Osaka (大阪): The second largest city in Japan and known for its food; however, it is overlooked by many as just the gateway port to Kyoto and Nara. But Osaka is a city worth taking another look at…
With the earliest signs of humans in the region dating back to the 6th century BC, the earlier city to stand on the site, Naniwa, became capital of Japan in 645 and held the status for ten years. The city of Naniwa remained an important port city over the centuries due to its connections to the areas of Nara and Kyoto, although its importance would fade over the centuries. In time the city became known as Osaka and in 1583 the original Osaka Castle was constructed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi; however due to fashion, war and accidents it would be rebuilt several times, with the current castle dating from 1931.
Osaka was heavily bombed during World War 2 due to being a center of industry, however this has left room for the modern city to grow in its place.
Arrival & Departure
By Cruise Ship
Cruise ships normally dock in the Tempozan Bay Area. Although this is a tourist area, it is a little way from the main tourist sites in the more central areas of Osaka; however there is a station for the Chuo Subway Line (Osakako) two blocks away which can connect you to most of the tourist sites (in central Osaka) within twenty minutes.
Kansai International Airport is located approximately an hour from the center of Osaka by train (however there are express options) and is a large international hub with direct flights to most major locations. The airport has limited facilites airside, however there is a reasonable selection of food and shopping before security. Be aware it can get busy at this airport and so leave yourself plenty of time to get through security and reach your gate if flying from this airport.
Depending on the type of train and where you are arriving from can cause your arrival station to vary. Shinkansen services run from Shin-Osaka.
The main ferry port is at
The currency used in Japan is the Japanese Yen. Although you may find that some tourist sites will accept US Dollars, we would strongly recommend carrying local currency. Japan is also still a very much a cash based society and, although Credit Cards are accepted in many larger locations, you should carry cash with you.
Access to ATMs can be tricky in Japan as the majority of ATMs do not accept foreign cards, and Credit Cards are not widely accepted outside of the main chain stores. I would strongly recommend carrying enough cash for whatever your plans are, however if you do require an ATM either 7-Bank (ATM can be found in many convenience stores), Post Office Bank or Citibank ATMs will take foreign cards. (For those arriving on a cruise ship the nearest 7-Bank ATM to where the ship docks is in the 7-11 Store on the road to the local metro station).
Japanese is the language spoken in Japan; however the main tourist areas are well sign-posted in English and most tourist attractions and stores will have some English language assistance.
There is a post office on the street heading towards the Osakako Subway station near the Cruise Terminal.
What To See
Even though so many overlook Osaka it has so much to do and see. Here are just a few of the attractions separated into areas:
Osaka Castle Park Area
One of the most famous attractions in Osaka, the castle is a 1931s reconstruction of the castle which stood on the site during the Edo period. Definitely worth visiting, it has an observation deck on the 8th floor allowing a view over the park and of the surrounding Osaka skyline. The other floors are a museum of the history of Osaka as it pertains to Osaka Castle and temporary exhibitions are also sometimes staged here. There an English summary of most of the displays and English subtitles on the main videos. The nearest train station is Osakajokoen, but it can also be easily reached from Morinomiya station.
Osaka Museum of History
Located next to the Osaka Castle Park this museum is a general history museum focusing on the Osaka region. Nearest subway station is the Tanimachi 4-Chome.
This museum gives an interesting look at life in Osaka during World War 2 and the reason for, and results of, the bombing campaign against Osaka. There is no English text on the displays, however there is a complimentary audio guide in English and English subtitles on some of the videos. Museum is located on the edge of the Osaka Castle Park (Osaka-jo-koen) with the nearest train station being Morinomiya.
Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
Located right in the port area, this Aquarium gets very busy on the weekends and at school holidays. Claimed to be one of the largest aquariums in the world, its star attraction is its giant tank which is home to the largest fish in the world: a Whale Shark.
Tempozan Giant Ferris Wheel
Also location right in the port area, this giant ferris wheel allows you a view over the ship and the area.
Legoland Discovery Center
Want to play with lego all day? This can also be found in the harbour area. This requires children to visit, however they do have an adult evening once a month.
A museum of vintage cars covering both Europe and Asia.
Located just one stop from the port at Cosmo Square, the observation deck at the trade center provides a good view over the port and back towards the center of Osaka. As well as its convenient location to the port it also only costs a fraction of the amount of its more famous rivals.
Open Tuesday to Sunday – 11:00 to 22:00 (last admission 21:30).
Santa Maria Cruises
Cruises around Osaka Harbour on a replica sailing ship. Both day and evening cruises available.
Opened to the public in 2014, this is located in what is currently the tallest building in Japan. Located next to Tennoji Station, this observation desk provides a 360 degree view over the Osaka area as well as an open air garden and cafe.
Abeno Harukas Art Museum
Located in the same building as Harukas 300.
Osaka City Museum of Fine Arts
Located in Tennoji Park.
Located in Tennoji Park, this small zoo in the middle of the city has a range of animals including penguins, polar bears, elephants and gorillas. It also has a large aviary.
