The locals’ guide to Osaka

The shopaholic

Director of the Japan Institute of Culture & International Exchange, Aria Aoyama is a fount of knowledge about Osaka’s eclectic shopping scene

For kimono I like going to any of the big department stores to hunt for the perfect one. They have a wide selection, and you can trust the staff to guide you in the right direction – they will even do bespoke fittings for you. I have bought several yukata (summer kimono) that are absolute treasures.

Anime and manga enthusiasts will love the Nipponbashi district. While Tokyo’s Akihabara is famed for its pop culture, Osaka (and the surrounding region) has also had a huge influence on the scene. Many of the Japanese fashion phenomena (such as Gothic Lolita) were born in the underground clubs of Osaka, and Nipponbashi is the best place to buy anything from manga-inspired accessories to one-off anime artwork.

Authentic Japanese crafts can be hard to find, so I’d recommend scouring museum shops. My favourite is the Japan Folk Crafts Museum. There is a small, old shop called Maruyama Yushindo, which sells Japanese paper and traditional ink brushes, as well as beautiful calligraphy.

Vintage clothing is becoming increasingly popular, and several areas have excellent second-hand stores. Spend the day exploring the districts of Minami Horie (for funky one-offs), Amemura (trendy American-style pop fashion), and Nakazakicho (the city’s hippest quarter, with knick-knack shops aplenty). Head to Umeda district if you don’t have time to explore Osaka’s more specialist areas. Antique kimono, Japanese designers, western brands, quirky pop culture accessories… you will find everything you could wish for right there.

The culture vulture

British expatriate Daniel Lee has lived in Osaka for 20 years, and is the publisher of Kansai Scene magazine – a guide to all that’s happening in the city

If this is your first trip to the city, Osaka Castle should be top of your list. It has recently celebrated its 400th anniversary and offers not only a fascinating insight into the world of feudal-era Japan (be sure to check out its on-site museum), but wonderful views over Osaka Castle Park. Avoid the weekends since it can get really busy on its narrow staircases. For high-brow culture, The National Museum of Art is the go-to gallery, but the temporary exhibitions in Osaka’s biggest department stores often feature some interesting shows, with everything from original Moomins or Studio Ghibli artwork to LEGO creations on display. There are also countless small galleries in the city, featuring homegrown talent, such as the small but perfectly-formed Tezukayama Gallery, situated on the fashionable Orange Street in Horie. For more off-the-wall fun, check out the Instant Ramen Museum in Ikeda. Everything you could ever want to know about instant noodles is here, and you can even create your very own Cup Noodle flavour blend to take home.

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The National Museum of Art

Tsūtenkaku Tower is an iconic landmark, but don’t expect sweeping views of the city from the top. Instead, try the Sky Building in Umeda or the Tavola36 restaurant at the top of the Swissôtel Nankai Osaka for great night-time views. Alternatively, head to the Abeno Harukas tower in Tennoji and enjoy the view from the top of the tallest building in Japan.

Osaka is famous for its pretty shrines, and my favourite is Hozenji: an oasis of calm in the otherwise chaotic Dotonbori area. People go there to catch five minutes’ of peace. In my opinion, the best way to explore the city is by bike. I’m still making discoveries myself this way and recently came across the bizarre Namba Yasaka Shrine in Namba. The enormous lion face that stares back at you through its gates will certainly stop you in your tracks. Simply pedalling around the backstreets can unearth some real gems – be they places, people or things.

The food guru

Yuma Wada is the founder of Ninja Food Tours, whose ‘Namba Food Crawl’ squeezes Osaka’s best street food bites into a belt-busting walking tour

On date night, you can’t go wrong with Matasakubro – a modern-style restaurant with a buzzing atmosphere. It specialises in dry aged wagyu beef, one of the best steaks in the world. Make sure you order the set meal as they serve the best meat available on the day. Find it: 2-13-13 Nagai, Sumiyoshi-ku 2Tamaya.

Takoyaki is Osaka’s favourite street food dish – a fried dough ball with octopus, red ginger and spring onions inside. You will see countless food stalls selling it in the city, but Tamaya is by far the best. The owner-chef has worked in French restaurants and he makes some twists to his takoyaki recipe, such as adding lobster broth to the dough.
Find it: 1-3-4 Kokubunji, Kita-ku

Another of our street food favourites is kushikatsu: deep-fried meat, vegetables and seafood on a skewer. Kushikatsu is originally from Osaka and it gained popularity in the 1930s among the blue-collar workers. Shinsekai Daruma is the original Kushikatsu store where they started serving Kushikatsu for the first time in Japan – and it is still the best place to eat it today.
Find it: 2-3-9 Ebisu Higashi, Naniwa-ku 

Yasuke is my favourite place to eat sushi and sashimi. It’s located in Sakai, south of Osaka where tourists do not typically go. They do an omakase sushi set meal, which is devised by the expert sushi chef depending on the season. Yasuke’s tuna sushi is the best.
Find it: 1-1-18 Ocho Higashi Sakai-Ku, Sakai

Hankyu Umeda, in the basement of a department store is a fantastic food hall, stuffed with local bites and specialities from all over Asia. Stock up for a picnic, then head out to Osaka Castle Park to enjoy views of Osaka Castle while you eat.
Find it: Kita, Kakudacho

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Takoyaki, a popular street food dish

 

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