The First-Timer’s Travel Guide to Osaka, Japan (2019)

The First-Timer’s Travel Guide to Osaka, Japan (2019)

If we were allowed to visit just one country for the rest of our lives, then for me, that country would have to be Japan. It wouldn’t even be a difficult decision.

Like many people, I find Japan to be an endlessly fascinating country. It’s defined by cultural curiosities that you can’t find anywhere else in the world. Sure, every country is unique in its own right, but Japan takes that uniqueness to a whole different level. From its samurai swords to its smart toilets to its maid cafes and love for anime and cosplay, I think it’s safe to say that there is no culture in the world quite like Japan.

We’ve both been to Japan many times before, mostly to Tokyo in our youth, but it wasn’t until our trip to the Kansai region in 2014 that we really fell in love with this country. And much of that had to do with Osaka.

Osaka has a great easygoing vibe and a fantastic food culture that really resonated with us, so much so that we’ve been here three times in five years – the most recent in November of 2018 – and every trip still feels like the first. Personally, I don’t think we’ll ever grow tired of it.

I update this article after every visit so this is the third edition of our Osaka travel guide. If you’re visiting Osaka for the first time, then I hope this guide can help you plan your trip and make you fall in love with this city as much as we did.

GUIDE TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. Plan Your Trip with ViaHero
  2. Osaka at a Glance
  3. Best Time to Visit
  4. Traveling to Osaka
  5. Where to Exchange Currency
  6. Best Area to Stay
  7. Places to Visit
  8. Things to Do
  9. Side Trips from Osaka
  1. Japanese Food Guide
  2. Where to Eat
  3. Points of Interest (Map)
  4. How to Get Around
  5. How Many Days to Stay / Sample Itinerary
  6. Budget / Summary of Expenses
  7. Travel Tips
  8. For Filipinos

PLAN YOUR TRIP WITH VIAHERO

Before anything, I created this guide to help you plan a DIY trip to Osaka. I enjoy trip planning. I like doing the research, I love finding all the restaurants, and I have fun putting all the information together in an itinerary that makes sense for us. Traveling is personal which is why I prefer doing everything myself.

However, not everyone enjoys trip planning as much as other people do. Some are happy using ready-made itineraries which they find online. That’s fine, but your trip becomes less personal because you’re basically following in someone else’s exact footsteps. We all have our preferences so if you want a ready-made itinerary that’s catered to you, then ViaHero might be a good option.

ViaHero is a travel planning service that links travelers with local experts to create custom itineraries to Japan, Cuba, Colombia, and Puerto Rico. They’ll ask what your preferences are and make a custom itinerary designed just for you. They helped us with the Kyoto leg of our recent trip to Japan and I was impressed with the meticulously detailed itinerary they came up with. I consider myself to be fairly good at research but many of the places they recommended were new to me! As is often the case, nothing beats local knowledge, ESPECIALLY when it comes to food.

If you’re the type of person who wants your travel plans neatly laid out for you, then you may want to give ViaHero a try. As described, they can help plan your trips to any city in Japan, Cuba, Colombia, and Puerto Rico. They like how we roll so they’re giving all traveleaters (that’s us and you) a 5% discount when you plan your next trip with ViaHero. Woohoo!

OSAKA AT A GLANCE

Osaka is Japan’s third largest city by population and the central metropolis of the Kansai region. It’s a food lover’s paradise which is why it remains one of our favorite cities to visit in Japan.

If Tokyo is Japan’s most exciting city and Kyoto its center for culture and the arts, then Osaka is arguably its most delicious. It has a history of abundance, having played a vital role in the management of the nation’s economy and the distribution of its goods. During the Edo period, feudal lords throughout Japan would deliver rice, produce, and other goods to Osaka for later distribution to Edo or modern-day Tokyo.

This led to an abundance of resources, earning Osaka the nickname “the nation’s kitchen”. Today, that name has evolved to refer to the city’s reputation as a gourmand’s paradise.

BEST TIME TO VISIT OSAKA

We’ve been to Osaka in February, May, and November and they were all great times to go. The weather in Osaka is relatively temperate so there really isn’t a bad time to visit. Winters do get cold but not unbearably cold as it does in other cities like Sapporo.

If you’d like to experience the cherry blossoms, then late March to early April is an ideal time to go. If autumn foliage is what you’re after, then shoot for October to November.

DEC-FEB: This is winter in Osaka so it’s the coldest time of the year. If you want to experience snow, then this is the best time to go. From what I understand, it rarely snows in Osaka itself but you can go on side trips from the city if you’re determined to see snow. These are also the best months to have crab and fugu, both of which are considered winter dishes.

