Slightly off the beaten track, about 20 miles south of the ancient capital of Kyoto lies Osaka, Japan's "Second City." Although technically, Yokohama near Tokyo is Japan's second biggest city and Osaka just the third biggest, there's no doubt it keeps challenging the capital when it comes to entertainment, nightlife and sights.
Osaka Travel: Osaka's History Has Created A Great City for Exploration
Osaka has always played an important role in Japan, although it was never the seat of political power. The city's strategic location at Osaka Bay in Japan's Inland Sea was perfect for doing trade with the rest of Japan and the world. This led to the raise of a proud merchant caste that was very open to foreign influences and preferred down-to-earth food and entertainment over the refined arts and cuisine of the samurai and emperors.
Today, Osaka is a bustling city at any time of day. When the sun sets and the neon lights come on, Osaka is more vibrant in any other place in Japan. The locals aren't as reserved and more direct than in other places in Japan and will be happy to have a chat and show you their city through their food and nightlife!
Food is the main theme to any visit to Osaka. The main drag of Dotombori boast dozens of food stalls selling delicious local specialties like takoyaki (octopus balls), okonomiyaki (a hybrid of pancake, omelet and pizza) and deep-fried anything. But the city also offers any international cuisine you can think of. You'll also find many traditional Japanese dishes, from giant steaming ramen noodle bowls to miles and miles of sushi on conveyor belts (yet another excellent Osaka invention).
Osaka Reviews: Osaka Offers Numerous Areas to Explore and Enjoy
For nightlife, the city doesn't have just one center, but two: the more sophisticated and international Kita area around the central station, and the more untamed, wild Minami district in the south. In both cases, you will find high-rise buildings that consist of nothing but dozens of tiny bars, pubs and clubs.
Shopping is another major pastime in Osaka. Many of the covered shopping arcades in the city date back centuries, and some of them even still have the same types of traditional shops as back then (such as kimono makers, tatami mat makers and shops selling Buddhist figurines). Most of all, though, Osaka is a modern city and you have a choice of thousands of electronics stores, boutiques and department stores. Shopping is not limited to what's overground. Under the city, there are many miles of underground shopping streets that connect the central subway stations.
The subway is what makes getting around Osaka a real snap. The subway lines are color-coded and every station has a unique number. Stops are announced in English. You will find that the subway will get you just about anywhere you need to go. Trains and highway buses connect Osaka to the rest of Japan, although the surrounding Kansai area itself offers enough to keep exploring for years. Just about half an hour away by train are Kyoto, Nara and Kobe.
In Osaka and the surrounding cities, there is plenty space for relaxing like an emperor - which in Japan is almost always related to some kind of bath, whether it's in a public bath house, a modern spa with beauty treatments or massages, or au natural in an outdoor hot spring (called an "onsen").
Osaka Tourism: Osaka Showcases Numerous Cultural Amenities
Due to the fact that Osaka isn't as high on the tourist itinerary as Tokyo or Kyoto, accommodation here is often less than half the price as what you'd pay in other cities. There is a wide choice of international luxury hotels in Osaka. If that's out of your budget, you can choose between traditional Japanese guest houses (Ryokan) and cheap and cheerful - plus clean and convenient - Business Hotels. Those who want to delve even deeper into Japanese everyday life can stay at a temple or shrine or simply rent their own holiday apartments.
Sports play an important role in Osaka, too, and while the ancient martial arts and sumo wrestling still play a role, baseball is Japan's most popular sport. The Hanshin Tigers are the favored team in Osaka. The Tigers have an avid local fan base -- known for their extreme loyalty to a team that has not traditionally been very successful.
The highlight to any visit to Japan is attending a traditional festival. Osaka's shrines and temples organize plenty of them. The Tenjin Matsuri, held every July, is Japan's second biggest festival.
As a metropolitan city, culture is equally important in Osaka and so it's no surprise that the city features more than a dozen world-class museums with interactive displays and many other activities. For more Osaka culture, the city also is Japan's theater capital and offers just about any kind of performance you can imagine from traditional kabuki and Noh theater to local puppetry (bunraku) and comedy shows. Of course, classical music, ballet and contemporary musicals and performances also are represented.
No matter what you are expecting out of your trip to Japan - Osaka will offer all of it, plus a million surprises!