Trivia #1: Osaka literally means “large hill” or “large slope” (大阪)
Trivia #2: Historically, Osaka was the main merchant city and gateway to the old capital in Kyoto
Trivia #3: In the olden days, Osaka was known as the Nation’s Kitchen
Osaka. Popularly known as the little brother of Tokyo where it trails closely as the second largest city in Japan, Osaka pulses with its own unique character.
In the olden days, before the advent of modern transportation, Osaka had developed as a central economic hub mainly due to its highly accessible location (close proximity to the Seto Inland Sea and Osaka Bay).
At that period of time, Japan benefited from the newly introduced technologies, crafting techniques and many other cultural intricacies from what the world has to offer. On top of trade exchange, Buddhism began to spread rapidly in Japan around that era.
Over time, Osaka became more prominent due to its geographical location – feudal lords from all over Japan began building their personal warehouses.
In those days, people tend to store their basic necessities and general household items in the kitchen. Therefore, if Japan is considered a “house”, then Osaka would naturally be the “kitchen” of the country.
And that is how Osaka came to be known as “The Nation’s Kitchen”. It sort of makes sense, isn’t it?
Kuidaore – how to eat till you drop
Nevertheless, now that I’m in Osaka, let’s see if Osaka still lives up to its name as the historical Nation’s Kitchen literally:) With its local street motto, kuidaore (eat till you drop), let’s start with a food hunt…Itadakimasu~
First stop, Kuromon Ichiba Market!
With over 180 food stalls whipping up one of Japan’s freshest seafood at a reasonable price, seafood lovers will be spoilt for choice. From sea urchin to puffer fish, Kuromon Ichiba Market probably has whatever exotic seafood you can think of.
Seafood fans, rejoice!
My love affair with takoyaki
Originating from Osaka, takoyaki is one of the most popular street food in Japan. A ball of round, dashi stock-infused dough toasted to perfection, a bite into this savoury traditional snack reveals a generous serving of diced octopus, spring onions and pickled ginger. Topped with dried bonito flakes, takoyaki is the perfect snack on the go.
How to get to Kuromon Ichiba Market:
1. Alight at Nippombashi Station and take exit no. 2.
2. From the train station, keep left and walk 3-5 mins to Kuromon Ichiba Market.
Address: 542-0073 2-4-1 Nippombashi, Chuo-ku, Osaka
Get anime-crazy in Den Den Town
Den Den Town is a must visit for anyone, even if you’re not a geek. It’s still worthwhile to explore this unique shopping district while you are in Osaka – Den Den Town is like a smaller cousin of Akihabara in Tokyo.
As you can see, I planned my itinerary to visit Kuromon Ichiba Market for an early lunch at about 11am (if you would like to avoid the huge lunch crowds), then I explored Den Den Town next, which is about 10 mins walk south.
Imagine shops after shops of anime, collector toys, vintage gaming consoles and troves of games all the way from the 80s (Think Family Computer, Super Famicon, Gameboy) and all sorts of IT gadgets. Even if you’re not into vintage gaming consoles, it is still an interesting neighbourhood to check out the scene – it can be rather amusing at times:)
How to get to Den Den Town:
1. Alight at Nippombashi station (note that this is not a JR line, so your JR pass won’t work here).
2. From there, walk down towards the direction of Ebisucho station.
3. Keep walking and when you see garish buildings dressed with anime characters, you know you are at the right place.
4. From here, you may freely explore the little fantasy world of anime and electronics. There are also a number of vintage music record stores scattered all around the area. Once done (assuming you are still facing the direction of Ebisucho station), turn right into the main anime street, where everything you see here is about anime and games.
5. Alternatively, if you don’t plan to visit Kuromon Ichiba Market beforehand, the shortest route to Den Den Town is via Namba station.
Dotonbori, the crowd puller
I reached Dotonburi in the late afternoon, and not surprisingly, the crowd is always massive at tourist hot spots. Festive and flashy, the sheer number of shops, bars and restaurants will entertain you for at least half a day in Osaka.
After you have explored Dotonburi, you may also want to check out another hugely popular shopping section which is just round the corner – Shinsaibashi-suji. And from there, continue to travel towards Shinsaibashi station. Turn left into Nishishinsaibashi and after a few mins walk you will reach America Mura, a section modelled after vintage America peddling cafes, used clothing stores and youth culture.
It was said that in 1612, a merchant named Yasui Doton made a huge investment into developing this area, but unfortunately, he did not lived to see to its completion as he fell victim to war. Hence, his project was completed by his family and thus Dotonburi was born (meaning Doton Canal).
