With all the amazing places there are to see in Japan, visitors often end up spending only a few days in Osaka.
That in itself is unfortunate. Osaka deserves more time.
Even more unfortunately, visitors often restrict their Osaka sightseeing to over-commercialized tourist traps—Universal Studios, Kaiyukan Aquarium, Dotonbori Bridge, and Osaka Castle—and think they have seen everything.
They haven’t even scratched the surface of this fascinating city.
I’m sorry, Osaka, but if visitors want to see a real Japanese castle, they should skip Osaka Castle, hop on the JR line and go to Himeji. Osaka Castle is a concrete structure rebuilt after WWII. Himeji Castle is an authentic 17th century Japanese castle with the original wooden structure still intact. It is also known as the most beautiful castle ever built in Japan and is well worth the one-hour train ride from Osaka.
Photo of Himeji Castle from http://www.city.himeji.lg.jp
Theme parks do nothing for me, so I’ll spare readers my thoughts on USJ or the Kaiyukan Aquarium. Suffice it to say that Osaka has a lot to offer that does not require queuing or paying hefty entry fees.
If you only have a couple days in Osaka, the following is how I would suggest you spend that time. You’ll see things the average sightseer misses out on, and the money you save by not visiting forgettable overpriced tourist traps will more than cover the cost of a tattoo you can enjoy for a lifetime.
So, let’s get started
DAY 1—GET A TATTOO FROM GOOD TIMES INK
A tattoo from one of our veteran artists at Good Times Ink is a not only a great souvenir, but will be a permanent reminder of your visit. Good Times Ink is located in America Mura, one of the most exciting districts in Osaka, so if you are traveling with family or friends, the neighborhood is full of places for them to visit or dine while you get your ink. On the other hand, they can lounge around on our comfortable sofas while they wait. We have high-speed free WiFi and a large screen TV, free coffee and snacks and comfortable sofas, so the wait will go quickly.
A word of caution—we try to accommodate walk-ins, but it is not always possible. To ensure you get your tattoo, make arrangements in advance. When doing so, provide as many photos and as much information as possible about the design you have in mind. The more we communicate prior to your appointment, the smoother the process will be. Feel free to contact me directly (in English) at:
After getting your tattoo, you may want to find a nice little eatery in the neighborhood and head back to your accommodations to rest up for DAY 2.
DAY 2—THE BEST OF OSAKA ON FOOT
Unlike Tokyo, the main part of Osaka is fairly compact. Osaka city has three main areas–Umeda (the north part of the city near Osaka Station), Minami (the central area around Namba and Shinsaibashi) and Tennoji (the southern end of the Loop Line). This day trip focuses on the Minami and Tennoji environs.
I arranged the places in order, so you can go from one place to the next on foot. I didn’t include a map, but if you punch the location names into the map on your phone, you should have no problem finding them.
The first stop of the day is Hozenji yokocho. It’s only a ten-minute walk southeast of Good Times Ink.
Photo of Hozenji Yokocho from www.tripadvisor.jp
Hozenji-Yokocho is a narrow flagstone alley leading off a busy shopping street to Hozenji temple. The old buildings housing cozy shops and restaurants—all crowded tightly together on either side of this alley will make you think you’ve been transported in time to old Japan. The paper lanterns and stone pathway make it particularly picturesque. At the end of the alley is a temple with a moss-covered Fudo-Myoo statue.
Photo of Fudo-Myoo from www.wbonbon.blog26.fc2.com
Pay your respects at the temple and make a wish as you pour water of the statue. Nothing beats the atmosphere of this little alley on a rainy evening.
From Hozenji Yokocho, cross Sennichimae Street—the one with the elevated expressway running over it—and walk down the covered shopping street between Bic Camera and Amza. The covered shopping street loses its cover for 100 meters or so, before another covered shopping street begins. This is Doguyasuji. “Doguya” means tool-seller, so translated, Doguyasuji means “tool-seller’s street.” The shops here sell kitchen and restaurant equipment. Even if you have no interest in cooking, don’t let that deter you. There are lots of interesting things to see here.
Osakans love their food. Even dingy, hole-in-the-wall mom-and-pop operations serve amazing food. Doguyasuji is where the proprietors of Osaka’s countless restaurants procure their supplies. Here you’ll find everything from chopsticks, dishes and pricey Japanese kitchen knives to every imaginable plastic food model for restaurant display windows as well as “noren” curtains, paper shop lanterns and signs. You can also find pots and pans of every conceivable shape and size. If you fell in love with takoyaki and cannot go home without one of those dimpled pans to use on your gas stovetop, you’ll find those here as well.
Photos of Doguyasuji from www.osakastation.com
Again, I should emphasize that even if you have zero interest in cooking, the mindboggling assortment of merchandise alone makes this a great place to visit and an ideal place to pick up a one-of-a-kind Japan souvenir, or original gifts for those impossible-to-buy-gifts-for people in your life who have everything.