Spa World is located near Tsutenkatu, and is a swimming and bathing complex. There is two floors of baths – Europe Zone and Asia Zone which alternate between genders on a monthly basis. There is also as a unisex Swimming Zone on the top floor with a shallow pool, three slides (extra charge to use), and an outdoor pool and hot tub area. English information on how to use the facilities is provided, however if you have tattoos you will be refused entry.
Spa World is open 24 hours a day (swim zone excepted) which makes it handy also as a solution to missing the last train. Normal entry is 1500 yen, but a small extra charge is applied for staying during the night hours. Nearest train stations are Shin-Imamiya on the JR or Dobutsuen-Mae on the subway.
The original tower of Osaka. Nearest train stations are Shin-Imamiya on the JR or Dobutsuen-Mae on the subway.
Umeda & Nakanoshima
Umeda Sky Building Floating Garden
Located near Osaka Station in the Umeda area, this building is has a distinct shape with the observation deck located on the top of the building where the two towers join together.
Recognizable by the red ferris wheel coming out of the top of this building, this is an entertainment complex with shopping, food, and on the top two floors an indoor amusement park. HEP 5 can be found right next to Osaka station.
Osaka Science Museum
Interactive science museum located near Higobashi station.
National Museum of Art, Osaka
Located by Higobashi station, this art museum contains several thousand pieces of 20th century to current art by both Japanese and Foreign artists. Focusing a lot on temporary exhibitions, the amount of English will vary depending on the individual exhibition.
The Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka
Ceramic museum providing temporary exhibitions, as well as several galleries of Japanese and Korean ceramics, including a couple of national treasures.
Expo ’70 Museum
A museum in one of the few remaining pavilions from the Osaka Expo, this museum tells the story of the
National Museum of Ethnology
Large museum located at the edge of the Expo Park covering ethnology. Some English text on exhibits; however an English language audio guide is available for a small extra charge. Although it is quite a way from the center of Osaka, if you have any kind of interest in the subject or are a fan of museums, it is definitely worth a visit. There is a gift shop on site, as well as a cafe.
Open Thursday – Tuesday: 10am – 5pm.
Japan Folk Crafts Museum
Another museum located at the Expo Park
Expo Commemoration Park
Large and beautiful park, with many things to see including a tree top walk and many sculptures.
Aquarium and animal attraction uniquely organized around colours and shapes.
Osaka Museum of Housing and Living
This can be a little bit tricky to find but a fun afternoon out. This museum located on the 8th floor and up of an office building has a recreation of a Edo street which you can explore, and for just a couple of hundred yen you can dress up in a kimono to wander around the street and buildings – great for some fun photo opportunities. Located above the Tenjimbashisuji 6-Chome station (when you come out of the station there is a covered shopping arcade with what appears to be a bank building on the corner. Get the lift to the 8th floor). Requires a working mobile phone with a QR code reader to access the English translations of the exhibits (free wifi is provided).
Museum of Japanese Farmhouses
Universal Studios Japan
Japan’s busiest theme park, this branch of the Universal Studios chain has been open for almost fifteen years and is still growing, with the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter having just opened in 2014. Day passes are approximately 7000yen. Accessible by train from the Universal City Station or by ferry from near where the ship docks.
Instant Ramen Museum
Although lacking in English explanations, this small museum is free to enter and allows you to create your own Cup Ramen to take home with you for 300yen (decorate your cup then choose what favours and toppings you would like). Also has a vending machine cafeteria stocked with limited edition Cup Ramen for you to try. Located a little bit further out of Osaka, it’s about five minutes walk from Ikeda station.
Osaka Museum of Natural History
Nagai Botanical Garden
Entrepreneurial Museum of Challenge and Innovation
No English on the displays but a very good audio guide in English is available for no extra charge.
Tombori River Cruise
Osaka Sky Vista
Hop-On Hop-Off bus tour around Osaka.
Shopping & Osaka Specialities
Shopping options is definitely not an area in which Osaka lacks with many shopping malls and shopping areas across the city.
Shinsaibashi: Covered shopping street with many international brands.
Namba: Shopping above and below ground with Namba Parks above ground and Namba Walk below. Hours of shopping without ever going outside.
Umeda: Home to many large department stores and shopping malls.
Den Den Town: Electrical stores and the Fandom district. If you have an interest in Japanese Manga or Anime this is the shopping area for you.
Daytrips from Osaka
Most people visiting Osaka use this city as a gateway to some of the other famous destinations in the Kansai region:
Kyoto: Probably one of the most famous places in Japan, this is a city famous for its temples and shrines, and for its Gion district with its Geishas. You will probably find that the majority of your ship’s Shore Excursions will be going here.
Nara: One of the historic capitals of Japan with several interesting temples to visit and its famous deer.
Kobe: A cruise port in its own right, the port city of Kobe is just 20 minutes from Osaka by the Special Express train. Mainly known internationally for its famous for it’s Kobe Beef, there are a few attractions worth seeing here.
Himeji: 30 minutes by the Shinkansen or just over an hour by the Special Express train, this city is known mainly for its castle which is one of the few in Japan which is not a reconstruction. The castle is reopening to the public in March 2015 after a five year restoration and is definitely worth a visit. Be aware that due to the fact that this castle has been preserved in its original form it is not accessible to those with limited mobility: there are no lifts and plenty of steep steps.
[Last Updated – 9th February 2017]