The lifestyle in Osaka is lively and built on a rich history and thriving innovation. There's something for everyone to enjoy in this vast metropolis, with shopping, eating out, entertainment and outdoor activities galore.
Shopping in Osaka
Historically a merchant city, it's no stretch to say that Osaka is packed with some of Japan's best shopping opportunities. There are two main shopping areas: Namba (Minami) in the south and Umeda (also known as Kita) in the north.
Osaka is also dotted with speciality shopping areas, from the electronics-and-gaming hub Den-Den Town to Doguya-suji, which sells all manner of kitchen and cooking goods for amateur cooks and pro chefs alike.
For a unique experience, Namba Parks Shopping Complex is not to be missed. The complex is designed to bring an outside feel to the urban shopping experience. Hanging gardens, waterfalls and rock formations can be found throughout all eight floors of the complex, culminating in a sprawling open-air rooftop garden. A canyon-like structure carves its way through the centre of the building, giving those on the rooftop a breathtaking view right down to ground level.
Eating out in Osaka
Osaka is nicknamed 'the kitchen of Japan' for good reason, and it won't take expats long to find out why. The city is bursting with fine-dining restaurants, cheap-as-chips street food and everything in between. Be sure to try the wide variety of authentic Japanese food on offer, like sushi and ramen, not to mention takoyaki, Osaka's trademark dish of batter balls stuffed with octopus.
Nightlife in Osaka
Shinsaibashi and Namba are Osaka's nightlife hotspots, home to all forms of entertainment. These easily walkable areas are perfect for bar hopping. Expect to find swish cocktail bars, down-to-earth Irish pubs and izakaya – casual Japanese bars that serve drinks and snacks. 'All-you-can-eat' and 'all-you-can-drink' specials are common in izakaya, making them an excellent budget option.
Outdoor activities in Osaka
Nature-loving expats will be spoilt for choice in Osaka, with plenty of green spaces and parks in which to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Tennoji Park is a lovely place to picnic, take a stroll or enjoy a bike ride. The park is especially beautiful in spring when the cherry blossoms bloom. Hikers will surely enjoy Minoo Park and its well-known trails, such as Takimichi. Just a short way into the park is a beautiful waterfall, while Ryuanji Temple can be found further along the route.
See and do in Osaka
From breathtaking historical sites to thrilling theme parks, there's plenty to see and do in Osaka. Families, culture vultures, foodies and adrenaline junkies are all well catered for.
Here are some of our favourite things to see and do in Osaka while getting to know the city.
For the city's best street food, head to Kuroman Market. Fondly known as 'Osaka's Kitchen', this bustling market is bursting with fresh produce and top-grade meat from all over Japan and is popular among both locals and tourists. After stocking up, be sure to indulge in the mouthwatering seafood dishes and traditional sweet treats that can be found throughout the market.
Originally completed in 1586, this iconic castle has a fascinating history. Its construction was ordered by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a lauded Japanese warrior and politician. When it was built, Osaka Castle was the largest castle in Japan. Over the centuries, this stunning castle has been destroyed and rebuilt twice, enduring the test of time, and is well worth a visit. The museum on site is a great way to learn more about this historical building.
Tempozan Ferris Wheel
For a spectacular view over Osaka, the Tempozan Ferris Wheel is a must. The 17-minute ride over the bay is especially dazzling at night as the wheel brings riders up to 368 feet (112m) above the sparkling city. The wheel is lit up at night in different colours according to the weather forecast: yellow for sunny, green for cloudy and blue for rainy.
Universal Studios Japan
For a memorable day out, Universal Studios Japan is hard to beat. One of the latest additions is Super Nintendo World, featuring beloved characters from the infamous Mario video games. Another highlight is undoubtedly The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Here, visitors can enjoy Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, an exhilarating 360-degree rollercoaster that engages all the senses, including temperature changes ranging from the Dementor's chill to the heat of dragon breath.
What's on in Osaka
From mouthwatering food festivals to centuries-old traditional celebrations, Osaka's annual events' calendar is packed to the brim. There always seems to be something to look forward to in this buzzing city, which expats often find an easy way to bond with locals and settle into the community.
Here are some recommended annual events in Osaka.
Osaka Sumo Spring Basho (March)
In March, the city comes alive with the Osaka Sumo Spring Basho. One of the six major sumo tournaments held in Japan, this event attracts enthusiasts from all over the world. Spectators get the chance to watch sumo wrestlers, or rikishi, from the topmost makuuchi division, battle it out at the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium. It's not just about the matches - the ceremonial rituals that go along with the sport are equally fascinating.
Sakura Blossom Viewing (April)
Osaka's cherry blossoms are a sight to behold. Throughout April, locals and tourists alike flock to Osaka Castle Park, Expo '70 Commemorative Park, and other green spaces around the city to appreciate the fleeting beauty of these pink blooms. Hanami parties, or cherry blossom viewing parties, are a common sight. Pack a picnic and join the revelry under the blooming cherry blossom trees.
Nipponbashi Street Festa (March)
Every March, Osaka's Nipponbashi district, known for its vibrant pop culture, transforms into an open-air celebration. Cosplayers from all walks of life parade through the streets in elaborate costumes representing characters from anime, manga, and video games. Street performances and food stalls add to the festive atmosphere, making it a colorful and fun event to witness.
Aizen Festival (June)
The Aizen Festival, celebrated annually in early June, is one of Osaka's three major festivals. The festival dates back to the Heian period. The festival is best known for its colorful parade featuring local residents dressed in traditional Heian-era court costumes. The high point of the festival is the 'Yukata Beauty Contest', a competition for the most stylishly dressed woman in a yukata, a casual summer kimono.
Tenjin Festival (July)
This beloved summer festival is over a thousand years old, first taking place at Tenmangu Shrine in the year 951. The festival honours Sugawara Michizane, the god of learning. Portable shrines are carried through the city to the Okawa River and loaded onto boats. As the boats travel down the river, they are brightly illuminated, some even lit up by bonfires. There are also floating stages where traditional noh and bunraku plays are performed. The celebration is capped off with a grand fireworks show.
Halloween Horror Nights (September–November)
Held yearly by Universal Studios Japan, this fun-filled celebration of all things that go bump in the night is a real treat. Haunted houses, horror mazes and murder mystery parties open up after dark, while zombies can be found wandering the streets. At the Zombie de Dance event, monsters and zombies perform a step-by-step dance routine. Attendees are welcome to join the dance or can merely remain amused spectators.
Osaka Ramen Expo (December)
Each December, ramen restaurants from all over the country descend on the Expo '70 Commemorative Park for the Osaka Ramen Expo. Ten of Japan's finest ramen purveyors set up shop each week, offering every permutation of ramen one could possibly wish for. Every week brings a new set of ramen vendors, so there's a good excuse to indulge throughout the month.
Osaka Festival of Lights (December)
The annual Festival of Lights is made up of two beautiful light displays taking place in Osaka throughout December. Attracting millions each year, the main event is Midosuji Illumination, which sees hundreds of trees lit up along 2.5 miles (4km) of Midosuji Avenue. Also, not to be missed is Osaka Hikari-Renaissance, where local landmarks throughout the Nakanoshima area are lit up in a beautiful display. Breathtaking light shows are projected onto historical buildings like the Central Public Hall and Nakanoshima Library.