How to get to Dotonburi:
1. Dotonburi can be reached by first alighting at Namba Station (Subway, Midosuji Line).
2. Leave through exit no. 14, and from there, take a 10 mins walk to Dotonburi (best to use Google Map for navigation).
Travel through time: Osaka Museum of Housing and Living
Next, I visited the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living. It basically recreates what Osaka would have looked like during the Edo Period with all its olden streets and wooden quarters. Visitors can rent yukatas (limited costumes are available, so come early) and roam the ancient town in traditional Japanese garb. This is a lovely photo opportunity!
Complete with day and night cycle and weather effects, the museum does inject a lot more realism into the exhibition. For a few moments as I stood there taking in the sights, I felt as if I was transported through time.
I read that this historical exhibit is the one and only of its kind in Japan. From my visit, I learnt a lot about the different ways of life in Osaka as it transited through different time periods in its history.
Besides the historical town recreation, there are also exhibits of townscapes and housing pertaining to the Meiji, Taisho and Showa periods and how modernisation had changed the face of Japan.
How to get to Osaka Museum of Housing and Living:
1. From Nippombashi station, travel towards Tenjinbashisuji 6 Chrome station
2. Exit through exit 8 and you’ll find yourself right next to the museum
Museum Hours & Fees:
10am to 5pm (last entry is at 4:30pm)
Adults: 600 yen for adults
University and school students: 300 yen
Get creative at Nissin Noodle Museum!
If you are a fan of ramen, then you have got to check out Nissin Noodle Museum, the mother of all instant noodles. Upon entry, you’ll come across the Instant Noodles Tunnel where the exhibit displays the instant cup noodles lineup that started with Chicken Ramen, eventually evolving into 800 product packages. Wow!
After decorating your instant cup noodles container, you’ll get to pick your soup base (from 4 varieties) and 4 toppings from among 12 ingredient types. According to the museum, there are altogether 5,460 flavour combinations – that’s a lot of combinations to choose from!
For a start, my personal favourites are: Cubic roast pork, egg, Hiyoko-chan fish sausage and corn.
Next, after customising your personal instant cup noodles, the museum’s friendly crew will seal and shrink-wrap it for you – now you have your very own creation!
Finally, using a special air pump, you will have to blow air into the “air package” using air pumps. Actually, it’s kind of both amusing and practical at the same time as we reckon the air package will make a good travel pillow, don’t you think?
Museum Hours & Fees:
9:30am – 4:00pm (Last admission is at 3:30pm)
How to get to Nissin Noodle Museum (Ikeda):
1. Ikeda Station on the Hankyu Takarazuka Line (20 mins ride from Hankyu Umeda Station via express train).
2. The museum is approximately a 5 mins walk from the Masumi-cho Homen exit.
Originally built in 1583 by the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Osaka Castle was intended to be the centre of command for a newly unified Japan at that time. Over the centuries, it suffered damages through a series of wars and fires. The structure we see today was reconstructed in 1931.
Today, Osaka castle stands as a symbol of pride from the city’s past, serving as a historical museum of sorts where visitors would learn about Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s life and his impacts on feudal Japan.
An extraordinary fact left a very deep impression in me – Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the man who unified the whole of Japan in the 16th century, was of humble origins. His father was a foot soldier (ashigaru).
However, through my research, I’ve learnt that Oda Nobunaga did most of the heavy lifting who laid the path by fighting intensely against an overwhelming number of resistance groups, Toyotomi Hideyoshi finished what his previous lord could not (he previously served under Oda Nobunaga) but eventually failed to leave an heir and therefore a consolidated government body that could sustain itself. Finally, Tokugawa Ieyasu, a trusted aide to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, put in place a proper structure for governance.
Once inside, you will find that it is completely modern – there’s even an elevator! Enjoy the series of multimedia tours as you progress along the historical trail of Osaka Castle. You can even try on some of the samurai replica helmet and armour for 500 yen – time for some awesome samurai fun with your buddies!:)
Osaka Castle Hours & Fees:
9:00am – 5:00pm (Last entry at 4:30pm)
Closed: 28 December to 1 January
Adults: 600 yen
Children (under 15): free
How to get to Osaka Castle:
1. There are 4 train stations that are within walking distance, and I took the route below:
– From Osaka station, take the Osaka Loop Line and alight at Osakajokoen station. From there, it is an 18 mins walk to the castle through a large central park.
All in all, I would say that Osaka is a great travel hotspot to spend your holiday in Japan as it not only offers great shopping and dining options (it’s somewhat like Tokyo) but perhaps a more laid back and friendly atmosphere.
Moreover, it is an excellent travel base to position yourself as it is centralised enough to travel to a number of popular destinations such as Hiroshima, Miyajima, Kyoto, Nara, Uji, Himeiji, Kobe and many more places of interest regionally.
The above travel itinerary covered about 4 days in total, with my time spent in Osaka shuttling between different cities nearby.