Osaka

Although Tokyo and Yokohama are larger, Osaka still retains the status of “Japan’s Second City” in the minds of most Japanese people – not just in terms of size, but in cultural impact and importance as well. As most visitors to Osaka say, the moment that you arrive here, it simply “feels different.” The attractions, cuisine, and open, friendly attitude of the people here make the city a destination that no traveler to Japan should overlook.

While Tokyo may claim to be the center of what’s cool in Japan, Osaka’s influence on pop culture is hard to ignore.  Manzai, a popular form of performance comedy, originated in the region, and most popular comedians speak in the regional “Osaka dialect.” The people here are known for being silly and sarcastic (which some Tokyoites interpret as being rude – but hey, what do they know?), which helps create a fun, easygoing atmosphere in the city. Osaka isn’t about following trends – it’s about stuffing your face with good food, letting go and enjoying yourself.

If you are into video games, you’ll want to hit the covered shopping arcades of Shinsaibashi, where flashing lights invite you into countless “game centers” that have everything from the latest DDR clone to obscure games from the 8-bit era. As you cross over the Dotonbori River (where crazy sports fans can occasionally be seen jumping into the water to celebrate a victory), the city’s iconic neon Glico sign and a giant robotic crab will welcome you to the Namba area. This area is home to countless restaurants serving local specialties, such as Takoyaki (dough balls with octopus), Okonomiyaki (a fried pancake loaded with meat and toppings), and kushiage (fried skewers of every meat and vegetable you could possibly imagine). There’s a Japanese proverb that says Osaka is where you “ruin yourself by extravagance in food,” and after putting away a few plates of the local cuisine, you’ll see why.

A little closer to Namba station is where you’ll find Den Den Town, the “Akihabara of Osaka,” where stores selling the latest manga, doujinshi, and other fan goods can be found. From there, you can hop on a subway to visit Osaka Castle for a peek at the city’s past, or head towards the bay to visit Osaka’s Ocean Aquarium – one of the world’s largest. To the north you’ll find Umeda, which features a massive underground shopping arcade and a skyscraper topped with a Ferris Wheel.

If all that isn’t enough, you’ll be glad to know that Osaka is surrounded by a seemingly endless amount of cities and attractions that range from the historical to the hip. The old capital cities of Nara and Kyoto are just 30 minutes away by rail, while the more trendy, fashion-forward city of Kobe is just 20 minutes away. If you would like a better view of the region, catch the train up to Mt. Koya, a mountain known for its buddhist temples and vegetarian cuisine. Or head the other way to Arima Onsen, a hot spring town on a mountain that marks the transition from the big city to an area filled with tree-lined hiking trails and streams.

If you are ready to see what Japan is like outside the confines of Tokyo, this a great place to start. Let Pop Japan Travel take you to the beautiful, bizarre sights of the Osaka area; you won’t be disappointed!