MAR-MAY: Spring is one of the most beautiful times to visit Osaka. The weather starts warming up, kicking off cherry blossom season which typically begins around the end of March. The blossoms will be in full bloom by the first week of April. As beautiful as Osaka is during this time, it’s also peak season so expect thicker crowds and higher than usual hotel prices. The same goes for the first week of May which is the Golden Week holiday for local Japanese.

JUN-AUG: This is summer in Osaka. If you don’t like too much heat and humidity, then you should probably avoid these months. It’s typically hottest in August and rainiest from June to July.

SEPT-NOV: October to November is an ideal time to visit Osaka. The weather is similar to spring and the autumn foliage is lovely, especially from around mid- to late-November. We were there in late November on our most recent trip and spent the day in beautiful Minoo to enjoy the colors of fall. November may be a great time to have crab and fugu as well as it’s the start of the winter season.

Climate: Annual Monthly Weather in Osaka

To help you better understand the weather in Osaka, I’ve included average temperature and annual rainfall graphs below. Suggested months to visit are indicated in orange.

Average Temperature
Average Temperature in Osaka, Japan

Annual Rainfall
Annual Rainfall in Osaka, Japan

TRAVELING TO OSAKA

From KIX

Most travelers to Osaka will be arriving at Kansai International Airport (KIX). It’s the main access hub to the Kansai area. There are several ways to get from KIX to downtown Osaka.

BY TRAIN: For me, traveling by train is the best way to get from the airport to your hotel. However, multiple train lines service the KIX-Osaka route so it’s important to figure out which train line works best for you depending on where you’re staying. Check out this article from the Osaka Station website to learn the differences between these lines. If you go with the Kansai Airport Express Haruka, then you can purchase tickets in advance through KKday.

No matter which line you choose, you can check train timetables with Hyperdia. Hyperdia is by far the most useful site to navigate Japan’s highly efficient but often confusing rail system. It’ll give you all the information you need like train schedules, fares, and journey times. Jump down to the TRAVEL TIPS section of this guide for more information on Hyperdia.

It’s worth noting that some transportation passes are valid for travel between KIX and Osaka. Jump to the HOW TO GET AROUND section of this guide for more information.

BY BUS: We’ve never done this but you can take a limousine bus from KIX as well. Unlike trains, they run on a 24-hr schedule so this may be the better option if you’re arriving at off-hours. The journey takes about an hour and the one-way fare from KIX to Osaka station is JPY 1,550 for adults and JPY 780 for children. You can refer to the Kansai Airport transportation website for a timetable. Tickets can be purchased at the airport but you can get them in advance through KKday as well.

BY TAXI: Going by taxi is the most convenient option, especially if you have a lot of luggage, but it’s also the most expensive. A taxi to Osaka station takes around 50 minutes and will run you around JPY 20,000.

BY PRIVATE TRANSFER: If you’d like to arrange for a private transfer before you land, then you can do so through KKday. Private transfer rates start at JPY 20,000.

From Other Parts of Japan

If you’re already in Japan, then you can take a train to Osaka from wherever you are. You can check hyperdia.com for train routes and schedules.

If you’re doing a multi-city tour of Japan, then you may be interested in purchasing a JR Pass. It will give you unlimited use of all JR national trains in Japan – including the Kansai Airport Express Haruka, Shinkansen bullet trains, and the Narita Express – for a consecutive number of days. You can purchase a JR Pass in 7-, 14-, or 21-day variants from Japan Rail Pass or Klook.

WHERE TO EXCHANGE CURRENCY

Banks and post offices are the best places to exchange currency in Japan. Based on what I’ve read, people seem to prefer post offices because the transactions are faster. I exchanged currency at a bank and the process did take some time. I had to fill a bunch of paperwork then wait for the transaction to complete. If you’re arriving in Osaka via Kansai International Airport, then you can exchange a small amount there, just enough to get you into the city, then change the rest at a bank or post office.

Alternatively, you can also withdraw JPY from an ATM. The rates are competitive. Just be sure to advise your bank you’ll be using your ATM card overseas so you don’t run into any problems. In my experience, my ATM card works in some machines but not in others.

Another tip when withdrawing currency in a foreign country – when an ATM asks if you want to proceed “with or without conversion”, always choose WITHOUT conversion. Proceeding “with conversion” means that the foreign bank operating the ATM does the conversion (instead of your local bank), which in my experience, always leads to terrible exchange rates. According to this excellent article, the difference between rates offered can be as high as 10% or more.

BEST AREA TO STAY

Osaka is divided into 24 wards, each with many interesting neighborhoods. These are the places we’ve stayed at so far.

