Get to know Japan’s funkiest metropolis
From killer sushi to barefoot deities, Osaka’s full of warmth, humour and a touch of mischief.
Welcome to lively Osaka! Situated at the mouth of the Yodo River, this bayside city is Japan’s second largest metropolis, bustling with equal parts modern and retro culture. This fascinating region first became a major urban centre in the Edo period (1600–1868), when it was nicknamed tenka no daidokoro (天下の台所), or “the nation’s kitchen,” for its crucial role in the commercial rice trade. Four hundred years later, delicious food and drink are still at the heart of the Osaka lifestyle, so much so that the city is known for kuidaore (食い倒れ), a phrase which means something like “eat ’til you bust”—your wallet, that is. Of course, these days you can find plenty of casual cuisine that’s priced for the average eater, so you won’t actually destroy your wallet unless you hit every restaurant in the city.
Dive right in and try Osaka’s soul food, the okonomiyaki (お好み焼き), or savoury pancake. Literally “cooked just as you like it,” okonomiyaki is a popular dish with many variations, but the Osaka style is the most famous. A mixture of flour-based batter, cabbage and meat or squid, the Osaka okonomiyaki is cooked on a grill and topped with mayo, sauce, bonito flakes and green onion. Enjoy the down-home artistry of this dish at a local mom-and-pop restaurant, where the chef will cook it right before your eyes.
Feeling even more adventurous? Treat yourself to tessa (てっさ), the Kansai dialect term for blowfish sashimi. Blowfish (fugu, フグ) is poisonous, so chefs go through rigorous training and certification in order to serve this delicacy. Particularly skilled chefs leave just enough poison in the fugu to give your lips a slight tingle. As you thrill at each bite, feast your eyes on the presentation of the sashimi, so thinly sliced you can see through to the plate—and exquisitely arranged in the shape of a chrysanthemum.
Osaka’s charms are not restricted to its food, of course. Visitors with a taste for retro culture can visit Shinsekai, or the New World district, and experience the colourful charm of an area constructed in the early 20th century after the fashion of European cities like Paris. Japanese film buffs will recognize Tsutenkaku Tower (通天閣) from numerous films. At 103 metres tall, the tower is a hot spot of urban culture, with gorgeous views from the observation deck. For a taste of the edgy, modern face of Osaka, check out the 173-metre-tall Umeda Sky Building, the most striking part of the city’s uber-urban skyline. The building is made up of two glittering skyscrapers connected by a rooftop “floating garden,” a glass dome observatory that you can access for ￥800. Next, juxtapose those sky-high views by gliding across the river on the famous Aqua bus cruise, an hour-long tour that gives you the city’s best water views for less than ￥2,000.
Wait until nightfall to experience the neon wonder of nearby Dotonbori, the canal street that never sleeps. Take your picture in front of the famous Glico Running Man, or the giant crab outside Kani Doraku restaurant, before wading into the endless line of trendy shops and restaurants.
If you plan to be in Osaka in late July, you must experience one of Japan’s top three festivals, the Tenjin Matsuri. The festival begins at Tenmangu Shrine, which is dedicated to Tenjin, the god of scholarship. During the festival, Tenjin is paraded through the city on a mikoshi (神輿), or divine palanquin, in a lively land and river procession with bursts of colourful fireworks. A millennial-long tradition celebrated with a modern sensibility, the festival reflects the spirit of the city: friendly, retro-cool and cosmopolitan.
Tower of the Sun【太陽の塔】
Originally made for Osaka’s Expo ’70, this tower still strikes a loveable silhouette.
OSAKA’S EATS AND TREATS
Osaka’s eats and treats Enjoy the addictive flavours of Osaka’s saucy addition to some of its most delicious B-class gourmet foods: takoyaki (octopus dumplings), kushikatsu (fried pork skewers) and okonomiyaki (savoury pancakes). Each dish has a sauce with a similar base, with a taste that’s a bit like Worcestershire sauce. The sauces are thicker or sweeter depending on the dish and the chef’s preference.
Doteyaki – For the frugal foodie
No culinary tour would be complete without Osaka’s famous doteyaki. A delicious treat for meat lovers, doteyaki is beef tendon simmered in a miso and mirin sauce. The juicy beef is chockfull of collagen, which is rumoured to counteract the effects of aging. While we can’t guarantee it’s a fountain of youth, the flavours are certain to send your tastebuds into a youthful dance. The tender pieces are usually skewered on a wooden stick and garnished with a generous dash of thinsliced green onion. Pair it with an icy beer and the company of a friendly barkeep.
Osaka’s known for its cuisine and comedy, so it’s no surprise that the city offers tasty souvenirs presented with a playful, tonguein-cheek flair. For edible whimsy, you might want to visit one of the Glico-ya shops. They have all of your favourite Glico products as well as special products limited to Osaka, like the takoyaki-flavoured Giant Pretz. Be sure to get yourself some Glico Running Man candies when you’re there because they are only available at Glico-ya shops. If you’re looking for a more durable gift, head to Doguya-suji Street for an elaborate plastic food sample, just like the kind on display in Japanese restaurant cases. They look good enough to eat—but we don’t recommend it.
Bring home the flavour of Osaka in the form of giant pretzel sticks. These takoyaki-flavoured, crunchy snacks have octopus juices mixed in the dough,
along with a sprinkle of seaweed flakes and a touch of sauce.
Courtesy of Ezaki Glico Co., Ltd.
Glico Running Man candies
Don’t be a sucker: these Glico Running Man hard candies might be creepy, but they’re stamped with
the face of Dotonbori’s famous running man, one of Osaka’s most recognizable sights.
Courtesy of Ezaki Glico Co., Ltd.