Things to Do in Osaka
One of Japan's most famous castles, Osaka Castle played a major role in unifying Japan in the sixteenth century. First built in 1583 by one of Japan’s most fabled warlords, Hideyoshi Toyotomi, succeeded in ending century-long wars and using Osaka Castle as his stronghold. The castle was built on about one square kilometer (less than a mile squared) of land, with two raised platforms supported by sheer walls of cut rock and surrounded by a moat. The central building is five stories outside, and eight stories on the inside. The thirteen structures that make up the castle have be designated as Important Cultural Assets by the Japanese government.
Osaka Castle was nearly destroyed during WWII, when used as one of the largest military armories. A full restoration started in 1995, and by 1997, had been completely restored to it's Edo-era days. The current castle is a concrete reproduction of the original castle, with a modern museum within.
The most famous entertainment neighborhood in Osaka, Dotonbori (also called Dotombori) boasts a rich history, an exciting nightlife, and cultural gems. Situated along the Dotomborigawa River, Dotonbori stretches down a single street in in the city’s Minami area. Formerly a pleasure district, geishas once flocked to Dotonbori as the go-to place to entertain their customers. Today remnants of that lively history can be felt and seen in the numerous small restaurants and bars that dot the river. In fact, Dotonbori is Osaka’s best neighborhood for both domestic and foreign food. In addition to drinking and dining, Dotonbori has excellent shopping.
At night, Dotonbori comes to life with hundreds of neon lights. The most iconic images of the neighborhood are the larger-than-life neon “Guriko” sign – an image of a running man – and the Kani Doraku crab sign, an advertisement for a popular restaurant that features a moving crab.
Deer Park (Nara Park) sits at the heart of Nara, a city of great historical importance and the birthplace of modern Japanese culture, located 19 miles (31 km) outside of Osaka. A majority of Nara’s top attractions, including Kasuga Shrine, Todaji and the Nara National Museum, are located in Deer Park, making it a popular day trip destination from both Osaka and Kyoto.
Besides the cultural and historical attractions found on the grounds of the park, it’s also famous for the wild (but very tame) deer that roam the grounds grazing on grass and hoping the passing tourist will feed them some deer crackers (for sale throughout the park). The park covers an area of about 1,300 acres (520 hectares) and requires about three hours to explore, particularly if you plan to stop at the temples and shrines.
Theme park rides and shows come together in Osaka at Universal Studios Japan®. Like its sister parks in the U.S., the movie theme park provides fun for the whole family!
Snoopy, Hello Kitty, Woody Woodpecker, Shrek and many other stars are on hand to greet you as you make your way through the park. Entertaining rides include Jaws, Back to the Future, the Spider-Man Ride and Jurassic Park! Partake in ultra-exhilarating shows like Shrek's 4-D Adventure, Terminator 2: 3-D or Backdraft. Universal Studios shows are fun for everyone and are full of excitement! And if you're a Harry Potter fan, be enchanted by the newly opened Wizarding World of Harry Potter! Fly over Hogwarts on the "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey" flight simulator; tour Hogwarts castle to see some of its most famous rooms; or even take a ride on a Hippogriff (winged horse with an eagle head)!
Osaka’s most famous shrine, Sumiyoshi-taisha, protects travelers of all sorts, including fisherman and sailors. The shrine is named both for the Sumiyoshi gods – the gods of the sea – and for a distinctive style of purely Japanese architecture known as Sumiyoshi-zukuri. To this day, it remains a pilgrimage destination for seafarers and travelers from around Japan, and the world, to pray for safe passage and good fortune. Adding to its superlatives, the shrine was founded in the 3rd century, making it one of Japan’s oldest shrines. For these reasons, Japan designated the Sumiyoshi-taisha shrine as a National Treasure.
The most recognizable image of Sumiyoshi-taisha is its symbol, the Taiko-bashi Bridge. The red arched Bridge provides a picturesque walkway across a pond flanked with verdant foliage that leads to the shrine. The shrine itself features traditional straight roofs and a red gate.
