Japanese Language Blog

A Short Visit to Osaka Posted by on Aug 11, 2016 in Culture

Explore an ancient castle, take a peaceful afternoon stroll through a park, munch on tasty Japanese snacks, relax at your hostel’s rooftop bonsai garden, and wind down the night in a sea of neon lights, karaoke bars, and pachinko parlors. All in a day’s work when traveling in Osaka, Japan.

A Brief Introduction

Osaka is a part of the Keihanshin (京阪神) metropolitan region of Japan along with Kyoto and Kobe. This is the 2nd largest metro area in the country and one of the largest in the entire world, with over 19 million people. Interestingly, Osaka city (大阪市 – Ōsaka-shi) alternates between being the 2nd and 3rd largest city in the country. During the day, Osaka has more people than Yokohama, but this reverses at night when many people exit the city limits after their day’s work. The city is situated at the mouth of the Yodo River (淀川- Yodogawa) on Osaka Bay (大阪湾 – Ōsakawan), and is otherwise completely surrounded by satellite cities. Many years ago, the area now known as Osaka was called Naniwa. It served as an imperial capital on a few occasions and also developed as an important seaport for trade and cultural exchange between different regions of Japan as well as with Korea and China.

Osaka came to be known as “the nation’s kitchen” (天下の台所 tenka no daidokoro), not because of its cuisine, but rather as a literal metaphor comparing it to a household kitchen. As the city developed during the Edo Period, more and more merchants started building warehouses there to conduct trade. More merchants kept coming, which meant more goods and thus more warehouses. At the time, the kitchen was the primary place for storing things in a Japanese household. Thus, if the nation were the house, Osaka was the kitchen.

During World War II, Osaka came under attack from American air raids. A massive raid on March 13, 1945 left 25 square miles of the city destroyed. The US bombed Osaka twice more, including the day before Japan’s surrender. Osaka has recovered to be a major commercial center in Japan, and is developing even more into a massive international metropolis.

Osaka Castle

The most famous sight in the city is without a doubt the Osaka Castle (大阪城 – Ōsakajō). It was built in 1583 by Imperial chief minister Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣 秀吉) on the site of former temple Ishiyama Hongan-ji (石山本願寺). Interestingly enough, it turns out that the temple was also built atop the ruins of the former imperial palace when the city was called Naniwa and was capital. A castle on top of a temple on top of a palace – what amazing history! According to legend, powerful daimyo (大名 daimyō) from all over the country came to compete in the carrying of large rocks to build the castle in order to show their allegiance to Toyotomi. He hoped the castle would become the center of a new, unified Japan under his rule. 

Things didn’t go quite as Toyotomi had hoped, though. Tokugawa troops attacked and destroyed the castle in 1615. It was soon rebuilt, but was later struck by lightning and burned down in 1665. Many years later, it was restored in concrete. The reconstructed castle somehow survived the air raids of WWII, and was given even more of a touch-up in 1997. It’s now entirely modern on the inside, housing a small museum.

Surrounding the ancient sight is the lovely Osaka Castle Park (大阪城公園 Osaka-Jō-Kōen). Here you’ll find lots of green space, sports facilities, shrines, temples, and the beautiful Nishi-no-Maru Garden (西ノ丸庭園 Nishi-no-Maru Teien). This is one of the most popular spots in Osaka to come during cherry blossom season, when the park is bustling with the crowds, food vendors, drummers, and more.

Dotonbori District

Transition from ancient to modern Japan by visiting the popular Dotonbori (道頓堀 – Dōtonbori) district. After dark, this part of the city lights up with its massive illuminated signs, including the famous Gilco Man and Kani Doraku crab. The former depicts a runner crossing the finishing line, and has come to be an icon of the city throughout Japan. Dotonbori is a hot spot for locals and tourists alike, with tons of restaurants, karaoke joints, pachinko (パチンコ) parlors, and more. Here you can eat, drink, shop, sing, and dance the night away alongside thousands of others.

Travel Info

A great place to stay in Osaka without breaking the bank is the Bonsai Guest House. A bed in a 6-person dorm goes for about $27/night, while a private room for two is $66. They’ve got a nice common area and a nice bonsai garden on the roof.

From here, you can get to most of the famous spots in Osaka within 30 minutes by public transportation, making it a super convenient base for exploring the city. You can even get all the way up to Kyoto in under an hour from here on the train.

Nearby, you can fill up your belly without emptying your wallet with a meal of tonkatsu (豚カツ). A deep-fried pork cutlet atop a bed of rice, often covered in a delicious curry sauce. There’s lots more to eat in Osaka, so be sure to come to this city hungry. People in Osaka love to eat, so much so that the Japanese phrase kuidaore (食い倒れ) meaning “eat yourself into ruin” comes from here.

After exploring the city all day, stuffing your face, and partying it up in Dotonbori, you’ll have no problems getting some quality sleep and getting ready for your next destination in Japan.

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About the Author: sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.