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Where We Are: Osaka, Japan

We just left Kyoto and have arrived at our final stop in Japan: Osaka. There are only 55 kilometers between these two cities, but they’re an entire world apart. We’ve left the charming old streets and ancient temples behind, and we’ve arrived in a modern metropolis, buzzing with shopping streets, bright lights and tall buildings.

On our last night in Kyoto, we found ourselves at a bar where we were the only patrons not related to the owner. The family seemed to enjoy our company and chatted with us quite a bit (well, as best as they could with the language barrier). When we told them we were headed to Osaka, they scoffed and said Kyoto was the best city, and Oska was … not. This seems to be a common sentiment across Japan locals and travelers alike: everyone loves Kyoto and Osaka is meh.

I too loved Kyoto, but I’m actually really digging Osaka as well! We’re from a big city and tend to love traveling to a good big city. Since the tourist density isn’t as high, we find that big cities tend to feel more authentic to us. That pretty much captures our sentiment on Osaka, too. And we love a beautiful temple as much as the next person, we also love the neon lights of a bustling city strip and that’s exactly what we got in Osaka.

Osaka has two “Downtowns”. There’s the daytime downtown of Umemba and the nighttime downtown of Namba. We haven’t made our way to Umemba yet, but this is the business center, like the Loop in Chicago. And then there’s Nama, which contains the famous lively strip of Dotonbori.

Dotonburi Osaka

Dotonbori is the center of everything shopping, eating and drinking related in Osaka, and man is it pretty to look at.

We headed to Dotonbori as soon as we arrived in Osaka. We made our way down the covered Shinsaibashisuji Shopping Street, crossed the Ebisu Bridge and wandered through the restaurant-lined Dotonbori strip. They love lines in Japan and Dotonbori is no different. Almost every restaurant, including many street food stands, had lines of patrons queued up along the street. It’s wild.

We don’t have a ton of time here, only 2.5 days (one of which we were cooped up inside all day because of pouring rain), but so far we’re pro-Osaka.

First Impressions on Osaka

  • It could use some happy hours. Everywhere in Japan is expensive, but drinks in Osaka just feel even more expensive. In the downtown area of Dotonbori, a pint of beer was about 1300 yen (~$13 USD) and we hardly saw any specials. A guy tried to get us to go to his bar by offering all-you-can-drink for 10000 yen (~$100 USD), yeah no thanks. Today I passed a happy hour sign by our hostel, a good 40 minute walk from the main downtown, and got excited, but the special was beer pints for 1000 yen (~10 USD). Isn’t that crazy!? We just need someone to have a BOGO or something!
  • It’s a sister city to Chicago. While transferring trains, we ran into Chicago Gallery, which comprised a hallway filled with replica paintings from Chicago’s Art Institute. Near the gallery was a sign that described the sister city relationship between Chicago and Osaka, which we obviously loved as proud Chicagoans. It was particularly fun because we were comparing the city to Chicago’s Loop and Gold Coast all afternoon.

    Osaka, Japan

    Chicago Gallery in Osaka features replicas of famous artwork from Chicago’s Art Institute.

  • It is a shopper’s paradise. I don’t really even like shopping that much, but man did I wish I had some backpack space! This city is chock-ful of shopping streets and arcades, filled with the coolest fashion for an array of prices (many of which I can even afford on my part-time-while-traveling-the-world salary, which makes it that much more tempting). Alas, I have not bought anything except matcha Kit Kats. If you’re traveling here with anything other than a backpack, though, be sure to plan to come home with more than you came with.

    Osaka Japan

    Shinsaibashi is the longest shopping street in Japan and dates back over 380 years!

What you need to know — Osaka:

  • Population: 2.7 million
  • Altitude: 24 meters
  • Exchange Rate:  106 Japanese Yen to $1 USD
  • Primary Language: Japanese
  • Walking Tour: YES! Osaka Free Walking Tour, but it rained the day we planned to do it, so we won’t be able to take it.
  • Time Zone: Japan Standard Time, UTC +9 (13 hours ahead of US Central Time)
  • Taxi: Yes, and the drivers wear full suites, and it’s great.
  • Uber: No.
  • Public Transit: Yes, a solid train and bus grid will get you anywhere you need to go.
  • Emergency Number: 119
  • Running: We will not be running, and we haven’t seen any great routes yet. We have seen many runners on the streets though, which seems like a fine option.
  • American Football: No longer in season.
  • Starbucks: Yes!
  • Local Starbucks Specialty: Yes! Earl Grey Team Cream Frappuccino, which was pretty tasty!
  • McDonald’s Veggie Burger: No
  • Coffee Price: Pretty much any coffee at a coffee shop or Starbucks is going to cost you about 600 yen (~$6 USD)
  • Beer Price: A MILLION DOLLARS! Okay, that’s dramatic (probably because I’m suffering from alcohol withdrawal). Beers seem to be mostly around +1000 Yen (~10 USD), but we haven’t actually had one here yet.
Osaka, Japan

This might be the coolest ferris wheel we’ve ever seen.