In 2017, Osaka reached a record number of travelers with a total of 11 million visits, an 18% jump from 2016 according to the Osaka Convention and Tourism Bureau. The now popular prefecture, also known as “Japan’s Kitchen”, is not only a city worth exploring but ultimately vacationing in.
After a three-hour commute on the bullet JR train from Tokyo, I arrived in Osaka in the mid-afternoon ready to start my intro to the city with a meal. Takoyaki, the heralded snack of the region, would be the choice and I decided to try the Michelin guide approved Takoyaki Yamachan to pop my minced-octopus-dumpling-cherry. If, like me, you weren’t a fan the nearby Q’s Mall is a good alternative for other dining options. The veritable shopper’s paradise is one of the largest malls in Osaka and a great way to burn your first day while in the city.
I dedicated day two of my stay to more shopping because I could not get over how amazing the vintage finds were. Suzanne’s Shop, although expensive, gave my 1950s aesthete a pin-up mood board upgrade. The real MVP though was this amazing Coca-Cola 70s bucket hat that was clearly made with Coachella influencers in mind.
Day three and four I reserved for Nara and Kyoto which are located thirty minutes and about an hour and a half from Osaka respectively. The city is perfectly poised for adventurous day trips and the JR pass makes it super easy to explore. Unlike it’s more modern neighbor, Nara and Kyoto hold the traditional values of Japan intact through the architecture and the presence of spiritual practice. Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines populate the landscape and serve as a great reminder of the country’s values, the growth of the people, and the mysticism that makes Japan such an easy country to fall in love with.
It’s been suggested that a day trip is all you need but my recommendation is that you reserve at least four days to Osaka. You’ll want for nothing while visiting this eccentric and lively metropolis. The commuting is effortless, the shopping is amazing with districts like Namba, Amerikamura and of course the famous Shinsaibashi Suji Shopping Street that will meet both shopping and cardio needs for miles on end. The city also lives up to its kitchen nickname through the countless options of foodie offerings that span the gamut of culinary categories. I died and went to ramen heaven after stumbling upon Hanamaruken Namba Houzenji’s slow roasted pork chop ramen. A must! The hole in the wall restaurant is also a few steps from Dotonbori aka the “Times Square of Osaka”, a neighborhood dotted with massive signs, neon lights and a constant flow of traffic.
I had averaged 10 miles a day on foot by day 4 and could have done 20 more miles and plenty of more days if time permitted. Osaka’s charm is a combination of laissez-faire cool and hyper-real urban with no pretense. Could it dethrone Tokyo as the more popular sister? Probably not, but it’s definitely the hotter sister.