I’ve created the color-coded map below to help you visualize where all these recommended areas are: (Please note that marked areas are approximations only)

YELLOW – Shinsaibashi
GREEN – Namba
RED – Nipponbashi
BLUE – Umeda
ORANGE – Around Osaka Castle

SHINSAIBASHI & NAMBA: Best Western Hotel Fino Osaka Shinsaibashi

Best Western Hotel Fino Osaka Shinsaibashi, Japan

In my opinion, the Shinsaibashi and Namba neighborhoods are the best and most convenient places to stay in Osaka, especially if it’s your first time in the city. Shinsaibashi is Osaka’s main shopping district while Namba is home to Dotonbori canal and its myriad street food stalls and restaurants. These two areas are right next to each other and comprise Osaka’s entertainment hub.

We stayed at Best Western Hotel Fino Osaka Shinsaibashi (Yes, that Best Western) on our first trip to Osaka in 2014. If you can get a room here at a reasonable rate (around USD 70), then I suggest staying here. It’s a good business hotel located just a few minutes’ walk from Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade.

You can book a room here on Booking.com or Agoda. Be sure to check both sites to find the best deal. You can also check these links for alternate listings in the Shinsaibashi/Namba areas: Booking.com | Agoda | AirBnB. If you’re new to AirBnB, then you can get up to USD 43 free travel credit when you sign up via THIS LINK.

Approximate Room Rate: USD 72 per night (as of March 2019)

NIPPONBASHI: Yuki Hotel Nipponbashi

Yuki Hotel Nipponbashi, Osaka, Japan

We stayed here on our last trip to Osaka and I might actually prefer this area over Shinsaibashi and Namba. It’s home to Den Den Town and its wealth of electronics and anime shops. Think of it as Osaka’s version of Tokyo’s Akihabara.

It’s known as the center of geek culture in Osaka so if you’re into anime, cosplay, toys, or video games, then you’ll probably enjoy it here. Plus, it’s only about a 15-minute walk to the Shinsaibashi/Namba areas and about 7 minutes from Kuromon Ichiba Market.

You can book a room here on Booking.com, Agoda, or Airbnb. You can also check AirBnB for alternate listings in Nipponbashi. As described, you can get up to USD 43 free travel credit if you’re new to AirBnB and sign up via THIS LINK.

Approximate Room Rate: USD 88 per night (as of March 2019)

UMEDA

We haven’t stayed in Umeda but this is probably the second most convenient place to be in Osaka, after the Shinsaibashi and Namba areas. It’s the city’s main business and transportation district and features many malls, shops, restaurants, and hotels. You can check these links for listings in Umeda: Booking.com | Agoda | AirBnB. Newbies to AirBnB can get up to 43 free travel credit here.

AROUND OSAKA CASTLE: Hotel Mystays Otemae

Hotel Mystays Otemae, Osaka, Japan

Osaka Castle is the city’s most famous historical attraction. It’s surrounded by a massive garden that’s home to 600 cherry trees, making it a great place to be during cherry blossom season. If you’re in Osaka specifically for that, then this is a great place to stay.

Hotel Mystays Otemae is about a 20-minute walk to Osaka Castle. We were put up here on a press trip and given a spacious one-bedroom apartment. Most accommodations in Japan are tiny so it was great to have so much room for a change.

You can book a room here through Booking.com or Agoda. If you’d like to stay around Osaka Castle but don’t feel that this is the right hotel for you, then you can check AirBnB for alternate listings as well. As described, AirBnB newbies can get up to USD 43 free travel credit by signing up here.

Approximate Room Rate: USD 65 per night (as of March 2019)

AROUND OSAKA CASTLE: Hotel New Otani Osaka

Hotel New Otani Osaka

Hotel New Otani Osaka is a 5-star hotel less than 20-minutes’ walk from Osaka Castle. I was put up here on a previous press trip to Osaka.

It’s by far the most expensive hotel on this list, but it’s also the nicest with the biggest room. If you want to be near Osaka Castle and willing to spend more on accommodations, then Hotel New Otani Osaka is an excellent choice. You can book a room here through Booking.com or Agoda.

Approximate Room Rate: USD 174 per night (as of March 2019)



Booking.com

PLACES TO VISIT

1. Universal Studios Japan

Universal Studios Japan needs little introduction. It’s one of Osaka’s most visited attractions, and with good reason. It’s fun no matter what age you are.

Favorites include The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the Minions, Transformers, and Jurassic Park themed rides. A 1-day pass to Universal Studios typically costs JPY 7,400 for adults and JPY 5,100 for kids, but you can sometimes get a discount if you purchase advanced tickets through KKday. They offer many types of combo passes as well, so be sure to check all the Universal Studios Japan deals on their website.

Check out my post on Universal Studios Japan for more pictures and information.
Universal Studios, Osaka, Japan

Suggested Length of Visit: Full day / Admission: JPY 7,400 for adults, JPY 5,100 for children
Nearest MRT Station: Universal City station

2. Cup Noodles Museum

If you’re a fan of instant noodles, then you need to visit the Cup Noodles Museum. It’s a free museum dedicated to instant noodles and serves as a tribute to its creator and founder, Momofuku Ando. They have a branch in Yokohama as well.

