More travel tips for your time in Japan! In this edition I cover all of my favourite spots in Osaka and go over how to use your handy dandy Japan Rail Pass.
Getting to Osaka from Tokyo (aka how to use your Japan Rail Pass)
Its easy to get from Tokyo to Osaka if you have a Japan Rail Pass. You need to grab one of these bad boys before you get to Japan (I would recommend trying to get it at least a month before you go). We purchased ours through STA Travel and it was a really easy process and I would assume most travel agents would be able to sort it for you. It might not seem cheap at first glance (the economy 7 day pass is around $350 nzd) but these things pay for themselves in basically one trip. The price of getting to Osaka from Tokyo one way via bullet train or shinkansen isn’t much cheaper than the price of the 7-day day pass, plus you can use the pass for local JR trains too. After you buy your rail pass you will be sent an exchange order that is valid for three months. Once you arrive in Japan you just swap the exchange order for your proper Japan Rail Pass at a JR exchange office at a major JR station (like Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto or Shinjuku Station). You need to take your passport with you to do this. Once you have the pass reserving shinkansen’s seats are a breeze, just book at JR Ticket office letting them know where you want to go, your preferred travel days and times (you won’t have trouble finding one, they are at every single station basically). Getting on local trains like the one’s between Osaka and Kyoto is even more simple, you just show your pass to the JR staff located at the gate to the platform.
Things to do/see/eat in Osaka
Osaka is just as good a base as Kyoto for exploring this area of Japan. And its well worth spending at least a few nights in the city and taking your time in exploring it. Osaka is internationally known as a food mecca, and while I was excited about the food, I going to be honest and say I was most excited for Universal Studios Japan and Harry Potter Wizarding World.
It’s an easy train ride from central Osaka to Universal Studios (and as always google maps will do the hard navigational work for you). Upon arriving we waded through the crowds and purchased tickets at the park entrance and then we headed straight to Wizarding World and our first glass of butterbeer (which is hands down one of the most delicious drinks in the whole world). It’s hard to put into words how fucking incredible visiting Wizarding World is if you are a fan of Harry Potter. But its basically like stepping inside the books, because the attention to detail is so good. Even non Potter fans will enjoy the experience as my hard to impress little brother can confirm. So I 100% recommend going while you are in Osaka. Do it!
After knocking off the Forbidden Journey (a must do), exploring Hogsmeade’s shops and having an excellent early lunch at the Three Broom Sticks, we headed off to investigate the rest of the park. The park is pretty sprawling and has a few different rides and areas that are unique to Universal Japan, it still has the Jaws ride for example, so even if you have been to another Universal Studios park you are still in for a new experience at Universal Japan. Like DisneySea the lines are long but we still had a great time. Just make sure to have a bathroom break before you commit to a two hour wait… A good #hottip to mitigate the line wait times is to ride as single riders, like we did on the Spiderman ride. You might not get to ride right next to everyone in your group but you will end up pretty close and it really trims down the wait time. We only ended up waiting around 20 minutes for the Spiderman ride!
Hands down my favourite ride of the day (which also had the looooooooongest line) was the terrifying roller-coaster The Flying Dinosaur, which, before the initial drop, gives you great views over the park and is unique to Universal Japan. The unique thing about this ride is that while you sit down when you first get on, there is a mechanism that tips you so you end up horizontal, staring at the ground for the whole ride. Check out this video to get a better idea of what I’m trying to describe. This ride won’t be everyone’s cup of tea though. We had discovered that Livie was a bit of a scary ride badass when we are at DisneySea (rides that left me with heart palpitations didn’t seem to phase her), but she really didn’t enjoy the horizontal element of this ride.
#Hottip: Try visiting Universal Studios Japan in a non-peak time of year because, during peak times like the summer holidays, they have timed entry to Wizarding World because its so popular. When we visited in November and we could wander in and out of Wizarding World as we pleased.
Osaka Aquarium is another must do. We visited around 5pm, after sunset, and unlike the other places we visited in Osaka it was pleasantly uncrowded. The aquarium itself is beautiful and thoughtfully designed making for a great visitor experience. It’s worth the price of admission just to see the whale shark and the spide crabs (who are particularly terrifying and as far as I know are unique to the oceans off the coast of Japan).
The aquarium is right next door to Osaka’s Giant Ferris Wheel which, although we didn’t have time to do, I am going to recommend anyway because it looked awesome and was pretty cheap at only 800 yen per person.
And of course you can’t visit Osaka without visiting Osaka Castle. The castle is situated in the middle of a really lovely park near the centre of Osaka. If you are lucky you might catch a baseball game on your walk to the castle like we did. Be warned though, as the castle is one of Osakas’s biggest tourist attractions it is mega busy outside and even more so inside. But despite the crowds its still very much worth a visit as the castle architecture is amazing and the views from the top are beautiful.
Livie and I spent a couple of days exploring Central Osaka, shopping and eating our way around. The first spot to hit is the Shinsaibashi-suji arcade. The covered arcade, which leads to the food paradise of Dotonbori , is 600m in length and one of Osaka’s oldest and busiest shopping destinations. If you are wanting to find Uniqlo, Zara, H & M, Forever 21 and some cheap souvenirs this is where you want to go, but the more interesting shops we discovered are to be found in the ultra hip area of Amerikamura, which is easily accessible from the arcade. It’s really worth giving the area a leisurely explore, particularly if you are keen on doing some recording shopping. It’s also here where you will find some great (but expensive) coffee spots. There is also a cat cafe in the area which we went to, but it was super depressing and really wasn’t worth a visit so I won’t even name it here.
We had some really great burgers at Critters Burgers close to Amerikamura. There was a line outside but like all restaurants in Japan it moved fast and the burgers were worth the wait. It’s not a big place but the decor inside is very cool. A great place for a quick lunch.
Nearby Dotonbori has a really fun atmosphere and seems to be busy no matter the time. Its worth scheduling two visits I would say, one during the day and one at night, so you can really take in all the lights and incredible restaurant fronts with over-sized crabs and octopuses. There is also some great souvenir stores in the area, so if you were hoping to get some novelty food magnets while you are in Osaka, this is a spot you won’t want to miss. We had dinner in this area twice at two different restaurants both of which were great. Chibo served okonomiyaki in a really lovely multistory space, and Daiki Suisan Sushi-Go-Round was a conveyor sushi place which had a little less in the way of atmosphere compared to Chibo but great sushi. Both restaurants serve plum wine, my favourite beverage, and a must try drink while you are in Japan. I think it would be hard to find a bad place to eat in Dotonbouri, it is so jam packed with delicious food that you are really spoiled for choice.
Speaking of food, Livie and I made it out personal mission to find some kick arse pancakes in Osaka and we 100% succeeded in that mission. And so I must recommend you make a visit to Northshore Cafe. Its located right on the Nakanoshima River with incredible views and even more amazing food. The pancakes we got there were the fluffiest pancakes I have even eaten in my life and were well worth the out of the way trip to get them. They serve the brunch menu from 7 to 11am.
And that about wraps it up for Osaka. Enjoy!