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So many people skip over Osaka.
They plan a day or two in the city, using Osaka as a base for flights and day trips. Maybe they stop by Dontonburi or take a quick river cruise. But Osaka is so much more than a big city with an airport.
If you really want to enjoy Osaka, you’ll need to get off the beaten path and explore everything this incredible city has to offer.
Many of my absolute favorite experiences from my two trips to Japan have been in Osaka. From the best cat cafe EVER to eating pufferfish and chicken sashimi to sampling butterbeer at USJ’s Harry Potter World: Osaka is worth a few days of exploring.
Find a hidden whiskey bar, attend Buddhist morning service, become a samurai, or learn how to cook sushi in a local home: here are the 20 best unique things to do in Osaka!
20 Things You Need to Do in Osaka
1. Take a Photo on the Red Bridge at Sumiyoshi Taisha
Sumiyoshi Taisha is one of my favorite Shinto shrines in all of Japan (which is saying a lot considering I did a 2-week Shinto Pilgrimage last year), and I can’t believe I missed it on my first trip to Osaka!
Founded in the year 211, Sumiyoshi Taisha used to be right on the ocean (before the land shifted), and sailors would come here to pray before embarking on the treacherous journey to China. This shrine also has examples of some of the oldest Shinto architecture in all of Japan!
But by far the best part of this shrine is the red Sorihashi bridge right at the entrance to the shrine. This bridge is deliberately built with an extremely high arch to remind worshipers of a rainbow. Seriously, you can’t come to Osaka without getting a photo of/on this bridge.
Don’t miss the cat shrine
Bonus: Find the Cat Shrine
If you’ve already heard of Sumiyoshi Taisha and the Sorihashi Bridge, I suggest getting a little off the beaten path and exploring the Sumiyoshi Taisha complex. Here you’ll find a CAT shrine, which is actually one of the coolest Shinto shrines I’ve ever seen. You can even collect small cat figurines to exchange for larger cat figurines (and so on). If you visit once a month to collect a cat, it will only take you… about four years to get a big one.
Grab this photo away from the crowds!
2. Get the Best Photo of Osaka Castle From a Rooftop Restaurant
While everyone has probably heard of the famous Osaka Castle, there’s more to the area than meets the eye. Just around the corner from Osaka Castle, you’ll find Miraza Osaka-Jo, based out of an old military building. Here you’ll find restaurants, bars, cute souvenir shops, cafes, an illusion museum, and even a samurai experience! (More on that later).
While the building itself is great, I suggest heading up to Blue Birds Rooftop Terrace for some of the best photos of Osaka castle with no crowds! While you can pay for a full buffet lunch or dinner (which you’ll need to reserve in advance), I did a see a sign saying you could pay an entry fee of around $10 that came with a free drink.
This terrace is only open from March 1st – October 10th, from 11:00 am – 3:30 pm and 5:00 pm – 10:00 pm. Feel free to reserve a seat here.
Looking amazing in our samurai garb
3. Become a Japanese Samurai
Have you ever wanted to learn how to fight like a real samurai? Just near Osaka Castle in Miraza Plaza, you can finally fulfill all your samurai dreams!
First, you’ll dress up like a real samurai (they even have beautiful samurai outfits for women!), and then you’ll get a full English lesson on how to handle your samurai sword. You’ll learn the proper stance, how to swing and retrieve your sword, and you’ll even learn a fight sequence complete with sound effects!
I really loved this class when I was in Osaka, and I definitely appreciated that the teacher was such a character!
While the website is only in Japanese, Google Chrome should be able to translate it into English for you automatically. If that’s not an option for you, just ask your hotel to book you a class! Just try to book a few days in advance.
Classes cost 6,000 yen ($53 USD) for adults and 4,000 yen ($35 USD) for those under the age of 10.
Cooking my own sushi
4. Learn to Cook Sushi in a Local Home
I love taking cooking classes when I travel, and this sushi making class with Washoku home cooking was one of my favorites EVER. Firstly, you’ll arrive at the owner Machiko’s home, where she’ll greet you in a kimono. Here you’ll learn how to make sushi rolls, sashimi, and even a Japanese omelet!
After you’ve finished cooking, she’ll show you how to create a beautiful presentation with your creations, and you’ll sit down to a fantastic meal!
Not only was this cooking class experience incredible, but it was also one of the best things I did in Osaka. I can’t recommend Machiko enough!
Most of her cooking class options cost around 7,500 yen ($65 USD) and run for about 2-3 hours. You can book a cooking class directly on her English-language website!
