Ōsaka (大阪) is the third largest city in Japan, with a population of over 17 million people in its greater metropolitan area. It is the central metropolis of the Kansai region and the largest of the Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto trio.
“Osaka” can mean either the larger Osaka (prefecture) (大阪府 Ōsaka-fu), covered in a separate guide, or central Osaka city (大阪市 Ōsaka-shi), the topic of this guide. The city is administratively divided into 24 wards (区 ku), but in common usage the following divisions are more useful:
Osaka is a massive city in the heart of Kansai on the main island of Japan – Honshu, and is a bustling enigma of start contrasts and cutting edge charm. The 3rd biggest city in Japan, it is widely considered to be the key economic gearbox for the Kansai district and has been for centuries before.
Seeped in history and raw with character, Osaka has a certain intoxicating allure, famous not only for its extremely hard working and unpretentious community, but for its incredible cuisine and vibrant night life.
At first glance, you may be fooled into thinking that Osaka does not indeed have the sophisticated identity of the ever glamorous Tokyo however, you will almost immediately be pleasantly surprised. It has its very own unique energy and enthusiasm that will win you over in a heartbeat. Traditional townscapes jut in and out between dramatic cutting edge architecture that rolls over underground shopping districts and futuristic monuments, with a landscape that is complete with lush vegetation dotted all throughout the city.
The people of Osaka are a significant and distinctive component of the beating heart of this vivacious city – welcoming and bubbly; they certainly know a thing or two about embracing every aspect of the good life. Osakajins consider their warm and unique dialect to be somewhat of a national heritage, and remain immensely proud of their individuality.
Having just undergone some massive changes and improvements, it is clear the modern hand of infrastructure is everywhere, but it has made the city much easier to navigate and to explore the nooks and crannies of resplendent urban Japan.
The newer center of the city, including the Kita ward (北区). Umeda (梅田) is the main terminal. Department stores, theaters and boutiques are clustered around JR Osaka Station and Umeda Station, which serves several city and private railways
The traditional commercial and cultural center, composed of the Chuo (中央区) and Naniwa (浪速区) wards. Namba (なんば, 難波) is the main railway station, and the surrounding area has the department store and showy shopping. Shinsaibashi (心斎橋) and Horie (堀江) is the fashion area. Dōtonbori (道頓堀) is the best place to go for a bite to eat. Semba (船場) straddles the line between Kita and Minami, and contains the business districts of Yodoyabashi (淀屋橋), Doujima (堂島) and Hommachi (本町); and the financial district of Kitahama (北浜).
Generally means the area around JR Tennōji Station, Abeno and Tennoji subway stations and Kintetsu rail lines at the south end of Tennōji ward. The ward was named after the historical Shitennoji temple. Tennōji Park and Zoo are in the area. To the west of Tennōji is Shinsekai (新世界), which was an amusement area in the past and has now become quite seedy.
Osaka Castle (大阪城) is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Japan. Kyōbashi (京橋) is northeast of Osaka Castle, home to Osaka Business Park (OBP).
Covering the area north of Osaka. Includes Shin-Osaka(新大阪) and Juso(十三).
The eastern suburbs of Osaka.
The southern suburbs of Osaka containing various districts, which has the Sumiyoshi-Taisya Grand Shrine.
Huge amusement area with many gigantic facilities.
If Tokyo is Japan’s capital, one might call Osaka its anti-capital. Whatever you call it, though, there are many opportunities for you to discover its true anti-character.
Osaka dates back to the Asuka and Nara period. Under the name Naniwa (難波), it was the former capital of Japan from 683 to 745, long before the upstarts at Kyoto took over. Even after the capital was moved elsewhere, Osaka continued to play an important role as a hub for land, sea and river-canal transportation. (See “808 Bridges” infobox.) During the Tokugawa era, while Edo (now Tokyo) served as the austere seat of military power and Kyoto was the home of the Imperial court and its effete courtiers, Osaka served as “the Nation’s Kitchen” (「天下の台所」 tenka-no-daidokoro), the collection and distribution point for rice, the most important measure of wealth. Hence it was also the city where merchants made and lost fortunes and cheerfully ignored repeated warnings from the shogunate to reduce their conspicuous consumption.
During Meiji era, Osaka’s fearless entrepreneurs took the lead in industrial development, making it the equivalent of Manchester in the U.K. A thorough drubbing in World War II left little evidence of this glorious past — even the castle is a ferroconcrete reconstruction — but to this day, while unappealing and gruff on the surface, Osaka remains Japan’s best place to eat, drink and party, and in legend (if not in practice) Osakans still greet each other with mōkarimakka?, “are you making money?”.
The main international gateway to Osaka is Kansai International Airport, (). The airport has two railway connections to the city: JR West’s Kansai Airport Line and the private Nankai Electric Railway.
Several ticket offers from Kansai Airport are available, which may appeal to foreign visitors:
- Japan Railway (JR) offers the ICOCA & HARUKA ticket package for foreign tourists only. For ¥3030 one-way or ¥4060 round-trip you get an unreserved trip on the Haruka limited express, and can continue on to any JR station in Osaka within a designated area. You also receive a ¥2000 ICOCA fare card to use on transit in the Kansai region (¥1500 + ¥500 deposit). You may also buy a one-way JR ticket from the ticket machines; ¥1190 to Osaka Station. Some international cards may not work in the ticketing machines and cash will be necessary.
- Nankai Railways offers a Kanku Chikatoku Ticket for ¥1000 each way, cash only at the Nankai railway ticket desk (look for the red signs) (Mar 2019). With this you can travel on the Nankai Railway’s commuter service to Namba, and then travel to any station in the entire Osaka Subway system. The train ride from Kansai Airport to Namba Station takes approximately 45 minutes.
- xOsaka International Airport (also known as Itami Airport,). Most domestic flights arrive at Itami. It is connected to the Osaka Monorail, but the monorail is expensive and traces an arc around the northern suburbs, so to get to the centre of the city you will need to transfer to a suburban Hankyu railway line. A more convenient option for most are the Airport Limousine Buses, which run frequently from Itami to various locations within Osaka and elsewhere in the region (including Kansai Airport), with fares starting around ¥500-600. Taxi from Itami airport to Osaka historic castle area costs ¥4000 plus ¥700 for toll road.
Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen (新幹線） trains arrive at Shin-Osaka station, to the north of the city center. From Shin-Osaka, you can connect to the city center by using the Midosuji subway line, or connect to the local JR network for other destinations.