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Osaka, My Japanese City

I’ve lived in Osaka for the past five months, and I love this city! When I first came here I wasn’t too impressed, especially since I’d just spent a week in the beautiful and traditional Kyoto. Osaka and Kyoto are very close distance wise, but they couldn’t be further apart looks wise. Kyoto is full of temples, shrines and nature, whereas Osaka is full of impressive skyscrapers, bars and restaurants. At first glance this city did not have much to offer me, but I stayed here for work as getting an English teaching job was much easier and more available in this city. After five months of been here I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in Japan. The city is big enough to offer the average local plenty to do, but small enough to get around cheaply and even by walking. The city also has an airport, which flies all over the world, and getting around the city is easy by its subway and JR lines.
I describe Osaka like Manchester in the UK. There isn’t much for a tourist but to live it’s a great city as there is a lot of work/business, there are great shops and even better bars and restaurants. Osaka also has a good handful of foreigners, but not too many. As the city isn’t great for sightseeing and tourists, let me help you out on good ways to spend your time here.

Sightseeing
The tourist books will first tell you to visit Osaka-jo (Osaka Castle), don’t bother I say. Unless you’ve never seen a Japanese castle, then maybe have a look. Japanese castles are vastly different to Western castles, but it really isn’t worth the entrance fee. Take a trip to the castle grounds, have a few pics then you can be on your way.
A second sight might be Kaikuan (Osaka Aquarium). It used to be the biggest aquarium in Japan until Okinawa took the sea crown. It is a good aquarium with the likes of dolphins, penguins and a whale shark, but even I, as an aquarium lover, got a little bored. A good sight, and in a good little area of Osaka near the bay, but if you miss this sight then it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

USJ (Universal Studios Japan). I’m yet to go here due to the 6500¥ price tag. As Japan is crazy busy at the quietest of times, you really need to plan your trip accordingly. A few friends of mine went and had to queue for over thirty minutes just for the popcorn stand…
A few other sights which I’ve visited include the Osaka Peace Museum, the History Museum and the Science Museum. Take a look at the Peace Museum, it’s cheap and it shows some great insights into the wars from Japan against the Americans, Korea and South East Asia. Finally, if the weather is nice (for example during sakura season or autumn) then have a walk round Tennoji-koen (Tennoji-Park) a beautiful park complete with a zoo. It’s worth your time in good weather.

There is the odd temple and further sightseeing spots in Osaka, but I really wouldn’t recommend anymore. The best way to spend your time in this city is to explore the three areas of Umeda, Shinsaibashi and Namba.

Umeda is the area around Osaka main train station, where you can find some great department stores and lots of bars and restaurants. There are also some great amusement arcades there and a great reflection of Japanese nightlife, with rows upon rows of tiny bars, neon signs and all you can drink beer. Check out Osaka Grand Front in this area for some very nice bars and restaurants, and also check out Umeda Sky Building as it hosts quite a few beer festivals throughout the year.

Shinsaibashi and Namba
Shinsaibashi and Namba are next to each other so both are often covered on nights out, and these two places are where I spend my most time. Both areas are great to explore during the day, and many guide books might refer to these places as Dontonbori and American-mura. Dontonburi is one long street full of bars and restaurants and the Osaka famous takoyaki stalls (fried octopus-balls). You will find the famous Glico sign near the Namba Bridge on Dotonbori. This is a great place to simply grab a few beers from the local convenience store and to people watch. I’ve spent many an hour watching drunken locals here and also watching the Osaka host boys prowl for their next customer.

At first glance some areas of Namba and Shinsaibashi can be quite daunting, as you will see lots of rows of five-storey buildings holding hundreds of tiny bars with 5-10 seats in each. It is difficult to know which bar to go into, as most look like flat entrance doors, and you have no idea what is behind them until you go in. The best thing to do is make friends with a local and they’ll tell you the best spots. However, you can find bigger bars which aren’t as terrifying to enter such as Cinquecento (every cocktail 500yen, great flavours and strong), although this bar will be full of foreigners it is still a bar to visit! Balabushka is also great for a relaxed vibe. It has pool tables, dart boards and huge TV screens for the football. There is a strange little bar called Game Station which is worth a look inside. It consist of a small bar with a Nintendo 64, Wii, PlayStation 1 and 3, Xbox and a Sega megadrive, all available to play if you buy some drinks.

Club wise there are some good clubs in Osaka, but just like most of Japan, they can be fairly small. You usually pay on the door and most tickets will include a free drink. Some personal favourites, which are in Namba and Shinsaibashi, are Bambi, Wax and Sam & Daves.

Overall, the best way to spend your time in this city is to explore the quirky little areas full of shops, restaurants and places where you will find Japanese locals. Namba and Shinsaibashi are you’re best shots. Shop-wise they are fantastic for quirky cheap clothes, high street favs of H&M and Forever 21, and also your designers such as Chanel, Marc Jacobs and Prada. A city that is probably worth two or three days of your time in Japan, but make sure you save most of this for the nightlife, you’ll probably see me out if you do.