Beautiful Cherry blossom in Osaka Castle and Osaka Nightlife

Osaka is Japan’s second largest metropolitan area after Tokyo. It has been the economic powerhouse of the Kansai Region for many centuries. Osaka was formerly known as Naniwa. Before the Nara Period, when the capital used to be moved with the reign of each new emperor, Naniwa was once Japan’s capital city, the first one ever known.cIn the 16th century, Toyotomi Hideyoshi chose Osaka as the location for his castle, and the city may have become Japan’s political capital if Tokugawa Ieyasu had not terminated the Toyotomi lineage after Hideyoshi’s death and established his government in distant Edo (Tokyo).

Osaka is not as traditional or picturesque as other spots in the country like Kyoto, but Osaka make a good base if you are planning to explore Kansai Region and visit Shirakawago.

How to get here and around

Fly to Kansai International Airport (KIX)
KIX is one of Japan’s largest and busiest airports, located on a man-made island about 40 kilometers south of Osaka. Kansai Airport has two terminals. Terminal 1 is the main terminal and train station is next to it. Terminal 2 was built more recently and it mainly serves low cost airlines which run flights from nearby countries. Visitors can get to Terminal 1 by a free shuttle bus transfer between terminals.

Take the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo
The Shinkansen (bullet train) is a very convenient way to travel from Tokyo to Osaka. It offers a smooth and comfortable ride and a short travel time, compared to other methods. If you have a Japan Rail Pass, you can use most Shinkansen for free. To reach Osaka, board the Tokaido Shinkansen from Tokyo Station and get off at Shin-Osaka Station, the Shinkansen stop for Osaka.
There are three types of Shinkansen you can ride: Nozomi, Hikari, or Kodama. Nozomi is the fastest train, as the ride to Osaka takes about two and a half hours. Hikari takes about three hours, and Kodama takes about four. With Japan Rail Pass you get free rides on Hikari and Kodama. Traveling one-way from Tokyo Station to Shin-Osaka Station (the Shinkansen stop for Osaka) costs 13,620 yen for a non-reserved seat, 14,450 yen for a reserved seat, and 19,230 yen for a green car seat. Shin-Osaka Station is only one station away from JR Osaka Station. Shin-Osaka is also a fifteen-minute ride away on the subway from Shinsaibashi Station and Namba Station, both of which are close to Dotonbori, a sightseeing area known for its bright townscape, local food, and canal.

How to get to Osaka City Center from Kansai Airport

1. Take JR Train Haruka Express departs from Kansai Airport every 30 minutes and stops at Tennoji and Shin-Osaka stations. It is the fastest way to make the journey. Without JR Pass, ticket cost around 2000 yen for Tennoji or 3000 yen for Shin-Osaka.

2. Take Kansai Airport Rapid Train, a cheaper alternative to Haruka Express. Tickets cost 1000 yen to Tennoji Station and 1200 yen to Osaka Station (JR Pass holders can access the line using their passes). It takes 15 minutes longer than the Haruka Express as it makes more stops.

3. Limousine bus services run frequently between Kansai Airport and a wide range of stops in Osaka including Osaka Station, Namba Station, Shin-Osaka Station, and Universal Studios. There are also night buses which run once an hour from the bus station between 12am and 5am. The journey takes one hour and the price is 1,550 yen. Passengers can buy tickets from vending machine at the airport.

4. Catching a taxi from outside of Kansai Airport is easy but as the journey is 50 minutes long, it is very expensive. The taxi fare costs around 15,000 yen in the day, or 17,500 at night.

Travelers arriving at Kansai Airport earlier than 8am should be aware that all trains and most buses don’t run overnight. Visitors have the option of catching a night bus which run hourly or catching a taxi. The last train from Kansai Airport to Osaka (Namba) leaves just before midnight. The last of the normal buses leaves at around 23.00pm although the night buses continue to run hourly. Visitors have the option of catching a taxi or staying overnight in a hotel and catching a train in the morning.

Getting around Osaka

  • Osaka covers a huge area, but it’s all connected by a superb public transport system. Subways and trains are the best way to get around Osaka.
  • Five of the city’s main hubs are conveniently located on the Midosuji subway line, that runs north/south right through the heart of the city. From north to south, here they are: Shin-Osaka, Kita, Central Osaka (Honmachi), Minami, and Tennoji.
  • There are only two main tourist centers – the Osaka Castle Area and the Osaka Bay Area – that are off the Midosuji subway line. The Osaka Castle Area is easy to reach from Kita by the JR Osaka Loop Line, or from Honmachi via the Chuo subway line. The Osaka Bay Area is also reached by the Chuo Line or the JR Yumesaki Line.
  • Other parts of Osaka Prefecture (ie, not Osaka City) are reached by either various JR lines or by various private rail lines. JR pass can be used for Osaka Loop Line, but if you just want to explore Osaka for the first few days after arriving in Japan, it’s best to activate your pass on the morning you leave Osaka and use it for long-distance train travel instead for cheap local travel.

Our Day 1 in Osaka

Osaka Castle

The construction of Osaka Castle started in 1583 on the former site of the Ishiyama Honganji Temple, which had been destroyed by Oda Nobunaga thirteen years earlier. Toyotomi Hideyoshi intended the castle to become the center of a new, unified Japan under Toyotomi rule. It was the largest castle at the time.

The castle tower is surrounded by secondary citadels, gates, turrets, impressive stone walls and moats. The Nishinomaru Garden, encompassing the former “western citadel”, is a lawn garden with 600 cherry trees, a tea house, the former Osaka Guest House and nice views of the castle tower from below. Unlike most of the rest of the castle grounds, the garden requires an admission fee.

The entire Osaka Castle Park covers about two square kilometers with lots of green space, sport facilities, a multi-purpose arena (Osakajo Hall) and a shrine dedicated to Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The park is one of Osaka’s most popular hanami spots during the cherry blossom season.

Dotonbori Shopping Street

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This is Osaka’s nightlife at it’s finest. A very popular tourist attraction which has a history as the local theater district. The restaurants, shops, and arcades offer everything that one could be looking for.

During the day, take a walking and tasting tour to familiarize yourself with the numerous offerings. The street food is not to be missed.

Our highlight of the day was our dinner. Hubbie and I love Japanese food and we are pretty adventurous when it comes to eating in Japan. We would go eat at the restaurants where local people went and always found the food to be tasty and delicious. Many of them don’t have English menu. When that happens we look at the pictures and ask the waiter/waitress who always tried to explain what they are. I don’t normally eat mackerel back home as I found them to have fishy smell but in Japan, they have no fishy smell at all and tasted really really good!

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