This city is a food lover’s paradise.
If you’re planning a trip to Osaka, then chances are you have an insatiable love for Japanese food. I do, which is why I chose to celebrate my 40th birthday there earlier this May.
Known as the “nation’s kitchen”, food critics and writers have described this merchant city as the food capitol not just of Japan, but of the entire world. Attracting millions of tourists annually with beloved regional dishes like okonomiyaki, takoyaki, and udon, the Osakan love for food is so legendary that it’s given rise to the saying: “Kyotoites are financially ruined by overspending on clothing, Osakans are ruined by spending on food.”
Here’s a first-timer’s travel guide to what many people have described as the world’s greatest food city. Itadakimasu!
GUIDE TABLE OF CONTENTS
WHEN TO GO
Unlike Kyoto, the majority of Osaka’s attractions are indoors or within an urban setting, so there really is no best time to go. It all depends on which season you prefer or how tolerant you are to hot and cold weather. With that said, most travelers do pair their Osaka holiday with a trip to nearby Kyoto. If that’s the case, then going during the Spring (March-May) or Fall (October-November) months is ideal. The weather is favorable and the landscape is at its most beautiful.
HOW TO GET THERE
International travelers will be arriving at Kansai International Airport (KIX). From there, you can catch a train to your hotel. We stayed in the Shinsaibashi area which is less than an hour away. Our total fare, with just one transfer, amounted to ¥1,160. For up-to-date train schedules, check out hyperdia.com.
HOW LONG TO STAY
Osaka is mostly about food. There are a few fun attractions like Universal Studios and the aquarium, but much of your time will be spent eating and shopping. For gastronomically inclined travelers, I’d say 3 full days in Osaka should be a minimum. The more days you spend there, the more meals you get to enjoy. 😉
HOW MUCH MONEY TO BRING
This is a tough one. The amount of money you bring depends on how much you intend to shop and how expensively you want to eat. We didn’t shop too much on our trip, but we did eat very well.
Japan is pricier than Southeast Asian countries but it isn’t prohibitively expensive like many people think. For example, you can have a good meal at a restaurant for around ¥1,500. If you’d like to save on food, then you can buy prepackaged meals at convenience stores like 7-Eleven and Family Mart. The street food in Dotonbori or Kuromon Ichiba Market is pretty awesome and inexpensive too. If you stick to places like that, then you can eat well with a budget of around ¥2,000-3,000 per day.
Based on our experience, you’d be pretty comfortable with ¥12,000-15,000 per day in Osaka. That includes all meals, transportation, your hotel room, and some light shopping. If you’re sharing a room with someone, then you’ll be good with around ¥10,000. You can adjust depending on how much you want to shop or eat, but ¥10,000 each is a good baseline for two people traveling together.
Also, please bear in mind that Japan is mostly a cash society, so be sure that you have enough yen. We brought all our yen with us, but it would be just as easy to exchange your currency there. Based on what I’ve read online, the rates are actually better. Best ways to do it are at banks and post office ATMs.
WHERE TO STAY: Best Western Hotel Fino Osaka Shinsaibashi
In my opinion, the Shinsaibashi-Dotonbori area is the best place to stay in Osaka. It’s the heart of the city and where you’ll be doing most of your shopping and eating.
A popular North American chain, Best Western is a great choice. We stayed there on two separate legs, the first on a weekday and the second on a weekend. I made the reservation through Booking.com and paid ¥5,600 for the weeknight and ¥7,520 a night over the weekend in May 2014. Like all business hotels in Japan, the rooms are small but a good size for couples or single travelers. It’s just a few minutes walk from Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade and has a 7-Eleven right across the street for your convenience. Check out my post on Best Western Hotel Fino Osaka Shinsaibashi for more information.
NOTE: Travelers have informed me that hotel rooms at Best Western seem to have risen quite a bit, up to three times what we paid! I’m not sure if we were just lucky or they really have raised their prices that much, but please take a note of the room rate before you book. If it’s too high, then I suggest looking for a similar hotel in the Shinsaibashi-Dotonbori area. You can make reservations through Booking.com or Agoda. Be sure to check both sites to find the best deal.
