OSAKA, Jan 8 — Osaka is the second largest metropolitan area in Japan with a population of over 19 million. A visit to the large, bustling city in the Kansai region means an immersion into all that is modern, exciting and food.
Naturally, a variety of Osaka’s well-known food such as takoyaki, okonomiyaki and yakiniku is also available. This is because Osaka is also known as the “nation’s kitchen” due to its past as a merchant city and as the centre of the rice trade during the Edo period.
Shinshaibashi Suji and Dotonbori
One of the main tourist attractions in the city, near Namba, is the covered shopping street of Shinshaibashi Suji and the corresponding nightlife and entertainment street of Dotonbori, located along the Dotonbori Canal.
Shinshaibashi Suji is one of Osaka’s oldest shopping areas and definitely one of the busiest too as the street is always so crowded; you can hardly squeeze through along certain parts.
Though it stretches about 600 metres only with boutiques, restaurants, branded item shops, chain stores and all sorts of novelty shops, the walk down it takes much longer than expected.
It doesn’t end at 600 metres either as it leads on to Ebisubashi Suji, another covered shopping arcade with more boutiques, restaurants, souvenir shops and cafes.
Within the same area is Dotonbori, which runs alongside the Dotonbori Canal where there are also boat rides for a different perspective of the brightly lit streets flanking it.
It is along Dotonbori that we can find the famous Glico running man billboard that has become an attraction of sorts with tourists jostling for selfies in front of it. This has become the icon for Osaka and it is almost obligatory to have a photo taken in front of it.
Dotonbori is not only a nightlife and entertainment centre but one that is filled with a variety of restaurants specialising in ramen, takoyaki, okonomiyaki, yakiniku and sashimi.These are all tucked in between the myriad bars and karaoke joints.
Korea Town in Tsuruhashi
Why visit a Korean town when in Japan? Simply because this small town is almost like stepping into Korea without leaving Japan.
The town is marked by Korean-style traditional gates along the main road proclaiming it as “Korea Town” but the town does not only stretch over one short street. In actual fact, the Korean community and businesses are spread out all around the area from the Tsuruhashi station to the streets leading off the main road of Korea Town.
Korea Town came into existence when Koreans migrated to Japan when Korea was a Japanese colony between 1910 and 1945. Since many of the Koreans chose to settle down in Osaka, Tsuruhashi became one of the first Korea Towns in Japan.
The Tsuruhashi neighbourhood which encompasses the Tsuruhashi station, a covered market and Korea Town itself, is easily accessible from the station — a mere 20 minutes’ walk from Kuromon Ichiba Market.
Walking through the neighbourhood, instead of the usual Japanese shops and restaurants, you will find Korean themed shops and restaurants, particularly Korean barbecue places. If you visit the town on a public holiday, it is almost like a festival along the busy street.
Food and souvenir shops that line the narrow road will have stalls jutting out, offering decidedly Korean fare and K-pop culture even though the signs are all written in Japanese with just a smattering of English and Korean words.
Be prepared for the plethora of kimchi available along this street and the kimchi here is as authentic as the ones you will find in Korea. We are not talking about only one type of kimchi but so many different types from shrimp kimchi to cucumber kimchi that you will have a hard time choosing.
Unfortunately, as with most shops in Japan, the labels for the different types of kimchi are mostly in Japanese and most of the shop assistants barely speak English so don’t expect them to explain the types of kimchi on display.
Other than kimchi, there are also stalls selling barbecue beef and pork, Korean-style pancakes, rice cakes and the famed Korean fried chicken. So, do go with a large appetite in order to sample the many Korean cuisine available along this street.
Kayukan Aquarium and Universal Studios Japan
Osaka is as family-friendly as it is a shoppers’ and food paradise especially with its two main attractions, the Kayukan Aquarium and Universal Studios Japan.
Each attraction requires a full day so it is best to go early to avoid long queues and to have more time to walk through the attraction. The Kayukan Aquarium is located in the Minato ward in Osaka near Osaka Bay and overlooks the sea.
Entering it is like walking into the sea with thick glass panels separating you from the fishes and sea animals living in it. It is one of the largest public aquariums in the world and instead of looking at individual aquariums, you are actually walking within the aquarium, along a winding path that spirals around the “Pacific Ocean” which is the central aquarium that is nine metres deep and 34 metres long.
The aquarium has over 15 tanks in total, which includes the Japan Forest, the Antarctica, the Tasman Sea and Monterey Bay but the most impressive is the Pacific Ocean where the whale shark is the main attraction.
There are over 30,000 animals including sea lions, seals, penguins, otters, jellyfish and stingrays displayed in the aquarium so a trip there could take around three hours.
Conveniently, the aquarium is easily connected to Universal Studios Japan via a 10-minute ferry ride to the Universal City Port.
Universal Studios Japan is also home to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter so it is a must-visit for Harry Potter fans. As with most Universal Studios theme parks all over the world, there are long queues to purchase tickets and more queues to purchase timed tickets to enter the Wizarding World of Harry Potter where Hogsmeade and Hogwarts are recreated within.
Yes, you need to get tickets to enter the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and only a limited number of people are allowed in at any one time, thus the timed tickets.
Even with timed tickets, do go early to get in at the specific time stated, otherwise you will be denied entry. Once inside, you will be greeted by the Hogwarts Express at Platform 9¾ of the King’s Cross Station and after that, Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley.
Further up is Hogwarts where there is the Forbidden Journey ride and a castle visit. Since it is Japan, be prepared for Japanese speaking portraits, yes, The Fat Lady also spoke in Japanese, and projections of Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger in one of the rooms, also spoke Japanese.
It is best to plan and purchase entrance tickets along with the Express Pass that comes with timed entrance tickets to Harry Potter’s world through the Universal Studios Japan website before your trip there. It will save a lot of time queuing and the Express Pass, though it costs more, will easily save hours of queuing.
If you are reluctant to splurge on the Express Pass, then choose to visit the theme park on weekdays, especially between Tuesday and Thursday, as it is not as crowded.
Finally, Osaka is a huge city so it is impossible to explore most of its attractions if you are only there for a few days but the convenience of its linked subways, trains and bus routes makes it very easy to travel and visit most locations.
Despite it being a large and busy city, the roads are not packed with vehicles but instead, we find more pedestrians and cyclists along the large walkable pavements and sidewalks, even within the busy Namba area.
Notwithstanding the language barrier, one need only be armed with Google map that has the complete train routes and even bus routes to almost anywhere in Osaka and you will never get lost in Osaka.