The city Osaka is the capital of Osaka Prefecture, the second most populous area of Japan after Tokyo Prefecture. Historically a merchant center, Osaka nowadays has retained its commercial status, with many retail and wholesale shops. It’s also a culinary center in its own right, though the regional cuisine is much different from what you would find in Tokyo. There are many different sections of the city that highlight an older, traditional past and a modern present.
Osaka has no shortage of things to do, especially as one of the premier cities to eat, drink, and shop in Japan. Shopping is concentrated in Chuo and Kita in large malls and arcades. At Umeda’s Underground Shopping Area, five avenues radiate out from the center. There’s also Namba Parks, with rooftop gardens and a movie theater in addition to the stores. Bars — everything from swanky jazz establishments to nightclubs — can be found in the Umeda, Namba, Shinsaibashi and America-mura districts. If you’re looking to get a dose of culture on your trip, the city has many places to go. Osaka Castle is the city’s most famous landmark, and was historically significant in the unification of Japan. The city also have many museums, including Osaka Maritime Museum, Peace Osaka (about World War II), and the Osaka Museum of History. There are also temples and shrines that give visitors a peek into Japanese culture, including the Isshinji Temple nearby.
If you’re in Osaka for a few days, you must go to Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan where the emperor resided until late into the nineteenth century, located only about an hour away. While there make sure to visit Nijo Castle, Kinkaku-ji Temple, Kyoto imperial Palace and Kitano Tenman-gu Shrine. Unlike other large cities like Osaka and Tokyo, Kyoto is much more culturally traditional. Nara, where the Great Buddha of Todai-ji Temple resides, is nearby Kyoto and perfect to finish your day away from Osaka. If you’re in Osaka for longer, other options for day trips are the port city of Kobe and the mountain-top Koyasan, which has beautiful Buddhist temples.
Osaka has a handful of distinct neighborhoods visitors can choose from when staying in the city. The main distinction, though, is between Umeda in the north and Namba in the south. The most common place tourists stay is Namba, the entertainment region full of restaurants and shopping, and an easy gateway to other cities of Japan through the station. Other areas include Tennoji, where the city’s zoo is located; Osaka Castle, where the landmark is located; and Bay Area, an amusement area that is home to Universal Studios Japan and an aquarium.
Osaka is a large city and not completely walkable, meaning you’ll want to utilize the bus, subway, and rail systems located in the city. If you’re traveling within the city, you can take the Osaka Subway, which costs 200-360 Japanese yen each way, or about $2-$3.50. There is also a train, the JR Osaka Loop Line, that runs around the city, making some travel within the city possible. If you’re staying for a little bit and feel comfortable on two wheels, rent a bicycle — most of the city is flat and easily navigable. Trains will also take you to nearby cities such as Kyoto and rail passes can be purchased if you plan to travel frequently during your time in Japan.
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