Exploring Osaka: Sights, Bites, and Delights for the International Traveler

Japan’s third-largest city, 大阪 Ōsaka is renowned for its rich culinary scene, vibrant shopping districts, and friendly, energetic atmosphere. Osaka first emerged as a political and economic hub in the 5th century and prospered due to its flourishing trade. In contrast to the fast-paced and more staid character of Tokyo, Osaka exudes a more casual and inviting charm, characterized by the city’s spirited residents and a unique blend of modernity and tradition. As you explore Osaka, you’ll discover an exciting mix of flavors, sights, and experiences that make the city a must-visit destination for first-time travelers to Japan.


Osaka is easily accessible via the JR West and private railway lines. The nearest stations are Osaka Station (JR1, JR3, JR9) and Namba Station (M20, S16, K16), which are approximately 2 hours 30 minutes from Tokyo Station by bullet train. From these stations, many of Osaka’s main attractions are within walking distance or a short train ride away.

Osaka station in the Umeda district.

Food and Drink

If you enjoy food, Osaka is the place to be. There’s a reason the city has historically been known as the “nation’s kitchen.” Osaka’s culinary landscape presents a delightful fusion of street food, traditional dishes, and inviting eateries, reflecting the city’s lively spirit and warm hospitality.

たこ焼き Takoyaki: Mention Osakan food to most Japanese people and takoyaki will be the first thing that comes to their mind. This popular street food features octopus pieces cooked in a savory batter and garnished with sauce, mayonnaise, and bonito flakes. Varieties with other toppings abound.

Takoyaki being grilled by a street vendor.

お好み焼き Okonomiyaki and ねぎ焼き Negiyaki: Okonomiyaki is a delicious pancake-like savory dish featuring dough and various ingredients such as cabbage, pork, and seafood, topped with special sauce, mayonnaise, and bonito flakes. As opposed to the Hiroshima style where ingredients are layered and noodles are added, Osaka-style okonomiyaki has ingredients blended into the dough, which is thicker and more pancake-like. Negiyaki, another variation native to Osaka, is similar to okonomiyaki but uses green onions as its main ingredient.

Okonomiyaki, cooked on a hot grill.

串カツ Kushikatsu: Another Osaka favorite, kushikatsu are deep-fried skewers of meat, seafood, and vegetables. The tangy dipping sauce, as well as cabbage leaves, are usually provided in a public container at the counter. For hygiene, you can’t double-dip, so if you want more sauce, scoop it up with a cabbage leaf (before taking a bite of it) and drizzle it over your skewer.

Enjoying kushikatsu during a trip to Osaka. [Photo for illustration purposes only]

押し寿司 Oshizushi: A type of pressed sushi, which is particularly popular in Osaka, featuring layers of rice and toppings molded into a rectangular shape and sliced into bite-sized pieces.

てっちり Tecchiri: A hot pot dish made with pufferfish, tecchiri is a local delicacy cooked in a flavorful broth and served with dipping sauces.

A steaming pot of pufferfish tecchiri.

割烹料理 kappō ryōri Kappo cuisine: Born in Osaka in the early 20th century, kappo was initially a casual alternative to upscale restaurants. Today, compared to street stalls and fast food chains, it’s a more upscale dining experience where guests can enjoy seasonal ingredients and watch the chef’s skilled techniques up close, as they prepare the dishes in front of them.


The shopping districts of Osaka cater to a variety of tastes and interests.

心斎橋商店街 shinsaibashi shōtengai Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade: Spanning over 600 meters, this covered shopping street offers a variety of stores, ranging from international brands to local boutiques.

アメリカ村 Amerikamura: Known as “Amemura,” this trendy shopping district is filled with vintage and streetwear shops, catering to the younger crowd.

A colorful street in Amerikamura, Osaka.

Department stores: Osaka is home to several major department stores, such as Hankyu, Daimaru, and Takashimaya, which offer a diverse selection of high-quality products, including traditional Japanese crafts and luxury brands.

でんでんタウン Denden Town: This district is a haven for electronics, anime, and manga enthusiasts, with a wide selection of stores and hobby shops.

Sightseeing and Activities

Osaka Castle: A symbol of the city’s rich history, this 16th-century castle boasts a museum and a picturesque park, perfect for strolling and picnicking.

Osaka Castle during cherry blossom season.

道頓堀 Dōtonbori: A lively entertainment district, known for its neon lights, dynamic atmosphere, and iconic Glico Running Man sign. At night, the area comes alive with street performers and a dazzling array of eateries.

Dotonbori is best photographed at night.

通天閣 Tsūtenkaku Tower: An iconic symbol of Osaka, this tower offers panoramic views of the city and houses a small museum dedicated to its history.

Taking in the sights near the iconic Tsutenkaku Tower.

Osaka Nightlife: Osaka has a dynamic nightlife scene, offering a diverse range of bars, clubs, and dance venues that cater to different tastes and preferences. 難波 Namba and Shinsaibashi are popular spots for foreign tourists, featuring lively bars and clubs playing various genres of music. For those seeking underground techno clubs, Amerikamura is the place to be, providing an edgier experience for adventurous night owls.

Universal Studios Japan: A popular theme park offering thrilling rides and attractions, as well as the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

The facade of the National Bunraku Theater in Osaka.

国立文楽劇場 kokuritsu bunraku gekijō National Bunraku Theater: Experience bunraku, traditional Japanese puppetry at its finest, with English guidance available for foreign visitors to better understand and appreciate the art form.

天神祭 Tenjin Matsuri: One of Japan’s major festivals, Tenjin Matsuri, celebrated annually on July 24 and 25, brings Osaka’s cultural scene to life. Dedicated to Sugawara Michizane, the deity of learning at Tenmangu Shrine, the festival features, among other things, a grand procession of over 3,000 participants in traditional attire, a mesmerizing river procession of festooned boats, and a breathtaking fireworks display.

A lion dance performer during Tenjin Matsuri.

In summary, Osaka offers a memorable experience for international tourists with its unique culinary delights, shopping opportunities, and engaging sightseeing options. With its rich history and welcoming spirit, it’s a city that invites exploration and discovery and is sure to leave a lasting impression on visitors as one of the highlights of their stay in Japan. Whether you’re a food lover, a shopper, or a culture enthusiast, there’s something for everyone to enjoy in this exciting and captivating city.