Tenka no Daidokoro: Osaka, Japan

Often overlooked for the bigger cities of Tokyo and Kyoto, Osaka has plenty to offer visitors, especially if you’re a foodie! We made our visit to Osaka over a four-day long weekend out of Singapore, but it could also be added to a longer Japan-wide itinerary.

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The lights of Dotonbori bring the crowds out at night

See / Do

Dotonbori: take a walk around this neighbourhood at night to soak up the lively buzz. The atmosphere is fantastic and it’s a great way to kick off your first night in the city. This area is famous for the neon lights lining the canal – the most famous being the iconic Gilco Man! You will also discover plenty of food options; refer below for more details.

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The famous Gilco Man in Dotonbori

Orange Street: if you enjoy a shop (or even just some window shopping) then this is a really cute neighbourhood to explore. Tachibana-dori and the smaller streets  surrounding it are lined with cafes, boutique fashion stores and great coffee, making it an ideal spot to spend a few hours in the afternoon. This is certainly a hipster friendly zone.

Amerika-Mura: is located just one block from Orange Street, making it super easy to see both areas by foot in the same afternoon. Amerika-mura is famous for its quirky narrow streets filled with American inspired vintage shops, anime and comic stores, and novelty foods (like the tallest ice cream cone in Osaka!).

Umeda Sky Building Floating Garden Observatory: for sky-high views over central Osaka. To be honest I was a little disappointed with this place. The name of this observation deck misled me to imagine a beautiful rooftop garden space combined with an observation deck, rather than the circular cement space it really is. In hindsight for the SGD $20 admission price I’d much rather spend the money on a drink with a very similar view (see the Conrad Hotel below).

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Cup Noodles Museum: I wasn’t sure what to expect before visiting, but all I know is I had WAY more fun than expected. What’s inside the museum? There is a movie room to learn the story of how the cup noodle was invented (via a cute and interesting cartoon), a cup noodle wall filled with each and every flavour from over the years, and the ”design your own cup noodle” experience which includes creating your own flavour combination!

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The wall of noodles – a sight to be seen!

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A really fun part of the experience is creating your own cup noodle

Minoh Waterfall: if you have enough time, this is a great way to get out of the city to explore the nearby national park of Minoh Forest. The hiking trail takes you from the train station, past temples and historic wooden shop fronts, through stunning forest pathways, ending up at the beautiful waterfall. The trail takes about 1 hour each way, so enclosed walking shoes are best. We went on a weekday and marvelled how such a peaceful and beautiful park had few tourists and mainly elderly locals enjoying their daily exercise. We visited early June and it was lush and green, however if you have the opportunity to visit during Autumn you will be rewarded with a stunning display of colours. A great way to walk off some of the eating (and drinking)!

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Getting to Minoh Waterfall is an easy train journey out of central Osaka: from Hankyu Umeda station to Ishibashi Station (15 mins) then transfer to the Hankyu Minoo Line to Minoo Station (5 minutes). From the train station, follow the signs to Minoh Waterfall.

Osaka Castle: when planning the trip, all reports pointed to this being the main attraction of the city. Funny enough, we never made it to see the castle! We had planned to visit on our last day however it was a gloomy wet day and not condusive to exploring outside. On reflection, we really don’t feel like we missed out the essence of Osaka by not seeing the castle. Find out more about visiting the castle here.

Hirakata T-Site Bookstore: this was our wet weather day alternative and boy am I glad we went. Located in Hirakata, this Tsutaya bookstore was incredible. The store is actually a multi-purpose space: book store / reading space / lifestyle store / cafe. The photos speak for themselves, but if you’re a book lover and have some time up your sleeve, it’s well worth making the easy train ride out to see.

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Eat

Be warned; you’re quite likely to arrive home a few kilograms heavier than on arrival. Embrace it! ALL the food we ate was so damn delicious and great quality … I am salivating just thinking about it.

Takoyaki balls: A must try when in Osaka! Although you can find places selling takoyaki all about the city, I’d recommend heading to the stall opposite the Gilco Man where you can grab takeaway and enjoy canal-side.  You’ll likely see a huge queue which is always an excellent sign, so get in line and enjoy! (warning: you’ll need to let them cool down a little before consumption as they come out ‘hot as balls’).

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Delicious takoyaki: small battered balls of diced octopus, topped with spring onion, pickled ginger, a worcestershire style sauce and Japanese mayo.

Okonomiyaki: a Japanese savoury pancake which both Osaka and Hiroshima claims as their signature dish. We had tried the dish previously in Hiroshima (and LOVED it) and we were keen to taste how the Kansai version differs. We didn’t really notice the difference between the two styles as we were too busy with gulping it down! Head to Okonomiyaki Kiji in the basement floor of the Umeda Sky Building, a tiny little restaurant (best avoided during the office lunch peak hour) serving up the most delicious okonomiyaki.