5. Drink Butterbeer at Harry Potter World
While many people know that Japan has a Universal Studios, I was shocked to learn that USJ has a HARRY POTTER WORLD. Seriously, if you’ve never been, a quick trip to USJ is the perfect place to let all of your childhood fantasies come true.
Try an interactive ride inside Hogwarts Castle (I may or may not have actually cried on this), explore Hogsmeade and drink butterbeer while shopping in Honeydukes, or even purchase Harry or Hermionie’s wand to try your hand at some real-life magic!
In addition to Harry Potter World, USJ also has a really awesome Minion area your kids will be sure to love. Don’t forget to try the Fluffy hot chocolate or the Minion banana flavored popcorn!
Fun Fact: In the Japanese version of Despicable Me, Gru speaks in Osaka Dialect while the rest of the characters speak standard Japanese!
Enjoying my outdoor onsen!
6. Soak at a Traditional Onsen in Shinsekai
You can’t visit Japan without trying a traditional onsen! I particularly love the family-run Shinsekai Radium Onsen, which not only has amazing indoor and outdoor pools, it’s also tattoo friendly!
After a long red-eye flight from Australia, I wasn’t able to check in at my hotel, so I dropped off my bags and headed straight here. Best decision ever. I felt super refreshed after an hour-long soak, and I was able to explore Shinsekai and have a great lunch in the area afterward!
Just be aware that this is a traditional sauna where you bathe in the nude. The sauna is split into men’s and women’s sections, so if you’re there as a couple like I was, you’ll just have some relaxing alone time.
A soak here is only 500 yen ($4.50 USD) for entry and a set of towels! How amazing is that?
Prayer beads at the temple!
7. Join Moring Service at Aizendo BuddhistTemple
While I’ve been to a TON of Buddhist temples over the years, I’d never actually attended a full Buddhist service. Well, if you spend a night at Wa-Qoo Shitadermachi hotel, you’ll have the opportunity to attend a morning service at Aizendo Buddhist Temple!
Firstly, the hotel is fantastic. If you’re looking to stay at a ryokan-style hotel with tatami mat floors and beds on the ground, you’ll love this place. Each room also comes with pamphlets and books on Buddhism! This hotel has many different cultural experiences you can try for a small fee. The most famous of which is the morning temple service!
The morning temple service is also a great chance to learn more about Buddhism. Meet downstairs bright and early (we’re talking 6 am), for a quick lesson on how to worship at the temple. You’ll be given Buddhist prayer beads, along with a mantra to recite and instructions on how to pray. Thankfully, there’s actually a young Chinese monk who speaks great English, so you won’t have to worry about not understanding the service!
After the morning service, you’ll be given a tour of the historic temple, and then you’ll be treated to a vegetarian porridge breakfast. While it wasn’t my favorite breakfast in the world, it was at least an interesting experience.
If you’d like to experience the morning temple service, just book a stay with Waqoo and let them know you’d like to join.
8. Take a Private Tour of the Umeda Sky Building
Looking for a great view from the top of an architectural masterpiece? Visit the Umeda Sky Building, where you can head up to the rooftop garden for some of the best views in Osaka!
Designed by Hiroshi Hara, the 173 meter tall Umeda Sky building consists of two separate towers which are joined at the top by a ring-like observation deck. These towers are built with reflective glass windows to make it look like the observation deck is actually floating!
The floating garden observatory is one of the best spots for a view in all of Osaka. Just one floor down you can also enjoy the view with a cup of coffee, or sample a few of their bottles of craft beer from around the world.
Architecture enthusiasts may also be interested in a private tour of the Umeda Sky Buiding. On this tour, you’ll be led around the entire building (including an awesome outdoor spot for great photos!) while learning about the architecture and history. This is the ONLY way you can cross the sky bridge in the middle of the two buildings.
On this tour, you’ll also get to visit the Machine Zoo, which houses all of the machines that power the building. The whole basement is painted with bright jungle colors, and each of the machines have funny animal names.
While I enjoyed the hour-long tour of the building and I learned a lot, my favorite part was just enjoying the view from the top!
Wow! Chicken Sashimi
9. Eat Pufferfish and Chicken Sashimi
One of my FAVORITE things I did in all of Japan was the Inside Osaka food tour I did with the incredible Yuki. Seriously, if you head to Osaka you HAVE to sign up for this tour.
Not only do you get to try pufferfish and chicken sashimi (both of which are perfectly safe at the restaurants he takes you to), you’ll also get to eat incredible takoyaki, stroll down the longest shopping street in Japan, sip on sake at a lively bar, visit a local market AND a discount grocery store, and learn about the unique brand of Osaka culture.