Approximate Room Rate: ¥5,600 per night on weeknights / ¥7,520 on weekends (as of May 2014)
WHERE TO GO
The heart of Osaka. If Shinsaibashi is the city’s premier shopping district, then Dotonbori is its kitchen. Visiting Osaka without making a stop here would be like going to Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower. It’s a sin! As mentioned above, I highly recommend that you stay in the Shinsaibashi-Dotonbori area because this is exactly where you want to be.
Check out my post on Shinsaibashi and Dotonbori in Osaka for more pictures and information.
2. Kuromon Ichiba Market
Nicknamed “Osaka’s Kitchen”, many of the city’s chefs purchase their ingredients here. It’s home to some of the best and freshest seafood that we’ve ever tasted. Delicacies like uni, diver scallops, otoro, oysters, octopus, and even Kobe beef can be enjoyed here as street food. And for cheap too! We absolutely LOVED this place.
Check out my post on Kuromon Ichiba Market in Osaka for more pictures and information.
3. Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
Holding nearly 11,000 tons of water, Kaiyukan is one of the world’s largest aquariums. It’s so big in fact, that it’s main tank is 30 feet deep and home to two juvenile whale sharks (Rhincodon typus). Cetacean freedom advocates be warned though. They house dolphins here as well.
Check out my psot on Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan for more pictures and information.
Suggested Length of Visit: 2-3 hrs / Admission: ¥2,300 for adults
4. Umeda Sky Building
There’s no better place to get a bird’s eye view of Osaka than the Floating Garden Observatory. 173 meters above ground atop the ultramodern Umeda Sky Building, it gives viewers a 360° panoramic vista of the entire city.
At its basement, gourmands will be pleased to find a food court designed as a Japanese street from the early Showa period. It’s home to Okonomiyaki Kiji, purveyors of arguably the best okonomiyaki in all of Osaka.
Suggested Length of Visit: 1-1.5 hrs / Admission: FREE until 38th floor, ¥1,000 to Floating Garden Observatory (top viewing deck)
5. Grand Front Osaka
Home to the Knowledge Center and Umekita Dining Floor, Grand Front Osaka is a mall unlike any other. Remarkable for its “labs” and interactive exhibits, most of the stores here aren’t the type that you’d find in your typical shopping mall. It’s a fun place to spend a couple of hours. Be sure to enjoy a drink and some good chow at the ultratrendy Umekita food court as well.
Check out my post on Grand Front Osaka for more pictures and information.
6. Universal Studios
We didn’t go but Universal Studios is obviously a popular destination, especially if you have children. Favorite attractions include Harry Potter, Backdraft, Jurassic Park, and Spiderman themed rides. A 1-day pass to Universal Studios is usually ¥7,400 for adults and ¥4,980 for kids, but you can get a discount if you purchase advance tickets on Klook. It’ll cost ¥7,300 for adults and ¥4,706 for kids. Follow this link to buy Universal Studios tickets from Klook. They have other Universal Studios deals as well so be sure to browse all their listings.
Suggested Length of Visit: At least half a day / Admission: ¥7,400 for adults, ¥4,980 for children
12 THINGS TO EAT
Osaka is a glutton’s wet dream. With its wealth of street food and Michelin-starred restaurants, this city has something for everyone. Check out my post for a list of 12 delicious things to eat in Osaka, Japan.
Takoyaki balls smothered in bonito shavings
WHERE TO EAT
1. Kura Sushi
One of the most popular kaiten-zushi (conveyor belt sushi) chains in Japan, a meal at Kura Sushi isn’t just cheap and delicious, it’s super fun too. Every single plate of sushi on that conveyor belt – from maguro, to hamachi, to unagi, to chuotoro, to hotate, to katsuo – goes for an even ¥100. At the time, that was equivalent to about one dollar. I LOVED this place.
Check out my post on Kura Sushi in Japan for more pictures and information.
Expect to Pay: ¥1,000-1,500 per person with drinks
2. Fujiya 1935
Once cited by the Diners Club as one of the world’s 50 best restaurants, Fujiya 1935 used to have the maximum 3 Michelin stars but it seems to have lost one since our meal here. Bummer. Helmed by Spanish-trained chef Tetsuya Fujiwara, we enjoyed a seven-course lunch here in celebration of my 40th birthday and it was one of the most sublime dining experiences of my life.
Check out my post on Fujiya 1935 in Osaka for more pictures and information.