The exhibits are amusing but the best part about the museum is the instant noodle factory. For JPY 300, you can design and create your own custom cup of instant noodles to take home as a souvenir.

Visit the Cup Noodles Museum website for more information.
Cup Noodles Museum, Ikeda, Osaka, Japan

Suggested Length of Visit: 1-2 hrs / Admission: FREE
Nearest MRT Station: Ikeda station

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 measures 34 meters long by 9 meters deep and houses two juvenile whale sharks (Rhincodon typus), the biggest fish in the world! The aquarium is home to many interesting smaller exhibits as well, each one mimicking different ecosystems from around the world like the Great Barrier Reef, Antarctica, and Japan’s forests.

Admission to the aquarium is JPY 2,300 for adults and JPY 1,200 for kids ages 7-15. Tickets are available at the gate though you can purchase them in advance through KKday.

Check out my psot on Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan for more pictures and information.
Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan

Suggested Length of Visit: 2-3 hrs / Admission: JPY 2,300 for adults, JPY 1,200 for kids ages 7-15
Nearest MRT Station: Osakako station

4. Umeda Sky Building

There’s no better place to get a bird’s eye view of Osaka than the Floating Garden Observatory. Situated 173 meters above ground on top of the ultramodern Umeda Sky Building, it gives viewers a 360° panoramic vista of the entire city.

As previously mentioned, the Umeda area is also home to many malls, shops, restaurants, and cafes, so you may want to spend an entire day exploring the area. This is where you’ll find some of the city’s best depachikas as well.
Umeda Sky Building, Osaka, Japan

Suggested Length of Visit: 1-1.5 hrs / Admission: FREE until the 38th floor, JPY 1,500 to the Floating Garden Observatory
Nearest MRT Station: Osaka station

5. Osaka Castle

As described, Osaka Castle is the city’s most popular historical attraction. It’s considered one of Japan’s most famous landmarks, set in a beautiful spacious park and surrounded by 600 cherry trees.

It’s beautiful any time of the year but it’s especially picturesque in spring. If you’re visiting Osaka in late March to early April, then this is a terrific place to see (and take selfies with) the cherry blossoms. Don’t forget to pack that #ootd.
Osaka Castle, Osaka, Japan

Suggested Length of Visit: 1-2 hrs / Admission: JPY 600 (Castle Tower), JPY 200 (Nishinomaru Garden)
Nearest MRT Station: Tanimachiyonchome or Osakajokoen station

THINGS TO DO

1. Shop in Shinsaibashi, Eat in Dotonbori

This is the heart of Osaka. If Shinsaibashi is the city’s premier shopping district, then Dotonbori in Namba is its kitchen. Visiting Osaka without making a stop here would be like going to Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower. It’s a gastronomical sin!

If it’s your first time in Osaka, then we highly recommend staying in the Shinsaibashi or Namba areas because this is exactly where you want to be.

Check out my post on Shinsaibashi and Dotonbori in Osaka for more pictures and information.
Shinsaibashi & Dotonbori, Osaka, Japan

Nearest MRT Station: Shinsaibashi or Namba station

2. Eat like a Local

As I’ve often said, nothing beats local knowledge, especially when it comes to food. Some of the best food experiences we’ve had on our travels came from local recommendations – either from a tour guide or friend, even from a Grab or Uber driver!

Osaka is all about food so what better way to experience it than with a local? Magical Trip is a fun tour company that offers small group tours led by locals in several Japanese cities, including Osaka. They do offer non-food tours as well but what interests us the most of course, are the food tours. Ren and I enjoy good food and drink so we’ll definitely try this Namba bar hopping food tour on our next trip to Osaka. Kampai!
Eat like a Local in Osaka, Japan

Photo borrowed from magical-trip.com

3. Eat the Best Street Food at 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 in Osaka. Delicacies like uni, diver scallops, otoro, oysters, octopus, and unagi can be enjoyed here as street food. And for cheap too! Kuromon Ichiba Market is one of our favorite places in Osaka and one we try to visit on every return trip to the city.

Check out my post on Kuromon Ichiba Market in Osaka for more pictures and information. It’s easy enough to explore the market on your own, but if you’d like to go on a guided tour with a local, then you can check out this Kuromon Ichiba walking tour with Magical Trip.
Kuromon Ichiba Market, Osaka, Japan

Nearest MRT Station: Nippombashi station

4. See What Designer Fruit Looks like at a Depachika

I had heard of those USD 200 designer melons before but I had never actually seen one until we visited a depachika. A portmanteau of depato meaning “department store” and chika meaning “basement”, a depachika is a super high-end food hall located at the basement of luxury department stores. There you’ll find a wide range of decadent food products, often with exorbitant price tags to match.

