Osaka is the working heart of Kansai. Famous for its down-to-earth citizens and the colourful Kansai-ben (Kansai dialect) they speak, it's a good counterpart to the refined atmosphere of Kyoto. First and foremost, Osaka is famous for good eating: the phrase kuidaore (eat 'til you drop) was coined to describe Osakans' love for good food. Osaka is also a good place to experience a modern Japanese city. It's only surpassed by Tokyo as a showcase of the Japanese urban phenomenon.
This isn't to say that Osaka is particularly attractive; it's an endless expanse of concrete boxes, pachinko (pinball) parlours and elevated highways. But the city somehow manages to rise above this and exert a peculiar charm, and a few architectural gems keep it interesting. At night, Osaka really comes into its own – this is when the streets come alive with flashing neon and beckoning residents with promises of tasty food and good times.
Some of the most visited sightseeing spots in Osaka.
The Umeda Sky Building is Osaka's most dramatic piece of modern architecture, designed by Hara Hiroshi, who also designed Kyoto Station. Its twin-tower complex is like a space-age Arc de Triomphe, and from the top you can marvel at the incredible sprawl of humanity in all directions. Getting to the top is half the fun – for the final five storeys you take a glassed-in escalator across the open space between the two towers (definitely not one for vertigo sufferers). Tickets for the observation decks can be purchased once you get off the escalator.
Below the towers, you'll find Takimi-kōji Alley (滝見小路), a re-creation of an early Shōwa-era market street crammed with restaurants and izakaya (pub-eateries).
The building is reached via an underground passage that starts just north of both Osaka and Umeda stations.
This castle was built as a display of power by Toyotomi Hideyoshi after he achieved his goal of unifying Japan. One hundred thousand workers toiled for three years to construct an 'impregnable' granite castle, finishing the job in 1583. It was destroyed 32 years later by the armies of Tokugawa Ieyasu, rebuilt within 10 years, then suffered a further calamity when another generation of the Tokugawa clan razed it rather than let it fall to the forces of the Meiji Restoration in 1868.
The present structure is a 1931 concrete reconstruction of the original, which was refurbished in 1997. The interior houses an excellent collection of displays relating to the castle, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and the city of Osaka. On the 8th floor is an observation deck with 360-degree views. The castle and park are at their colourful best in the cherry-blossom and autumn-foliage seasons.
The Ōte-mon gate, the main entrance to the park, is a 10-minute walk northeast of Tanimachi-yonchōme Station (Tanimachi 4-chome) on the Chūō and Tanimachi subway lines. You can also take the JR Osaka Loop line, get off at Osaka-jō-kōen and enter through the back of the castle.
Osaka Aquarium is easily one of the best aquariums in the world and it's well worth a visit. A walkway winds its way past displays of life found on different ocean levels around the Pacific's 'ring of fire' region, from Antarctic penguins to coral-reef Butterflyfish to unearthly jellyfish from the deep. Most impressive is the enormous central tank, which houses a whale shark and manta, among a huge variety of other fish and rays. There are good English explanations throughout. Not surprisingly, this is a very popular attraction, especially with families and school groups.
Osaka Aquarium is located at Osakako Station on the Chuo subway line.
One of Osaka's most popular tourist destinations, this street runs parallel to the Dotonbori canal. It is a popular shopping and entertainment district and is also known as a food destination. At night it is lit by hundreds of neon lights and mechanized signs, including the famous Glico Running Man sign and Kani Doraku crab sign.
The Midosuji Subway line connects Shin-Osaka and Osaka/Umeda Stations directly to Namba Station. It takes approximately 8 minutes and 240 yen from Osaka/Umeda Station and 15 minutes and 280 yen from Shin-Osaka Station.