A typical Osaka tour package usually includes stops at major attractions: the beautiful Osaka castle, the historical Hozen-ji temple, and the world-famous Dotonbori area. Japanese people are very proud of their culture and are always happy to show off how well they’ve preserved their country’s pasts to foreigners, but what if you’re not interested in yet another tranquil walk through a beautifully manicured garden? What if you’ve traveled to the country before and the idea of seeing another sedate shrine or towering pagoda doesn’t particularly stir you? The Land of the Rising Sun is also full of quirky curiosities, but none are more accessible than the delights that can be found in Osaka.
Accessible really is the word. Osakans are typically less conservative than their compatriots in Tokyo or Kyoto. This is a firmly middle-class city with its feet planted solidly on the ground; its citizens are louder and friendlier, and the atmosphere is just warmer somehow, more playful and less reserved. It’s fitting, then, that Osaka is the place to go for one-of-a-kind whimsical experiences to shake you out of been-there-done-that travel stupor. Read on for some of our favorites:
Visit Shinsekai, Osaka’s Wacky Retro Entertainment District
If we had to describe Shinsekai in a word, it would be “riotous”. Some fast facts: the neighborhood was created in 1912 and was modeled after both New York and Paris. It used to be home to an amusement park that really was ahead of its time. Luna Park it was called, and after opening in 1912, it remained in operation until 1923. After the Second World War, the district was largely neglected, falling into poverty, disrepair, and rampant criminal activity. By the early ‘90s, it had gained a notorious reputation for being a dangerous place to find yourself in, and many Osakans continue to steer clear of the area even now.
All this aside, it is a testament to the indefatigable resilience of its residents, who have endured and thrived there despite the stigma associated with the place. Numerous businesses have opened and closed, leaving behind remnants of glory days long past. Today, it is a riot of bright colors and sounds. This is not your grandmother’s Japanese neighborhood—far from it, in fact. Buildings stand shoulder to shoulder with each other in tight spaces, painted in eye-catching primary colors. Large neon signboards compete for the attention of passersby, advertising blowfish restaurants, pachinko parlors, and shopping arcades. In the distance, Tsutenkaku Tower cuts an imposing figure against the skyline. Climbing to its top rewards you with an unobstructed, panoramic view of the city.
This district is nothing short of a visceral jolt to the senses and should invigorate any jaded traveler. Take the warnings with a grain of salt, and don’t hesitate to visit, even if it’s just to sample the kushikatsu, battered and deep-fried meat and vegetables served on skewers. It’s a local specialty, one that they prepare well and make proudly here.
Create Your Own College Staple Meal at the CupNoodles Museum
Anyone who’s ever attended college or university has likely opened a trusty Cup Noodle to fuel an all-nighter or cure a hangover. Discover the origins of this cheap yet filling meal that has saved many a clueless student from dying of hunger at the CupNoodles Museum in the Ikeda neighborhood. It’s dedicated to the inventor of Chicken Ramen, Momofuku Ando.
Eleven attractions and exhibitions have been laid out over two floors of the museum, all of them showcasing the sublime beauty and grace of instant noodles. Visit a life-size recreation of the shed where Chicken Ramen was first invented, marvel at the dizzying number of flavors and varieties of Cup Noodle available all over the world, learn how to make the iconic Chicken Ramen yourself at the in-house factory before finally creating your own signature cup. Admission is free, so is there really any reason why you shouldn’t go?
Meet the Animals of ROCK☆STAR Reptile Café
You’ve heard of dog and cat cafés, now get ready for lizards, snakes, and chameleons at the ROCK☆STAR Reptile Café. You pay a one-time entry fee (which includes a lifetime membership card that waives the fee for subsequent visits—neat!) and are required to purchase at least one beverage in order to stay and explore the premises.
The animals here are kept in glass tanks and are free to view. If you would like to take one out to hold, however, seek the assistance of a staff member first. Reptiles aren’t the only residents at ROCK☆STAR, since the establishment is also home to arachnids, amphibians, centipedes and insects.
The menu is oddly sedate for the most part, considering the nature of the café. It is composed mainly of staple dishes such as omurice and tarako cream pasta. However, it’s when you get to the bottom of the menu that it gets interesting. ROCK☆STAR also serves dishes made with crocodile meat, in fried or grilled skewer form, among others. Rumor has it that a special secret menu exists that includes centipede liquor and fried worms in its offerings, but we are unable to confirm that information currently. One thing is for sure: this café is not for the faint-hearted. Test your courage and pay them a visit at Naniwa Ward.
The city of Osaka is served by two international airports, Kansai International Airport and Osaka International Airport. It is also accessible via Shinkansen train from major Japanese cities such as Tokyo, Kyoto, Yokohama or Nagoya. You can also arrive by sea on international ferries from South Korea and Chinese cities like Shanghai and Tianjin. Getting around is easy with the efficient Osaka Metro and the Osaka City Bus system. We hope this guide has inspired you to seek out some of the lesser-known areas of this city! Anywhere you go here, you’ll be sure to have a good time.