There are a few depachikas you can check out, but we suggest visiting the one in the Hankyu department store in Umeda.
Depachika, Osaka, Japan

Nearest MRT Station: Umeda station

5. Eat Maple Leaf Tempura in Minoo

I’ve been wanting to visit this place ever since I saw this video from Great Big Story. Minoo (or Minoh) is a city in Osaka prefecture about 15 km north of Osaka city. It’s home to a national park with picturesque hiking trails, a waterfall, and maple leaf tempura. Known locally as momiji, it’s said to be the only place in the world where you can have this unusual crunchy sweet treat.

I read momiji is available pre-packaged throughout the year but if you want it fresh, then you’ll need to go in the fall. We visited in late November and we were treated to freshly fried momiji and a fireworks display of autumn foliage.
Minoo, Osaka, Japan

Nearest MRT Station: Minoo station

6. Go Bargain Hunting at Don Quijote

If you like bargains, then you’re going to love this place. Shopping in Japan doesn’t have to be expensive and Don Quijote is proof of that. Like Daiso shops, Don Quijoute is a discount chain store with over 160 branches throughout Japan. There are several in Osaka, including a big one in Dotonbori.

Many of their branches are like mini department stores with several stories of products ranging from groceries to electronics to clothing to dildos. Yes, dildos. And not just any old dildos, but tax-free dildos!

Visit the Don Quijote website to find the blue penguin nearest you.
Don Quijote, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

7. Take a Cooking Class

Ever since we took this cooking class in Hoi An, Vietnam, Ren and I have been taking cooking classes wherever we go. It’s a fun and hands-on way of getting to know the local cuisine.

If you’re interested in taking a cooking class in Osaka, then I suggest searching for one on Cookly. Cookly is an online booking platform that offers cooking classes in many cities around the world. As far as I know, there isn’t a more comprehensive marketplace for one-day cooking classes than Cookly. Follow the link to search through their list of cooking classes in Osaka.
Cooking Class, Osaka, Japan

Photo borrowed from cookly.me

If you’re interested in more unconventional things to do in Osaka, then check out this interesting list of off-the-beaten path attractions in Osaka and Kyoto. I like unusual places myself so I’ll surely be visiting some of those places on out next trip to the Kansai region.

SIDE TRIPS FROM OSAKA

I went on a press trip to Western Japan in 2017 that opened my eyes to this part of the country. There’s so much more to the Kansai region than Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara! If you have enough time and want to do side trips from Osaka (with or without a JR Pass), then here are a few places to consider.

1. Kyoto

Every list of side trips from Osaka should begin with Kyoto. It’s beloved by the Japanese and has long been considered one of the country’s most innovative centers for arts and culture. So important is Kyoto to the Japanese experience that not many travelers visit Osaka without spending a few days here as well. It’s less than half an hour away and can even be visited on daily trips from Osaka.

Check out my First-Timer’s Travel Guide to Kyoto for more information. If you’d prefer to visit Kyoto on a guided tour, then you may want to check out this Kyoto bus tour on KKday.
 The First-Timer’s Travel Guide to Kyoto, Japan

Fare from Osaka: At least JPY 1,210 each way / Travel Time: Around 30 mins

2. Nara

Like Kyoto, many travelers visit Nara from Osaka. It’s second only to Kyoto in its wealth of temples, shrines, and traditional gardens in Japan. Apart from its cultural sites, Nara is best known for its parks with tame Sika deer. There are an estimated 1,200 Sika deer in Nara which visitors can feed with these sika senbei or “deer crackers”. Nara is less than an hour from Osaka making it an ideal place for a day or overnight trip.

You can check out our day tripper’s travel guide to Nara to help you plan your trip. If you’d prefer to visit Nara on a guided tour, then you may want to check out this Kyoto / Nara day tour on KKday.
Nara, Japan

Fare from Osaka: At least JPY 800 each way / Travel Time: Around 50 mins

3. Kinosaki Onsen

Kinosaki Onsen is a lovely onsen town about two and a half hours from Osaka. It’s an atmospheric place known for its seven public hot springs or soto-yu. Many people visit Kinosaki Onsen to go onsen hopping in Winter. You feel SO GOOD afterwards. No wonder it’s so popular among the Japanese! You can go to hot spring baths in many places but I suggest going to an onsen town like this one. The experience is completely different.

