I get the feeling that Osaka has a reputation as the dull sister to her more flamboyant sibling Kyoto. Most tourists fly into the Kansai International Airport located on an artificial island in the middle of Osaka Bay, and head north to Kyoto. But Osaka, probably better known as a busy port city, has some spectacular ancient sights to visit and is actually a great option to view the cherry blossom trees in Spring if you do not want to fight the crowds in Kyoto.
As with anywhere in Japan, the rail and road systems are extremely efficient and whichever option you choose it will take no more than 45 minutes to reach the centre of Osaka. One thing that strikes me is how clean Osaka is, especially the port area. Even the piles of scrap metal are sorted into distinct piles!
First stop for an unobstructed 360-degree view over Osaka and as far away as Awaji Island is the Floating Garden Observatory at the Umeda Sky Building. The observation platform is open from 10am to 10.30pm daily, with the last admission being at 10pm and costs ¥800 (around AUD8.50).
If you enjoy riding a giant Ferris wheel, Osaka has two to choose from, the eye-catching red wheel at the HEP Five shopping mall or the giant Ferris wheel at Tempozan Harbour Village next to the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan. Since I was in the neighbourhood, I chose to ride the HEP Five Ferris wheel. For ¥500 (approx. AUD$5.40) I had views from my gondola over the harbour and downtown Osaka. For those who like to indulge in a little people-watching, the HEP Five mall offers some amazing insights into the craziness and diversity of fashion amongst the Japanese youth. From couples dressed exactly the same through to some interesting retro outfits (and everything in between) it is a fascinating fashion kaleidoscope.
From here, it’s a 10 minute train ride to the Osaka Castle area. If you are lucky enough to visit towards the end of March or early April you will experience the cherry blossom trees in all their splendour. There are many green spots around the castle area where you can sit with the locals with some lunch and a cool drink to enjoy the views over the river and castle for free. If you are happy to pay the ¥200 (¥500 during extended hours during cherry blossom season) the Nishinomaru Garden has 600 cherry trees, a tea house, the former Osaka Guest House and stunning views of the castle tower. The garden is open from 9am to 5pm – 8pm during cherry blossom season – but is closed on Mondays. The castle dates back to the 16th century and its museum houses many artifacts and displays on its history.
Just across the road from Osaka Castle is the Museum of History where the city’s history from when Osaka was Japan’s first capital, through to modern times is chronicled.
For more information on what Osaka has to offer visitors, click here.