Expect to Pay: ¥7,200 per person for lunch with drinks / ¥15,000 per person for dinner with drinks
This place is all about Kobe beef. We wanted to try this legendary brand of beef but were afraid of its exorbitant prices. Luckily, we had insider knowledge and a very generous friend.
Treating us to dinner here as a birthday present, my Japanese buddy Tom heard about this place from his meat supplier. Apart from serving top quality meat, it’s fairly priced for Kobe beef which is why it came so highly recommended. Cooked yakiniku style right at your table, it was INSANELY good. Seriously, if you’ve been wanting to check off Kobe beef from your bucket list, then this is the place to do it.
Check out my post on Tsurugyu in Osaka for more pictures and information.
Expect to Pay: ¥6,500 per person with drinks
As another birthday present (#bestbirthdayever!), my brother Erwin surprised us with a fantastic thirteen-course kaiseki dinner at Iroha. Owner of 1 Michelin star to date, it’s helmed by chef/owner Masatoshi Yoshimoto who specializes in fish. The second of two kaiseki meals we enjoyed in Japan, Iroha is more traditional Japanese while Fujya 1935 is modern fusion. Both were outstanding.
Check out my post on Iroha in Osaka for more pictures and information.
Expect to Pay: ¥15,000 per person for dinner with drinks
Our very first meal in Osaka, Jinen is just a few minutes walk from Best Western. It’s home to some fantastic sushi. Pictured below are the most delicious pieces of unagi and anago sushi. Both are types of eel but unagi is freshwater while anago comes from the sea. Both were seriously good!
Check out my post on Jinen in Osaka for more pictures and information.
Expect to Pay: ¥4,000 per person with drinks
Gourmands will be pleased to know that there are at present 91 restaurants with at least one Michelin star in Osaka. I’ve included two above, both of which I highly recommend. Follow the link for the complete list of Michelin-starred restaurants in Osaka.
1. Rent a Pocket Wifi Device
This is essential, especially if you’re a first-time traveler to Osaka. Apart from your hotel, you’ll find few free wifi zones in Japan, so this device will come in very handy when checking train routes and doing emergency online research.
You can preorder the device before your trip and have it sent to your hotel, or you can pick it up at their airport counter upon arrival. I chose the former and my device was conveniently sent to my hotel a day before we arrived. Inside the package was a self-addressed stamped envelope so you can easily mail back the device before leaving Japan. You can drop it in any red postal office box or leave it at the front desk of your hotel. In my case, I dropped it in the postal office box at the airport, just before going through the departure gates. Cool huh?
I rented our device from Global Advanced Communications. I got the standard 75 Mbps model for ¥990 per day which was lightning fast. You can also rent a 4G pocket wifi device from Klook for as little as ¥150 per day (with 3GB data limit). Follow this link to rent a pocket wifi device from Klook. Be sure to reserve your device at least a couple of weeks prior to your trip.
2. Bookmark Hyperdia or Get the App on your Mobile Device
Referenced up top, this website will be your new best friend while in Japan. You’ll be riding the subway a lot, frequently changing lines and services, and this website will tell you exactly how to get from one station to another. It’s very detailed, providing several route options with fare prices and travel times. Train arrival and departure information is very accurate as well. I can’t stress enough how handy this website is. It’s a lifesaver for commuters in Japan.
3. Plan your Trip with Sygic Travel (formerly Tripomatic)
I love this app. Sygic Travel is a free app that allows you to plot points of interest on a map, including your hotel, so you can see how far you need to travel between points. It allows you to lump attractions that are in close proximity to each other so you can minimize travel time. With pocket wifi, it can turn your mobile phone into a GPS tracking device so people with a poor sense of direction never get lost again. Pretty sweet right? Check out my post on the Sygic Travel app for more information.
4. Check for Discount Passes
I recently discovered Klook and have been using them to get discounts on attractions and services. They offer deals in multiple cities throughout Asia including Osaka. If you want to find deals on tours, transportation, activities, etc, then you can search through this list of Osaka attractions on Klook. As described above, they even offer discount tickets to Universal Studios.