Check out my post on Kinosaki Onsen for more pictures and information.
Kinosaki Onsen, Hyōgo, Japan

Fare from Osaka: At least JPY 5,080 each way / Travel Time: Around 2 hrs 40 mins

4. Kannabe Highlands

Many travelers want to experience snow in winter and you can do so here at Kannabe Highlands. About three hours from Osaka, the area is home to a few small ski resorts where you can go skiing, snowboarding, even snowshoe hiking!

Check out my post on Kannabe Highlands for more pictures and information.
Kannabe Highlands, Toyooka, Hyōgo, Japan

Fare from Osaka: At least JPY 4,750 each way / Travel Time: Around 2 hrs 20 mins

5. Amanohashidate

Amanohashidate is a long and slender sandbar that’s considered one of the three most scenic views in all of Japan. It’s just a little over two hours away by train so you can do it on a day trip from Osaka.

Check out my post on Amanohashidate for more pictures and information. If you’d prefer to visit Amanohashidate on a guided tour, then you may want to check out this Kyoto Seaside Day Tour on KKday. It’ll take you to Amanohashidate and a couple of other spots.
Amanohashidate, Northern Kyoto, Japan

Fare from Osaka: At least JPY 4,760 each way / Travel Time: Around 2 hrs 20 mins

THE ULTIMATE JAPANESE FOOD GUIDE

We adore Japanese food. It’s my absolute favorite cuisine in the world and a big reason why we love visiting this country. If you enjoy Japanese food as much as we do, then you need to read our Japanese Food Guide. It includes popular dishes in Japan as well as regional specialties by prefecture, including Osaka.
Japanese Food Guide

WHERE TO EAT

1. Kura Sushi

Kura Sushi is one of the most popular kaiten-zushi (conveyor belt sushi) chains in Japan. Not only is a meal here 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 JPY 100. That’s equivalent to about one US dollar. We LOVE this place.

Visit the Kura Sushi website for a list of branches in Osaka.
Kura Sushi, Kyoto, Japan

Expect to Pay: Around JPY 1,000-1,500 per person with drinks

2. Rai Rai Tei

Like sushi, ramen is one of the best dishes you can have in Japan. There are more popular chains like Ippudo and Ichiran but for us, Rai Rai Tei is the best. Our Japanese friend Tsutomu calls it his favorite ramen restaurant and we agree. It’s absolutely delicious, with a depth of flavor that exceeds any bowl of ramen we’ve had so far in Japan.

Visit the Rai Rai Tei website for a list of branches in Osaka.
Rai Rai Tei, Osaka, Japan

Expect to Pay: At least JPY 620 per bowl of ramen

3. Okonomiyaki Mizuno

Okonomiyaki and takoyaki are two core Osaka dishes so they’re something you need to have, especially if it’s your first time in the city. Okonomiyaki is a savory-sweet pancake made with wheat flour batter and other ingredients like green onion, seafood, pork belly, vegetables, and cheese.

There are many okonomiyaki restaurants throughout Osaka but Mizuno has a reputation for being one of the best. Located in Namba, they’re a Michelin-recommended restaurant long known for serving some of the most delicious okonomiyaki in Osaka.

Check out our Osaka Food Guide for more information.
Okonomiyaki Mizuno, Osaka, Japan

Expect to Pay: At least JPY 970 per okonomiyaki

4. Takoyaki Tamaya

As described, takoyaki is one of Osaka’s most important dishes so it’s something you need to try. Similar to okonomiyaki, takoyaki is made with wheat four batter and filled with octopus (tako), tempura scraps, pickled ginger, and green onion. There are countless takoyaki stands all over Osaka but you may want to try it at Takoyaki Tamaya. They make their takoyaki with lobster broth.

Check out our Osaka Food Guide for more information.
Takoyaki Tamaya, Osaka, Japan

Expect to Pay: JPY 290 for 5 pcs

5. Tempura Tentomi

Like sushi, tempura is one of my favorite Japanese dishes. We wanted to eat at a really good tempura restaurant in Osaka but the problem was, many were expensive. Thankfully, we found Tempura Tentomi. Not only do they offer great tempura at a reasonable price, but they serve Kanto-style tempura which isn’t as common in Osaka. Our Japanese friend Tsutomu loved it here as well.

Check out our Osaka Food Guide for more information.
Tempura Tentomi, Osaka, Japan

Expect to Pay: JPY 1,000 for a tendon bowl (lunch)

6. Tsurugyu

This place is all about Kobe beef. We wanted to try this legendary brand of beef but we were afraid of its exorbitant prices. Luckily, we had insider knowledge.

Tsutomu used to work at a 5-star resort and this place was recommended to him by his meat supplier. According to him, Tsurugyu serves genuine Kobe Beef minus the certification, why is why it’s so much cheaper. Take that for what it’s worth but for us, it remains the best beef we’ve ever had in our lives.