After reaching the end of Doguyasuji, backtrack and return to the entrance where you started. Don’t worry, it’s not that long. Besides, you’ll see lots of things you missed on your first pass. Once you are back to where you started at the entrance of Doguyasuji, turn right and walk to Sakaisuji street—a busy one way street heading north. Across Sakaisuji is the entrance to another covered shopping street. This is Kuromon Market, affectionately known to locals as “Osaka’s Kitchen.”
Photo of Kuromon Market from jalan.net
Kuromon consists of several covered shopping streets with almost 200 shops selling a wide variety of fresh produce. Whether you want to sample a half a dozen varieties of boutique strawberries or pick up some wagyu chateaubriand steaks for dinner back at your AirBnB, this is the place to come for excellent quality produce.
Photo from s.webry.info
Even if you aren’t shopping for dinner, the sheer array of merchandise makes Kuromon a photogenic and memorable place to wander around.
When you’re finished exploring Kuromon, head back to Sakaisuji Street and start walking south (against traffic).
Denden Town starts about 400 meters from Kuromon Market. Denden Town is Osaka’s Akihabara. Originally populated with countless shops selling specialty electrical and electronics parts and tools, in recent years, it has transformed into a mecca for anime and manga fans. The assortment of anime figures you can find here is probably the largest of anywhere in the world. If you want to visit a maid, cat, owl or hedgehog café, you can finally cross those items off your bucket list. I won’t list shops here, because they pop up and disappear all the time.
Photos from www.picbat.com
I used to collect fifties and sixties guitar amps as a hobby—this is where I came to source obscure vacuum tubes and NOS capacitors and resistors for restoring those old amps to original condition. There is almost nothing you cannot source from shops in this area.
If you are into high-end audiophile electronics, several shops have a great selection of new and used super high-end gear.
Again, even if you are not particularly interested in electronics, audio, anime, maids or critters, this is still a fascinating area for a stroll.
After wandering around for a while, you will probably find yourself at the south end of Denden Town. Denden Town ends abruptly where an elevated expressway crosses over the Sakaisuji Street. Walk under the expressway and look in front of you and slightly to your left, you’ll see Tsutenkaku Tower. Tsutenkaku is in the center of Shinsekai, the next area to explore.
Photo of Shinsekai with Tsutenkaku Tower from matome.naver.jp
Shinsekai was established as an entertainment district in 1912. The name, Shinsekai (New World), hints at the ambitions of the creators of this area. Streets radiating out from Tsutenkaku tower (and the steel structure itself) hint at the area’s Parisian aspirations. At the time of construction, Tsutenkaku Tower was Asia’s second tallest structure. In 1915, Tennoji Zoo was built adjacent to Shinsekai. Visiting the area at the time must have been a magical experience. In the post WWII years, tourist traffic moved on to Minami and Umeda with its newer shops and attractions, and the area was reduced to a mere shadow of its former glory.
In recent years, however, Shinsekai has enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance. The over-the-top signage and delightful tackiness of the area has attracted an influx of visitors. Affordable restaurants dot the area. This is the place to enjoy a meal of kushikatsu (an Osaka specialty consisting of deep-fried meat or veggies or whatever on a skewer) and beer at one of the many eateries. When eating kushikatsu, remember the sauce is shared by everyone. Expect a tongue-lashing from the proprietor (and other customers) if you double dip.
Photo of kushikatsu from http://30min.jp
If you spent the day doing this little tour, you will probably have had a bite to eat in Shinsekai and it is approaching nightfall. If you are with young children, I suggest you skip this last stop.
Keep walking south along Sakaisuji Street. Cross a big intersection and keep walking south. You’ll notice an abrupt change from the glitz and glitter of Shinsekai. This area is seedy—about as seedy as Japan gets. 500 meters or so south of the big intersection, you’ll see a large white sign (pictured below) on the left side of the road announcing Tobita Shinchi.
Photo of entrance sign for Tobita from www.excite.co.jp
Tobita is Japan’s biggest red-light district. Within the clearly delineated boundaries, are hundreds of brothels of all sizes. Many of structures retain the decorative charm of Taisho Era when they were built. It is no coincidence that the development of this area coincided with that of nearby Shinsekai.
Prostitution was officially banned in the mid 1950’s, but instead of closing down, the brothels rebranded themselves as “ryotei” (Japanese restaurants). Working girls here are nominally “waitresses.” Many of the brothels are shuttered, but a large number remain in business. “Waitresses” sit under pink lights inside open front doors, and often an old woman sits at the entrance beckoning and calling to passersby.
The prostitution aspect of Tobita is a bit sordid, but the district contains stunning examples of Taisho Era architecture. Foremost among them is the Hyakuban restaurant, a brothel turned restaurant—a real restaurant—in this case.
Photo of Hyakuban from www.4travel.jp
As with almost anywhere else in Japan, even if an area looks seedy, it is probably much safer than “safe” places in other countries. But, whatever you do, don’t take photos. Put your camera away and keep your iPhone in your pocket. Taking photos in this area is bound to result in an unfriendly confrontation with locals. If you choose to visit Tobita, be respectful toward those who work here.
That’s it for the tour. You’ve done a lot of walking, so I recommend grabbing a cab and heading back to your lodgings or back to Namba to find a cozy little izakaya.