Osaka: Japan’s Newest Tourist Hotspot
Osaka is an attractive modern city in Japan with an interesting mix of traditional buildings and modern architecture. It is famous for its relaxed down-to-earth people, sense of humour and colourful local dialect (known as Kansai-ben) and amazing food such as takoyaki and okonomiyaki. There is a famous local saying in Osaka, kuidaore (eat ‘till you drop) which perfectly describes the locals love for good food.
Osaka is located in the Kansai region of Japan which is right smack bang in the heart of the country. If Kyoto is Japan’s refined and elegant big brother then Osaka would be its rough-cut working-class little brother.
Osaka long overlooked as a tourist destination by foreign travellers has in recent times seen a record-breaking increase in the number of foreign tourists visiting the city, making it Japan’s newest tourist hotspot. The reason for this increase can be attributed to a number of factors including a favourable exchange rate, an increase in discount airlines flying into Kansai airport and more relaxed visa restrictions for Japan.
Foreign visitors are arriving in droves boosting the local economy and spending a lot of money while they are at it. While Osaka might not have the high-end range of shopping of Tokyo, it can boast low prices and discount shopping, which is attracting a lot of visitors, especially from China, Taiwan, Korea and Hong Kong.
Tokyo for many is seen as the favourite spot for foreign tourists with Kyoto a close second as the darling of international travel magazines seemingly winning award after award every year. Osaka has made great inroads to the top 2 in recent years and is on a steady climb higher with its reputation as a major city for gourmet food and shopping.
The city is a great place to experience a modern Japanese city with some amazing tourist sights and attractions to boot. Let me highlight some of my favourite places in Osaka that make it a must see travel destination in Japan.
Osaka Castle is a symbol of Osaka and its most popular tourist destination. It was originally built as a display of power and grandeur by samurai warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi and was unparalleled at the time as the largest and best constructed castle in Japan. The current castle is a recreation of the 17th century castle with the main keep of the castle having been fully restored. Today it offers impressive views of the city and can be easily found in the center of the city. The best time to visit Osaka Castle is in spring when the castle and surrounding park are stunning covered in beautiful cherry blossoms.
Dotonbori in Osaka’s Namba district has been called a feast for the eyes with its Blade Runner-esque nightscapes and neon lights. It is the beating heart of Osaka’s nightlife and its liveliest area filled with restaurants, cafes, bars, nightclubs, arcades and theatres. Entering Dotonbori is like entering a future world and is a stimulation of the senses with amazing sights, smells and sounds; It is the perfect place to sample some of Osaka’s local delicacies such as takoyaki and okonomiyaki.
Umeda Sky Building
The Umeda Sky Building is a perfect representation of modern Osaka with its dramatic modern architecture. The futuristic skyscraper is a highlight of Osaka and very unique as the building is pierced by a large hole at one point. I have heard it been called many things, but one that sticks in the mind is “a space-age version of Paris’ Arc de Triomphe”. Reaching the top is half the fun with the glassed-in elevator whisking you up in no time. The observation decks offer spectacular views of Osaka, especially after sunset.
Shitenno-ji was founded in 593 making it one of Japan’s oldest Buddhist temples. The temple offers you a traditional experience in Osaka and is a place where you can relax and free your mind after exploring downtown Osaka. Unfortunately most of the buildings are not originals apart from the huge stone torii shrine gate which dates from 1294. The buildings have been carefully reconstructed to reflect the original 6th century design. The five-story pagoda is particularly impressive and is located in the pebble covered courtyard of the temple’s inner precinct.
Sumiyoshi Taisha is one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan and is dedicated to the Shinto deities associated with the sea and sea travel. The original shrine buildings were first built in the early 3rd century with the current structures faithful replicas of the ancient originals. It is Osaka’s most famous shrine and is noted for its unique style of shrine architecture which pre-dates the introduction of Buddhism to Japan. The gracefully arched Taiko-bashi Bridge which spans the scenic pond in front of the shrine is regarded as the symbol of the shrine, and is probably more famous than the actual shrine itself.
Osaka is a fantastic travel destination that can offer something for everyone from ancient temples and shrines to modern buildings and space-age architecture.