Dubbed the culinary capital of Japan, Osaka is an unmissable pit stop bursting with personality, eccentricities and, of course, incredible cuisine.
While it may not be as vast as Tokyo, Osaka certainly gives Japan’s capital a run for its money. A rabbit warren of diminutive bars, restaurants and bustling streets, visitors could easily stay for a week or two and still only skim the surface of culinary delights.
Food is the centre of Osaka’s culture. It is said that the people of Osaka spend more on food than anything else, and they rarely have a functional kitchen because it’s cheaper, easier and tastier to eat out. So unsurprisingly, the people of Osaka have a word dedicated to overindulging: kuidaroe, which means ‘to eat oneself into total ruin’ – and it’s a mantra I wholeheartedly embraced.
With a burgeoning population of over two million, 24 hours in Osaka seems a little over ambitious but nevertheless, here are some of the best ways to explore, absorb and devour Osaka – a tasting platter, if you like.
10am – Start your day at Hankyu Food Hall
As most cafes and restaurants open after 11am, I struggled to find anything other than a convenience store pastry for breakfast… but that was until I stumbled upon the Hankyu Food Hall. Located underneath Umeda train station and spread across two basement levels, this heavenly emporium puts David Jones food hall to serious shame. From fresh sashimi and bento boxes to buttery breads and mouth-watering confectionary, it has pretty much every type of tasty morsel from around the globe. Most, if not all, store holders will let you try before you buy – so be sure to try everything. I started most days off with a salmon bento box for less than $10.
11am – Grab a Coffee in Kitahama
Satisfying my caffeine cravings on a daily basis was more of a need than a want. Fortunately, Osaka has a small brewing culture to rival Australia’s. Head to Kitahama and grab a cup at Moto Coffee or Brooklyn. Sit out on the deck overlooking the Nakanoshima river and soak up the morning sun. If you’re eager to explore the area a little further, walk along the river past the majestic Wes Anderson-esque Town Hall and peruse Graf, a trendy homewares and furniture store with a distinct Japanese flair.
1pm – Explore Osaka Castle
Adorning souvenirs across the city, Osaka Castle is a renowned landmark in Japan, and is the symbol of Osaka. Situated in Chuo-ku, the five-story castle was originally built in 1583 and embodies the unification of Japan during the samurai era of the sixteenth century. Rich in history and licked in gold, the castle was destroyed and rebuilt on a number of occasions, and is now one of the best sight-seeing spots in Osaka. Don’t shoo away the volunteer tour guides too hastily, they’re enormously insightful and will impart their wisdom free of charge. Grab some yakitori - or jumbo fries - from an outside vendor to snack on while walking.
4pm – Check out Tower Knives and Sennichimae Doguyasuji
There are a number of authentic Japanese souvenirs to take home and treasure, and a genuine, handcrafted Japanese knife is a solid investment. Tower Knives is a popular ‘knife gallery’ that’s worth a visit. Their friendly, patient and multi-lingual staff will not only teach you about Japan’s coveted knife culture, they’ll also demonstrate their impressive carving skills. Be sure to bring your passport along for visitor discounts and purchasing documents.
A short stroll from Tower Knives is Minami’s Sennichimae Doguyasuji. Nicknamed ‘Kitchen Street’, the 150-metre-long shopping arcade is brimming with ceramics and cooking utensils, and attracts renowned chefs and culinary aficionados alike. The specialty strip is the perfect place to grab a unique keepsake for family – or yourself.
7pm – Wander around Dotonbori
Revered for its larger-than-life, illuminated signboards and drool-worthy gastronomy, Dotonbori is the most iconic destination in Osaka. It’s hard to not sample everything in sight, but to really taste the flavours of Osaka, grab a takeaway box of takoyaki or kushikatsu, or a plate of Osaka's famous okonomiyaki to munch on as you weave your way through the streets and along the canal. Although the area is forever bustling – not matter what time of day – Dotonbori really comes to life at night; snap a pic at the giant ‘Glico Man’ sign and relish the city’s neon glow.
Deciding on a restaurant for dinner is challenging, to say the least. However, if you’re keen to try some of Japan’s highly-coveted, melt-in-your-mouth Kobe beef, Tsukishimaya is an unforgettable dining experience - it was by far the best beef I’ve ever tasted in my life!
10pm – Explore the backstreets of Namba and Shinsaibashi
There are countless yokochos in Osaka with a number of small bars seating less than ten at a time. Don’t be deterred by a dodgy-looking neighbourhood or a dilapidated building, the best bars are often hidden and teeming with locals.
11am – Meander around Nakazakicho
If you have a penchant for vintage, then Nakazakicho should be right up your alley. Known as the ‘retro town’ of Osaka, the bohemian neighbourhood is lined with bicycles and eye-catching murals, and is home to over 100 charming cafes and boutiques. Green Pepe and Elulu by JAM offer vibrant selections from yesteryear, while Salon de aManTo is an eclectic café and community centre that’s definitely worth a stickybeak.