Exactly Where To Go In Osaka
From the immense Osaka Castle to the energetic riverside area of Dotonburi, the third largest city in Japan provides plenty of reasons to take a break from the more popular Tokyo and Kyoto. One particularly attractive fact: Osaka is widely regarded as ‘tenka no daidokoro’, which in English translates to mean the nation’s kitchen.
Historically, the city’s influx of trade merchants during the Edo period (1603 – 1868), not to mention its proximity to former capital Kyoto, led to rapid growth. The abundance of resources quickly led to the idea that if Japan were a house, Osaka would be its kitchen. That reputation for culinary and cultural richness has since persevered.
Osaka has also built up a reputation as one of Japan’s foremost shopping destinations, with luxury and boutique stores in enormous malls and lining pedestrian-only shopping streets (known in Japan as ‘shotengai’).
With the multitude of great drinking, dining and shopping experiences across Osaka, you’re going to need a bit of help. We’ve outlined exactly where to go and what to see in this endlessly fascinating part of the world.
Where to shop
Osaka really does have something everyone. Especially when it comes to the area of Shinsaibashi. The shopping around this neighbourhood is as generous as any you’d find in Tokyo, densely packed along Osaka’s most renowned shotengai Shinsaibashi-Suji Shopping Street. Always buzzing with locals and tourists, the run of shops leads east to Mido-Suji Avenue, the city’s main street where all the big name international brands can be found.
Head west of Shinsaibashi to find the youthful energy of Amerika-mura, a much more concentrated area that lay claim to trendy local designers shaped into immaculately presented boutiques.
The central business district of Umeda is a hotspot for upscale shoppers, featuring large shopping centres Grand Front Osaka and Hep Five. A healthy burst of luxury shop fronts lay in the shadows of impressive buildings like the unique Umeda Sky Building, which offers the city’s greatest public vantage point on its rooftop.
Where to eat
Osaka is so highly regarded for its food scene that a well-known proverb exists throughout Japan: “Dress into ruin in Kyoto, eat into ruin in Osaka”. It’s best summed up by the word ‘kuidaore’, which in Japan means to eat oneself into bankruptcy.
Almost everywhere you go in Osaka you’ll be greeted with detour-worthy dining spots, from acclaimed restaurants like three Michelin star Koryu, which serves up Japanese haute cuisine to ten diners at a time, to Bib Gourmand treasures like Ajinoya, Dotonburi’s most popular spot for Japanese pancakes (okonomiyaki).
If the queue at Ajinoya is proving too much, take a short walk to the equally fantastic Fukutaro and join the locals in peeling okonomiyaki off hot plates, with a large glass of beer to wash it all down.
Sushi lovers will want to head outside of Dotonburi and take a short stroll to Nagahoribashi, for it’s here you’ll find the exceptional Jinen Unagidani Minami Dori. It’s consistently referenced as one of Osaka’s best sushi restaurants, hidden behind a nondescript entrance that’s usually marked by a snaking queue of seafood lovers. Order up some pieces of their signature unagi (eel) nigiri which is served with a stick of butter on top – the term “melt in your mouth” doesn’t quite capture it.
Or if you feel like trying everything at once, head along to the famous Kuromon Ichiba Market, which is made up of around 150 stores selling everything from freshly caught seafood to street food favourites like pork-wrapped onigiri rice balls.
Where to drink
Strut around the neon-washed maze of Dotonburi and you’ll find small bars stacked on top of one another, most coming with a zany only-in-Japan theme. Though for a more refined experience seek out the acclaimed Bar K in Umeda for a top-shelf selection of Japanese whiskies and beautifully balanced cocktails, or the long-running Bar Agreable which takes pride in a highly curated selection of fine spirits from around the world.
Those more attracted to unique speakeasy-style bars will love the apothecary-themed Bar Nayuta where the art of craft cocktails is taken very seriously. Though most surprising would be Bar Shinka, an eerie space constructed entirely from parts of an old submarine, known to attract many locals with jaw-dropped whiskey highballs.
Where to stay
The transport and cosmopolitan hub of Umeda is always a smart choice for accommodation, which puts InterContinental Osaka in an enviable position. The five-star hotel is built into the modern Grand Front Osaka, with reception on the 20th floor offering incredible views over the city.
Anyone wanting to stick close to Dotonburi should go with Swissotel Nankai which hugs Osaka’s most energetic neighbourhoods and provides a luxurious base with five highly regarded restaurants.
The ritzy St Regis near the designer shops of Mido-Suji is the perfect hotel for luxury shoppers, but those who want a quieter area may find themselves more attracted to the commanding presence of Conrad Osaka.
(Lead image: Jinen Unagidani Minami Dori / Chris Singh)
Published 05 July, 2019