Check out my post on Tsurugyu in Osaka for more pictures and information.
Tsurugyu, Osaka, Japan

Expect to Pay: Around JPY 7,000 per person with drinks

These six restaurants are our favorites but if you’re looking for more recommendations, then you can check out our list of 18 Must-eat Restaurants in Osaka.
Osaka Food Guide: 18 Must-Eat Restaurants in Osaka, Japan

POINTS OF INTEREST IN OSAKA

This was the itinerary map we used on our most recent trip to the Kansai region. It includes most of the attractions and restaurants in this Osaka guide, including a few others in Kyoto and Nara.

HOW TO GET AROUND

The subway system in Osaka is very efficient. It’s probably the only mode of transportation 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.

Like the rail system, the sheer number and variety of transportation cards in Japan can be confusing. I’ve narrowed it down to the most pertinent ones below to make it less intimidating. For more information, you can check out this article on Osaka travel passes.

Osaka Amazing Pass

One highly recommended option is the Osaka Amazing Pass. Available in 1- or 2-day variants, this tourist pass will not only give you unlimited use of the subway and bus system in Osaka, but it’ll give you free access to 35 of the city’s key attractions as well like Osaka Castle and the Floating Garden Observatory at Umeda Sky Building. Please note that the 2-day version must be used on consecutive days.

JR Kansai Area Pass / Kansai Thru Pass

If you’ll be traveling a lot by train around the Kansai region, then you may want to get a JR Kansai Area Pass or a Kansai Thru Pass. They’re both unlimited use passes, the main differences being that JR Kansai Area Passes are for JR trains and need to be used on consecutive days (1-4 day variants), while Kansai Thru Passes are for non-JR trains and can be used on non-consecutive days (2- or 3-day variants). Though they’re for use on different train lines, both can get you to Osaka from KIX.

On our last trip to Osaka, which was partly a press trip to Universal Studios Japan, our friends at KKday provided us with these 4-day JR Kansai Area Passes. They entitled us to unlimited travel on JR trains within the Kansai region for four consecutive days. We made day trips to Kyoto and Nara so they were super convenient.
Kansai Area Pass, Japan

ICOCA IC Card

Another option is to get an ICOCA IC Card. It isn’t an unlimited use pass like the JR Kansai Area Pass but it’ll give you discounts on JR trains (including the Kansai Airport Express Haruka), the subway, private railways, and buses. Think of it as a stored value card similar to Hong Kong’s Octopus Card or Seoul’s T-Money Card.

JR Pass

Lastly, if Osaka is just one of many stops on a countrywide tour of Japan, then a JR Pass may be a good investment. As described, it’ll give you unlimited use of all JR national trains in Japan – including the Kansai Airport Express Haruka, Shinkansen bullet trains, and the Narita Express – for a consecutive number of days. You can purchase a JR Pass in 7-, 14-, or 21-day variants from Japan Rail Pass or Klook.

HOW MANY DAYS TO STAY / SAMPLE ITINERARY

Assuming you’re spending time only in Osaka, then 3 days should be enough. But hardly anyone who visits the Kansai region spends time just in Osaka so 4-5 days would be better. This will give you enough time to visit all the major attractions in Osaka and make day trips to Kyoto and/or Nara. Here’s a sample 5D/4N Osaka itinerary to help you plan your trip.

DAY ONE

• Kuromon Ichiba Market
• Namba (Dotonbori)
• Shinsaibashi
• Umeda
DAY TWO

• Universal Studios Japan
DAY THREE

• Osaka Castle
• Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
• Cup Noodles Museum
• Minoo
DAY FOUR

• Kyoto
DAY FIVE

• Kyoto or Nara

BUDGET / SUMMARY OF EXPENSES

Osaka may not be as expensive as Tokyo, but it’s still in Japan. It’s still an expensive destination relative to most of Asia. There are ways to cut costs but expect nonetheless to spend more here compared to destinations like Bangkok or Taipei.

The unit of currency in Japan is the Japanese Yen (JPY). Assuming you’ll be staying in Osaka for 3 full days and sharing mid-level accommodations with one other person, then a daily budget of around JPY 9,000-9,500 per person should be plenty. This takes into account your accommodations, transportation, meals, drinks, pocket wifi rental, and entrance fees to Universal Studios Japan and the aquarium. Here’s a quick breakdown of expenses:

ACCOMMODATIONS

This is highly subjective. It depends on multiple factors like hotel preference and number of travel companions. You can get a decent room at a business hotel for around JPY 7,500 a night. Expect to pay much less if you’re staying at a hostel or capsule hotel.
MEALS

Osaka is all about good food so this is probably one thing you shouldn’t scrimp too much on. If you stick to moderately priced meals like ramen or okonomiyaki, then I’d say around JPY 1,500-2,000 a day per person is enough. If you want to spend considerably less, then cheap but good meals can be had at convenience stores like Family Mart, Lawson, or 7-Eleven.
ENTRANCE FEES