Seriously, if you do one thing in Osaka it should be this! Just read his reviews on Trip Advisor.
As for the fugu (pufferfish), it’s perfectly safe in Japan as long as the chef has a license to cook it. However, when it comes to chicken sashimi, you need to go to a restaurant that specializes in chicken. The chickens must be killed that morning, and are raised separately from other non-sashimi chickens.
You’ll also never guess what chicken sashimi tastes like: TUNA! That’s right, everything tastes like chicken except chicken sashimi, which tastes like fish. Go figure.
Grabbing Takoyaki on the longest walking street in Japan!
10. Stroll Down Japan’s Longest Shopping Street
Tenjinbashi-suji Shopping street is the longest shopping street in all of Japan, at an astonishing 2.6 kilometers. If you walk without stopping it will take you a solid 40 minutes!
If you want an afternoon or evening of food, shopping, and peeking through windows, this is definitely the place for you! Here you’ll find everything from old-fashioned diners, to specialized knife shops, kimono stores, and even a tea shop that opened in 1868!
If you decide to embark on Yuki’s Inside Osaka Tour, you’ll actually have a stroll down part of this street. But you definitely don’t need a tour to go and see it. I spent over an hour here before the tour started!
I’ve never been so happy…
11. Snuggle with Kitties in the Best Cat Cafe EVER.
I’m a huge fan of cat cafes, and I’ve visited a fair few all over Asia. While I do love my regular cat cafe in Beijing (before it got demolished by the government!), I have to say, Save Cat Cafe is the BEST cat cafe I’ve ever been to.
Why? What makes Save Cat Cafe so special?
WELL… Firstly, all of the cats here are rescues, hence the name. Secondly, Save Cat Cafe has a specialized cat room where you remove your shoes and sit on the floor with the cats. Everyone is given a fuzzy blanket, along with a cat toy.
I don’t know what they do to those blankets (soak them in catnip?) but the cats LOVE them. Seriously, at one point I had FIVE cats on me. FIVE CATS.
If you love cats, definitely fit a couple hours into your itinerary and you won’t regret it. I only had time for 30-minutes there, and I’m still upset about it.
12. Tickle Billiken’s Feet in Tsutenkaku Tower
The first time I visited Osaka, I headed over to Shimbashi in the evening to see the Tsutenkaku tower all lit up. Unfortunately, the tower was closed when arrived, so on my second trip, I headed over during the daytime for a ride up to the top!
While I knew the Tsutenkaku Tower was great for getting a nice view, what I DIDN’T know was that it’s also home to Billiken, the small golden baby-esque statue you’ll see all over Osaka.
When you visit Tsutenkaku Tower, you’ll need to make your way to Billiken and tickle his feet for good luck and happiness. Tee hee.
Don’t miss out on okonomiyaki
13. Cook Your Own Okonomiyaki
Osaka is known for having some of the best food in all of Japan, and is especially famous for their Okonomiyaki, a giant savory cabbage pancake! While many Osaka restaurants will cook okonomiyaki right in front of you, Hatsuse restaurant in Dontonburi actually lets you cook your own Okonomiyaki!
I purchased a package that let me choose my own protein ingredient (I chose shrimp, Chris chose squid), and came with unlimited drinks. Bring on the chuhai and plum sake!
Chris and I laughed at our failure to properly flip our okonomiyaki without ruining it, but despite its less-than-perfect appearance, it still tasted amazing! They also provide English instructions if you don’t have a Japanese friend to teach you how to make it.
Grocery store amazingness
14. Explore an Osaka Discount Grocery Store
Osaka residents are famous for a few things: comedians, big personalities, bold fashion choices, and a love of discount shopping. Seriously, even Osaka’s grocery stories are plastered with discount posters and promotions!
While I always recommend a quick trip to Don Quijote and Daiso (especially in Osaka), you’ll also want to wander into one of Osaka’s many discount grocery stories. Have a look at the bright colored advertisements and an insane amount of discount promotions.
While it’s fun to wander around by yourself, I definitely recommend bringing a local with you to explain Osaka discount culture. The best way to do this is to take Yuki’s Inside Osaka Tour, where he’ll bring you inside a local discount grocery store and fill you in on everything!
18. Explore Hozenji Yokocho Alley
Want a bit of hidden history in modern Osaka? Hozenji Yokocho Alley is a narrow stone-paved alley with traditional historical buildings, just outside Dontonburi. Lined with small food shops and cafes, this alley is famous for its moss-covered Fudo-myo Buddhist statue.