Tenjinbashi siji: this is Japan’s longest shopping arcade, which is full of shops, food stores and pachinko parlours. Visit during lunch time to taste your way through all the market goodies, and keep your eyes out for the famous Hatukoma Sushi restaurant (which has melt in your mouth fresh sashimi). But, do make sure you save room for desert; the stalls selling mochi or the fresh fruit stands are perfect to round off your tastings.

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Ichiran Ramen: order from the vending machine and then enjoy your ramen in the privacy of your own booth. Such a fun experience and certainly a must do whilst in Japan (we also went to an outlet in Tokyo). We visited the outlet right on the canal in Dotonbori, directly opposite the Gilco Man.

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Tonkotsu Ramen at Ichiran: where you can choose the richness of your broth, how the noodles are cooked, whether you want to add toppings such as spring onions, nori, or half boiled egg.

Umeda Food Court: for lunch on the go, this is an excellent and quick option. The food court is located in the basement below the Umeda train station & shopping mall complex  and has great array of options. We liked it so much we ended up here twice! The standout was this Udon noodle stall tucked away in the corner. Make sure you try the rich and saucy curry noodles, or for something a little lighter the udon noodles with bean curd was a great option! Utterly delicious.

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Drink

Conrad 40 Sky Bar & Lounge: located on the 40th floor of the Conrad hotel, this bar has amazing views over Osaka while also offering a great wine and cocktail list. We arrived about 30 minutes prior to sunset so we could enjoy a drink or two while watching the view of Osaka’s skyline change from daylight, to dusk, to the glow of the city’s night lights. Expect to pay about SGD $28 for a cocktail.

Craft beers: if you love craft beer then you’ve come to the right place. Osaka has an excellent craft beer scene and if you manage to get your hands on the Osaka Craft Beer Map then you’re in for a real treat! This little booklet contains a write up on all the craft beer bars dotted around the city. We barely scraped the surface, but managed to fit in a few brews over the course of our trip. Three of our favourites:

  • Craft Beer Bar Koumin: located just around the corner from our hotel, this bar ended up being our favourite. A cute space filled with local clientele, friendly bar staff, 20+ taps to choose from, and possibly the best edamame bar snack ever.
  • Yellow Ape Craft: with an even smaller space to stand or sit around the bar, you will see people spilling out on to the roadside during the busy afterwork session. There is a cool vibe about this place, with some quality choices on tap.
  • Garage 39: make sure you’re hungry when you arrive here, as the meat and cheese boards are very good. This bar is the larger of the three, so there is plenty of space to settle in at a table for a few beers over a meal.

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Coffee

Brooklyn Roasting Company: the BEST coffee we had whilst in Osaka, with a beautiful outdoor seated space that over looks the peaceful riverfront. Equipped with amazing croissants and caneles, this cafe is a must-do for coffee lovers!

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Breakfast of champions

Granknot Coffee: this cafe is perfectly tucked down a quiet street in the ”Orange Street” neighbourhood. A trendy place, with top notch coffee. If you’re lucky you might even score the two picnic chairs out the front – perfect for hipster watching.

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Saturdays NYC Cafe: This store offers a hip range of menswear clothing, but we were also surprised to find a cute coffee bar where we decided to sit and enjoy an afternoon caffeine hit. They also serve up sandwiches, pastries and cakes if you’re needing to re-fuel after some heavy retail therapy.

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Stay

Its quite easy to get around Osaka with the efficient metro system, so it doesn’t really matter what part of the city you are based in. We chose MOXY Osaka Honmachi as we liked the look of the hotel itself, and it turned out to be located a short walk from our favourite coffee shop, and had easy access to metro stations. The rooms are small (same as you encounter in Tokyo) but the beds are comfy, the rooms ultra quiet, lovely shower, and the trendy decor makes great use of the small space.

Getting around

From Kansai international airport: There are many options for trains between the airport and Osaka city centre. The best value ticket option for our journey was the Kanku Chikatoku Ticket for 1000 yen one way. This allows you to catch the Nankai express train into Namba station (45 minutes), where you can then easily connect to the subway network. Ticket machines have an English language option, making it easy to select the icon for the ‘Kanku Chikatoku Ticket’.

Travelling around Osaka: I highly recommend making use of the efficient and clean train network. Similar to other cities of Japan, purchase an Icoca card which is a ‘pay as you go’ ticket. These cards can be purchased from vending machines at JR stations in Osaka or from the Kansai International Airport (KIX). The card will cost you 1000 Yen: 500 Yen for a card deposit and 500 Yen minimum prepaid value. You can get the value of the deposit back if you return the Icoca card to a JR West counter at the airport (minus a small service charge).

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