A Brief Guide to Osaka

Four years living in Osaka helped me to appreciate the nuances of a foreign culture, but also allowed me to build up a routine of places where I loved to walk, eat, drink, and play. Tourists often skip through Osaka on their way to Kyoto, which is forgivable, and Tokyo, which is not. Here is a city worth living in, with places that are amazing but hard to find.

Now that I am leaving it, here are my recommendations for anyone wondering what to do in Japan's second megalopolis.

North / Umeda

  • Go to the roof of JR Umeda Station for a view of the city.
  • There is a nice hike north of the city at the Minoh waterfall.
  • Check out the bars and restaurants around Fukushima Station on the JR Loop Line.

Central / Shinsaibashi

  • Walk around Amemura ("Americatown") near Shinsaibashi Station, especially on weekends, and unforgettably on Halloween.
  • The Semba Center is a row of shops and offices built under 10 blocks of highway. In the basement of building 9 there are a lot of very cheap, very local restaurants, which swarm with salarymen at lunch and dinner time.
  • Kamikaze and Beer Belly have the largest and tastiest selections of craft beer. Fair warning: it can be pricey. Another good option is Marca in Horie, and the cheapest brewpub is Chiteiryokou in Bentenchou.
  • Go to El Zocalo near Yotsubashi Station for American style burritos. Always full of gringos.
  • Go to Pizzeria da Tigre in Shinmachi for the best pizza in the city.
  • Visit my friend Jean at Osaka Salon. There are many events, but meeting the regulars on quiet Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights is probably more fun. To get in, you have to go through the izakaya on the first floor and up the stairs in the back.

South / Namba

  • Dotonbori is tourist central, where you can watch tourists crowd in for pictures in front of the Glico "Running Man" and Kuidaore Taro. The riverfront to the west is much nicer.
  • South of Dotonbori, in an obscure alley across from Bic Camera, is a shrine called Hozenji which sums up modern Japanese religion. At night you'll see hosts and hostesses who work in neighborhood praying for good custom.
  • Just across the road from Hozenji is the Ukiyoe Museum, one of the only museums in Japan with English signage.
  • Doguyasuji is a shopping street for cooking implements a hundred meters east of the Namba Nankai Station.
  • Go southeast from Doguyasuji for DenDenTown, Osaka's answer to Akihabara.
  • The area around Tsutengaku tower is called Shinsekai ("New World"), an early twentieth century vision of Paris and New York. There are many restaurants with kushikatsu (food deep fried on a stick) and many shops with Superball, a kind of proto-pachinko.
  • The tunnel that goes south from Shinsekai to the Dobutsuenmae subway station is essential Osaka, lined with sushi and kushikatsu bars and game rooms for old men to play go, mahjong, and shogi.

General Advice

  • Try Okinawan food around Taisho Station. Taisho used to be the Ryukyuan ghetto, but now it celebrates its heritage. Cross the street from Taisho Station and go along the right side of the tracks and you'll find a dingy place for oden.
  • Wander the Koreatown in Tsuruhashi, the biggest in Japan. The market looks more like Southeast than Eastern Asia, there are good restaurants for yakiniku and bibimbap. The nearby Nobuha no Yu is probably the best onsen in Osaka.
  • The best onsen town near Osaka is Arima. You can take a funicular to the top of Rokkosan, then down the other side to the hot springs, then take a bus back.
  • Supermarket chains! Life and Kohyo are the most common, and if you go in the evening there are discounts on perishable food. Super Tamade is so cheap its worrying and so loud you have to see it at least once. The owner might be a yakuza.
  • The cheapest subway option is a 3000 yen ticket that gives you 3300 yen of credit. Look on the subway ticket machines for 回数カード.

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