The statue is commonly called “Mizukake-fudo”. Mizu means water in Japanese and kaku means splash. They call him this because those who wish to pray will pour a ladle of water over him. This is why he’s covered in moss!
While the area during the daytime is beautiful, be sure to visit at night to see all of the lanterns lit up!
Stopping for drinks at a hidden bar
15. Discover a Hidden Whiskey Bar
While wandering around Dontonburi towards Hozenji Yokocho Alley, I stumbled on the coolest little whiskey cocktail bar! The place looked like a train car and served up some amazing drinks. However, despite WAAAY too much time spent googling, I can’t seem to find this place anywhere!
16. Taste Michelin Listed Takoyaki
Everyone knows you can’t visit Osaka without trying takoyaki. These little doughy octopus balls literally melt in your mouth, and are the perfect street food! While you can pick them up all over Dontonburi, the quality is a bit lacking due to all the tourists in the area.
If you really want some good takoyaki, head to the Michelin listed Takoriki! These refined octopus balls can even be paired with a glass of champagne. Despite the fancy drinks, takoyaki here still starts from 350 yen (around $3 USD!).
If you’re on Yuki’s Inside Osaka tour, you’ll be stopping by another takoyaki place that’s well worth a visit. This stall has been open for generations, and you can definitely taste the difference!
17. Buy Crazy Osaka Obachaaan Swag
Osaka is pretty famous for having a very unique brand of fashion, especially among the older ladies. Osaka is also pretty famous for being the birthplace of most of Japan’s comedians. There’s an idea among most Japanese that people from Osaka are just naturally funny.
Well… Osaka went ahead and combined its famous old ladies and comedy skills into the music group Obachaaan. Obachaaan is a group of women who sing typical j-pop songs you might find from AKB48… except all of the singers are middle-aged ladies.
Consisting of 47 obachan (middle aged ladies), this group is loud, aggressive, and always wears fashionable animal-print clothing. While groups like AKB48 allow you to meet them, the Obachaaan come to you… with candy!
This comedic song group is actually amazing, and you can find some really awesome Obachaaan swag in Osaka. For example, I found fantastic Obachaaan lady socks at Don Quijote in Osaka. Yes, I do wear them on the regular.
19. Ride the Don Quijote Ferris Wheel
Dontonburi is home to an incredible Don Quijote with a bright yellow Ferris wheel. While the Ferris wheel itself isn’t super remarkable aside from its bright yellow color and oval shape, did you know that you can ride the Ferris wheel FOR FREE if you buy ANY item from this Don Quijote shop? WHAAAAT?
Seriously, most people pay a solid 600-1,200 yen for this ride, but if you run in and buy something you can ride for FREE. Yeah, pick up your Obachaaan socks here.
Just be aware that the seats flip around at the top of the wheel, so be sure to watch out for your bags!
The famous mechanical crab!
20. Find Each of the Major Osaka Characters
When I think of Osaka, one of the first things that comes to mind are the giant mechanical characters in Dontronburi, along with the shops and souvenir stalls featuring a clown, Billiken, and a few other popular figures. But what are all these characters and where do you find them?
Rather than wander Dontonburi aimlessly wondering about what you’re looking at, why not learn about and track down all these famous characters on your trip?!
Here’s a quick list of everything you need to find:
- Giant mechanical crab (Dontonburi)
- The Glico Running Man Signboard (Dontonburi)
- Giant inflatable fugu Pufferfish (Dontonburi and Shinsekai)
- Billiken in Tsutenkaku Tower (Shinsekai)
- Kuidaore Taro Clown (Dontonburi)
- Daruma the Kushikatsu chef (Shinsekai)
- Kukuru Octopus (Dontonburi)
Any I missed? Let me know in a comment and I’ll add it!
Making Japanese sweets in Sakai!
What About all the Osaka Day Trips?
Of course, Osaka also has some incredible day trips too: from the popular excursions like Himeiji, Hiroshima, Miyajima, and Kyoto (although Kyoto deserves at least a few days), to the less well-known places like Kobe, Sakai, and Koyasan.
To be honest, there are just too many awesome Osaka day trips to fit into this post! Thankfully, my fiance, Chris has you covered with his 10 Unmissable Osaka Day Trips!
Let’s Hear From you!
Have you checked any of these off your list? Which one are you most excited to try? Any amazing off the beaten path adventures I’ve left out? Be sure to let me know in a comment!
If you have any questions or concerns about travel in Osaka, be sure to leave a comment below. I’m always checking back for new comments, so I’ll be sure to get back to you ASAP!