More Things to Do in Osaka
The Japan Mint in Osaka is even more famous for its cherry blossom trees than for its history lessons. The 560-meter long entryway is flanked on both sides more than 100 varieties of cherry blossom trees. In mid-April when the blossoms typically bloom – for no more than a week – crowds flock to the site and spend a leisurely afternoon strolling along the pathway, admiring the trees, and having a picnic beneath the pink petals. Admission to the Japan Mint is free and open to the public during the cherry blossom season.
A 1.8-mile island along the Yodo River, Nakanoshima is the nucleus of Osaka’s business district and home to some of the city’s most historic buildings, including the City Hall, the Nakanoshima Festival Tower and the first branch of the Bank of Japan.
The main highlight of Nakanoshima is its eponymous park, a verdant oasis that stretches along the eastern half of the island and offers a welcome change of scenery from the looming office blocks and financial headquarters. Along with its tranquil waterfront walkways and tree-lined picnic areas, the 11-hectare park also boasts a magnificent rose garden, which blooms with more than 310 colorful rose varieties during the summer months. The small island is also home to a number of significant museums, including the Science museum, the Museum of Oriental Ceramics and the National Museum of Art.
Work your way through centuries of the past at the Osaka Museum of History, opened in 2003. Located just across from the Osaka Castle, head to the top floor to see great views of the castle.
Exhibits chronicle Osaka's history, beginning in ancient times when Osaka served as Japan's first capital and site of the Naniwa Palace and ending with exhibits on the city's bustling shopping arcades of the early Showa Period. Designed from top to bottom, visitors start on the 10th floor and work their way down to the 7th, passing through galleries which focus on the Age of the Naniwa Palace, the Age of the Hongan-ji Temple, and the Age of Greater Osaka. Archaeological remains are displayed in the building’s basement. Take the Highlights Course if you’re short of time, or follow a more leisurely and detailed route with the Complete Course.
Osaka Aquarium, also known as Kaiyukan, is Japan's most impressive aquarium, and also one of the largest public aquariums in the world. It is home to various different species from the Pacific Rim, most specifically, the "Ring of Fire."
The aquarium contains some of the largest tanks in the world, and houses 27 tanks with 16 main exhibits, with the goal of mimicking the natural habitat of the sea life as close as possible. Learn about all of the sea creatures through themed exhibition halls which include interactive activities for all ages! Only a thin sheet of glass separates visitors from the denizens of the deep, from whale sharks to sand-scuttling spider crabs to jellyfish, otters, seals, dolphins and penguins. Osaka Aquarium is located among a variety of restaurants and shops that you can end your family-fun day with.
Osaka is Japan’s third-largest city and also one of the best for shopping. With that said, some of the most distinctive souvenirs can be found in a rather unexpected place called Sennichimae Doguyasuji. The 525-foot-long (160-meter-long) covered shopping arcade specializes in wholesale kitchen equipment and utensils and serves as the spot where Osaka’s chefs come to shop.
Anyone who has spent time in Japan will recognize the plastic models of popular food items placed in many Japanese restaurant window displays. Sennichimae Doguyasuji is the place to find these pieces, which make very unique gifts to take back home. With its hugely discounted prices, this shopping street is also a good place to buy chopsticks, cooking knives and other Japanese-style dishware.
Modern architecture goes space age and skywards at the cutting-edge Umeda Sky Building.
Two glass towers soar 173 meters (567 feet) into the air, connected by a futuristic observation platform that provides amazing 360-degree views. Located on the 40th floor, visitors can find the stunning "floating garden" and observatory, along with a restaurant and bar. The SkyWalk observation deck is also popular among visitors who want to feel the fresh air from the 40th floor and get 360-degree views of the city below. For a change of pace and century, head to the base of the building to enter the old-fashioned Takimi Lane of Restaurants. Reproducing a Showa-era street, the precinct has a shrine, well, stone paving and enough restaurants and taverns to feed an army of visitors with delicious gourmet treats.
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