Osaka is a designated city in the Kansai region of Japan. It is the capital city of Osaka Prefecture and the largest component of the Keihanshin Metropolitan Area, the second largest metropolitan area in Japan and among the largest in the world with over 19 million inhabitants. Situated at the mouth of the Yodo River on Osaka Bay, Osaka is the second largest city in Japan by daytime population after Tokyo’s third ward and the third largest city by nighttime population after Tokyo’s 23 wards and Yokohama, serving as a major economic hub for the country.
Osaka is Japan’s second city, and on the surface might not seem like an off-the-beaten-path destination.
But the truth is that – despite having two international airports and being just 15 minutes by bullet train from Kyoto – it is far too often skipped by English-speaking travelers.
Why We Love Osaka
Despite the fact that so many travelers inadvertently overlook Osaka, it is a perennial favorite among repeat visitors and Japan connoisseurs.
What makes Osaka so appealing?
It’s a surprisingly attractive and energetic city, with some of Japan’s most outgoing and fun-loving people, and a world-class dining and drinking culture.
The cuisine is what draws many culinary travelers to Osaka. The people of Osaka are notorious for their obsession with eating and drinking, which has given rise to the local expression, kuidaore (“to eat oneself to ruin”).
Osaka has an eclectic culinary universe, with specialties ranging from casual favorites such as street side takoyaki (fried bite-sized balls filled with octopus and other goodies) and okonomiyaki, to elegant establishments and Michelin-starred restaurants.
Aside from its epicurean delights, it’s the warmth and friendliness of Osaka’s people, who are well known in Japan for their humor and exuberance. It’s no surprise that many of Japan’s comedians come from Osaka, and the local baseball fans (of the Hanshin Tigers team) are among the most rabid and boisterous in the country.
So while it’s not as large as Tokyo – or culturally renowned as its neighbor Kyoto – Osaka is nevertheless one of our favorite cities in Japan.
1. THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER IN OSAKA, JAPAN
Universal Studios Japan (USJ) isn’t too difficult to get to by train. Just ride the Loop Line (which circles central Osaka) from whichever direction until you get to Nishikujo, then you can switch to a train bound for Universal City. Some of the Loop Line trains even continue all the way to Universal City, so you may not have to switch at all.
Once you arrive at Universal City you will see many different shops leading up a main road to the ticketing and entry booths. Just FYI prices here are very comparable to the shops inside the park, so there’s no chance of getting a better deal on souvenirs before you go in.
Welcome to magic school
– Become a student witch or wizard and attend classes about the magical arts
– Explore the castle and meet the magical creatures that roam the grounds
– Spend three nights living at beautiful Czocha Castle in Poland
– Join one of the five ancient Houses of Czocha College
– Attend the College’s spectacular Welcome Ball
– Meet new people and form lasting friendships
– Have a once-in-a-lifetime adventure
A whole new wizarding world
Once you pass the standing stones, you end up weaving your way through the Forbidden Forest as various creatures can be heard rustling around and soundtrack music begins to swell. You will even see the Weasley family’s flying car in a clearing. Not too much further, Hogsmeade village breaks through the trees. Are you even in an amusement park? Nope, not any more. You are in the Wizarding World.
Riding on broomsticks and hippogriffs
The rides were impressive, though if you’re prone to motion sickness, you may want to come up with a coping strategy for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey in 4K3D. The ride alternates between 3D movie segments and animatronics while speeding, turning, and dropping you through each part of a condensed Harry Potter adventure. If you still want to go, as I did, you can always remove the 3D glasses or shut your eyes during the 3D parts. I was perfectly fine with being attacked by the very real Whomping Willow and so much more. Your milage may vary, but it is certainly an amazing experience, even if it’s just to get attacked by animatronic beasts.
2. THE OSAKA EQUARIUM
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.
To enjoy the roughly two-and-a-half-hour trip around the Pacific, take the spiral ramp all the way from the 8th floor to the 4th floor, leaving the land of terrestrial animals to find yourself stepping into the sea all the way to the ocean floor, discovering marine life from a multitude of perspectives, from huge schools of fish to the wonderfully strange world of the deep sea. If you are lucky enough to be there during feeding times, you can also watch the captivating behavior of marine animals as they engage in unique training sessions designed to help them stay healthy.
Many visitors to Kaiyukan leave inspired by its stimulating and interactive new exhibition area, a space designed to offer sensory experiences of the natural environment, including touching sharks. The new exhibition area proposes one of the shapes to come of aquariums.
Kaiyukan is confident that the encounter with 30,000 creatures encompassing 620 species—including otters, sea lions, penguins, dolphins, whale sharks, rays, and jellyfish, to name just a few—will prove a deeply rewarding experience.
3. OSAKA CASTLE
Osaka Castle, which is a famous landmark, a popular sightseeing spot, and the symbol of Osaka, contains thirteen structures which have been designated as Important Cultural Assets by the Japanese government. Of special note are the grand gates and turrets along the outer moat. The steep walls that rise close to 30 meters high are made of huge blocks of stone that were transported to Osaka from quarries over 100 kilometers away. The sheer height of the walls and the wide moats they rise above make for a grand sight that can be matched by no other castle in Japan. Also of interest are the tower’s eight roof dolphins and the ornamental roof tiles and reliefs carved in the shape of tigers, all of which are gilded with gold. The castle tower underwent a major renovation in 1997. The outer walls were replastered, the ornamental fixtures were restored, and gold leaf was re-applied throughout. These repairs have brought back the structure’s stunning appearance of old―with pure white walls and striking accents of glittering gold. The re-engineered and refurbished Main Tower is illuminated both inside and out, highlighting the castle’s brilliance as the symbol of Osaka.