Entrance to Universal Studios Japan is expensive so a big chunk of your budget will go there. If you plan on going to USJ and the aquarium, then the total cost of admission to those two places will be JPY 9,700.
POCKET WIFI RENTAL

If you’re sharing the cost with one other person, then you’ll each be paying JPY 195 per day.
TRANSPORTATION

Assuming you’re staying only in Osaka, then a transportation budget of around JPY 500 a day per person should be enough.
TOTAL

This comes out to about JPY 9,180 a day per person. Keep in mind that this baseline estimate doesn’t include shopping or day trip costs to Kyoto or Nara. Ren and I are middle of the road travelers who enjoy good food and drink, so the recommended budget is a good baseline for travelers like us. Adjust accordingly based on your own travel habits.

TRAVEL TIPS

1. Plan your Trip with Sygic Travel (formerly Tripomatic)

This has been my go-to travel planning app for several years now. 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 easily group attractions that are close to each other to 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 (like me) never get lost again. Pretty nifty right? Check out my post on the Sygic Travel app for more information.

DOWNLOAD: iOS / Android

Sygic Travel is what I used to create the location map above. You can view it as a day-to-day itinerary as well. Follow this link to check out our 7-day Kansai itinerary on Sygic Travel. You can also download it in editable Word format by signing up for our FREE newsletter below.

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2. Rent a Pocket Wifi Device

A constant wifi connection is a must when traveling these days, especially in Japan. There are few free wifi zones in this country so you’ll need it to do research, navigate the subways, convert currencies, etc. Having access to Hyperdia alone justifies the cost. We never go anywhere now without renting a pocket wifi device first.

For this most recent trip to Osaka, our friends at KKday were kind enough to let us use this 4G pocket wifi device for the duration of our trip. It was fast and reliable and costs just JPY 390 a day. We never had any connectivity issues and the battery would last around 6-7 hours before I had to plug it in to a powerbank. Follow the link to rent a pocket wifi device through KKday.
Pocket Wifi Rental, Japan

3. Bookmark Hyperdia or Get the App on your Mobile Device

As I’ve mentioned often in this guide, Hyperdia 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.

WEBSITE: hyperdia.com | DOWNLOAD: iOS / Android

4. Check for Discount Passes

There are many websites that offer discount passes to tours and services. One of the sites I use the most is KKday. They offer deals in many cities around the world, including Osaka. If you want to find deals on tours, airport transfers, activities, etc, then you can search through these lists of Osaka attractions on Kkday. As described above, they even offer deals and bundles to Universal Studios. You’ll also find interesting activities that you wouldn’t normally think of yourself so it’s definitely worth a look. Here’s a list of some of KKday’s most popular deals in Osaka: (pictures borrowed from kkday.com)

5. Get Travel Insurance

I’ll be honest with you, it was only recently when we realized the importance of travel insurance. Back when we traveled just once or twice a year, travel insurance felt like a luxury, something we could do without. But now that we’re older and 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 the link or use the widget below to learn more and get a free travel insurance quote from World Nomads. It’s super quick and easy.

6. Bring the Right Power Adapter

Japan has Type A or Type B electrical outlets so be sure to bring the right power adapters for your devices. Electrical voltage is 100V and the standard frequency is 50/60Hz.

7. Learn Basic Japanese Etiquette

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. In other words, don’t be a stupid 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. Here’s a good overview on Japanese etiquette for tourists. Japan is a country with many unspoken rules so it’s good to familiarize yourself with the basics.

For Filipinos

VISA INFORMATION

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. I went with Reli Tours & Travel and at the time (2016), they charged PHP 950 if you’re applying as a tourist, and PHP 2,000 if you’ll be visiting friends or relatives. It takes between 3-7 days to process.

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, Philippine Airlines, and All Nippon Airways (ANA).

Have fun!

I’m not an expert on Osaka but I do hope that you find this guide useful. I’m only sharing some of the things I learned from our trip. 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 have fun eating your way through Osaka!

OUR GEAR

These are some of the things we brought with us to Osaka. As you can tell, I document a lot of content for this blog so most of the things I bring are photo and video equipment. 😆 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.)

Disclosure

The 2019 version of this Osaka travel guide was written based on what we learned from three previous trips to Osaka. Our last visit was a partially sponsored press trip to Universal Studios Japan in partnership with our friends at KKday. As always, all thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are mine and mine alone.

Some of the links in this guide are affiliate links, meaning we’ll get a small commission if you make a purchase at NO extra cost to you. We only recommend products and services that we use ourselves and firmly believe in. We really appreciate your support as this helps us make more of these free travel guides. Thank you!



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