whole day of outing activities together. Enjoy the sky view of the city, enjoy tasty Osakan’s native dishes, and also enjoy thrilling rides in one of the world’s best international theme park.
The area south of Tennoji Station has undergone redevelopment in recent years, revitalizing the district. With about seven malls in the immediate vicinity of the station, there is a wide range of shopping opportunities. Other nearby attractions include Shitennoji Temple and Tennoji Park, which features its own zoological garden and an art museum. West of the park lies Shinsekai, a uniquely Osakan dining and entertainment district.
11 Kuromon Market- A Must for foodies visiting Osaka
One of the numerous charms of the market is the way in which many of its shops not only sell larger food quantities for later consumption, but also smaller portions that can be eaten then and there, with some shops even providing a small area where patrons can typically stand and eat. Some of the foods on offer for consumption at the market are grilled sea food including crab legs and oysters, yakitori, sea urchin, sushi, eel, seasonal fruits, and the street food staple takoyaki.
Note that Kuromon Market can get crowded. When eating street food, make sure not to obstruct the flow of traffic, to properly dispose of your garbage and to handle your food carefully so not to soil the clothes of bypassers. The inconsiderate behavior of some tourists has been a cause of displeasure among some locals.