5. Get Travel Insurance
To be honest, it was only recently when we started buying travel insurance. Back when we traveled just once or twice a year, travel insurance felt like an extra expense, one we didn’t need. But now that we travel more often, I understand how important it is. Fact is, you never know what can happen on the road. It’s one of those things that you hope you never have to use, but if you do wind up needing it, then you’ll be thanking the gods that you had it. Or cursing them if you didn’t.
Though I do find it more necessary now, it’s still up to you if you think you need it. A 3-day trip to Singapore just shopping and eating may not really call for insurance but if you plan on doing more active things like bungee jumping, horseback riding, or even going on a city bike tour, then I’d say travel insurance is a must.
We buy travel insurance from World Nomads because every long-term traveler I know recommends it. From the sound of it, they’re the best in the industry by a mile. Not only do they provide a high coverage limit for medical expenses (up to USD 5 million with the Standard package), they also cover things like trip delays, missed flight connections, theft/loss of passport and luggage, etc. Follow this link to learn more and get a free travel insurance quote from World Nomads. It’s super quick and easy.
6. Learn Basic Japanese Etiquette
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. In other words, don’t be a sutpid gaijin. You don’t have to know all the rules, but you can learn a few basics that will make you more palatable as a traveler. This, for me, is the main difference between a traveler and a tourist, understanding the importance of respect. You wouldn’t appreciate anyone being disrespectful in your home, would you?
7. Pack Well
What you should bring on trips is highly subjective, but these are some of the things we brought with us on our trip to Osaka. If you’d like to see what other gear we use, then you can check out our “What’s in Our Backpack?” post. (NOTE: The following links are Amazon affiliate links.)
HOW TO GET AROUND
The subway system in Osaka is very efficient and the only mode of transportation that you’ll need. However, it’s comprised of several lines and often requires multiple transfers, so it can be a little confusing. But if you rent a pocket wifi device and bookmark hyperdia.com on your smartphone, then you should be fine.
We didn’t get any discount travel passes in Osaka because there were few areas outside of Shinsaibashi-Dotonbori that we wanted to go to. But if you’ll be doing a lot of traveling within the area, then a travel pass may be a good investment. As mentioned above, the subway system is comprised of many lines servicing different areas, so you can check out this article on Osaka Travel Passes for information on which travel pass would best suit your needs.
HOW TO APPLY FOR A VISA
If you’re a Philippine passport holder, then you’ll need to secure a tourist visa to Japan. The entire application process is coursed through a travel agency so you’ll never have to go to the Japanese Embassy. The cost of the application ranges from PHP 1,500-2,500, depending on which agency you file with. It takes between 3-7 days to complete.
Check out my post on how to apply for a Japan tourist visa for a step-by-step process and a list of accredited agencies.
HOW TO GET CHEAP AIRLINE TICKETS
Ever since I scored my first piso fare from Cebu Pacific, I’ve been hopelessly addicted to cheap airline tickets. Our tickets to Osaka had a base fare price of PHP 10. After taxes, fuel surcharges, and a shared 20 kg baggage allowance, the total fare came out to just under PHP 6,000 each roundtrip. How awesome is that?
These piso fare tickets are limited and sell fast, so you have to be quick. For our Osaka tickets, I had to try three separate times before finally getting them. They just kept selling out before I could complete the transaction! To give yourself an advantage, I suggest liking their Facebook page and following them on Twitter to quickly find out about these seat sales. If you check off “Get notifications” on Facebook, then you’ll receive instant alerts every time they post something new.
Other airlines that fly from Manila to KIX are Jetstar Asia and Philippine Airlines. Of these three carriers, Jetstar Asia seems to have the best flight schedule with an estimated arrival time of 11:50 AM, as opposed to after 7 PM for the other two.
I’ve only been to Osaka once so I’m hardly an expert, but I do hope that first-time travelers will find this guide useful. It’s something that I’ll continue to work on and refine over time. We loved the Kansai region so much that we’re planning to be back as soon as possible, perhaps in winter. Apart from the inviting change in scenery, certain dishes like fugu and crab are best enjoyed during the fall and winter months.
If you have any suggestions or simply want to share your own experiences, then please feel free to do so in the comments section below. You’re welcome to join our Facebook Travel Group as well. We’d love to hear from you.
Thanks for stopping by and enjoy your trip!
For travel tips to Kyoto, check out our First-Timer’s Travel Guide to Kyoto, Japan
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