The Top 10 Sights of Osaka, Japan

In Osaka, wild entertainment districts and theme parks alternate with tranquil temple complexes and observation towers that offer a view over the impressive metropolis. Travellers in Osaka should definitely visit the following 10 sights and places. 

After Tokyo and Yokohama, Osaka is the third largest city in Japan. For many Japan fans, Osaka even ranks first, because the city leaves nothing to be desired in terms of sights and exciting places to visit.

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Before travelling to Osaka: This is important to know

If you are planning a trip to Osaka - and perhaps your first ever trip to Japan - you should consider a few things beforehand. Japanese culture is quite different from Central European culture in some respects.

Non-Japanese should at least familiarise themselves with the most important customs and traditions as a sign of respect. The following are excerpts:

  • Japanese people don't shake hands to greet each other, they bow.
  • A "no" should always be avoided and better paraphrased. Frequent apologies express maximum respect for the other person.
  • You should always have business cards with you and hand them to new acquaintances with both hands.
  • Those who are invited home should take off their shoes before entering the door. The tips of the shoes should point towards the entrance door.
  • Sneezing and blowing your nose in public are considered rude. It is best to go to a toilet for this.
  • In Japan, people always keep their composure outside their own four walls. Strong emotional outbursts are not welcome.
  • In Japan, soups are not spooned, but slurped discreetly. To do this, the bowl is brought to the mouth and the food is pushed into the mouth. This is a good way to avoid spilling. By the way, chopsticks should never be inserted vertically into food - this is a sign reserved for the deceased in remembrance.
  • You don't tip in Japan. Guests should also not count their change in front of the waiters, unless they want to be seen as suspicious.
  • In the popular public baths, the "onsen", bathing clothes are not provided. Before bathing, one cleans oneself thoroughly with soap on a small stool. The soap must be rinsed off completely before entering a hot onsen.
  • In many onsen, tattoos are not welcome or even forbidden. Sometimes, however, it is possible to cover a tattoo. Plaster or, even better, special "foundation tape" is good for this.
Japan is a beautiful and fascinating country, but its culture is quite different from ours in some aspects - © siro46 - stock.adobe.com
© siro46 - stock.adobe.com

Be careful with your travel budget - Osaka holidays can be expensive

Apart from the cultural points, there are other things to consider before setting off, such as travel costs. These should not be underestimated, as Osaka is the tenth most expensive city in the world according to theEconomist Intelligence Unit. Even Tokyo is cheaper. That's why you should plan your entire trip well in advance and think carefully about which sights you want to see - and calculate your budget accordingly.

It's best to think well in advance about what you're going to pack in your suitcase and how you're going to save weight. Everything that you don't take with you and have to buy in Osaka during the trip can quickly overstretch your travel budget.

Incidentally, anyone travelling to Japan from the EU needs a tourist visa. This is automatically stamped in your passport when you enter the country and is valid for 90 days. Special vaccinations are not required for entry.

But here we go with our top 10 sights of Osaka!

Osaka Castle

Osaka Castle, the castle of Osaka is for many visitors one of the most spectacular buildings in Japan - © MoustacheGirl - stock.adobe.com
© MoustacheGirl - stock.adobe.com

Osaka Castle, or Osaka-jo in Japanese, is perhaps the city's most famous sight. For many, the eight-storey building is even one of the most spectacular structures in Japan. For photography lovers at least, the impressive castle is likely to be a real highlight of the city.

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The Osaka Castle was commissioned by the famous Japanese warrior and politician Toyotomi Hideyoshi. It was completed in 1586 after only 3 years of construction and was the largest castle in the country at the time.

Almost all military commanders under Hideyoshi had to contribute stones for the construction, with the largest stone - the Higo-ishi - being installed near the south entrance. It measures almost 6 metres in height and 14.5 metres in length. The famous General Kato Kiyomasa from Shodo Island contributed this stone.

After the defeat of Hideyoshi in 1615, the castle was destroyed, only to be rebuilt by the Tokugawa shoguns for prestige. After the fall of the shogunate, it was destroyed again. In 1931, the castle was finally rebuilt in its present form.

One of the highlights of the castle is the five-storey, 42-metre-high main tower. Today, it houses a large museum with exhibits on the history of the castle and the city. From the upper floors you also have a fantastic view over the whole of Osaka. Another sight is located in the castle park: the Hokoku Shrine, dedicated to Hideyoshi and his family.

Shitennō-ji Temple

The Shitennō-ji is Osaka's most famous temple and is located deep in the heart of the city. The temple's roots date back to 59 AD, making it the oldest Buddhist temple in Japan.

Over the centuries, the temple has been rebuilt several times - the last construction took place in the 1960s. However, the temple is still "active": it is the oldest religious site still officially under administration.

Highlights of the temple tour include the five-storey pagoda and a number of other ornate buildings. Especially the Golden Pavilion (Kondō) with its impressive statues and paintings, the Lecture Hall (Kōdō) and the beautiful covered corridor contribute to the photogenic image of Shitennō-ji Temple. Other buildings worth seeing in the complex are the teaching area, the pharmacy and the hospital.

The idyllic garden at Shitennō-ji Temple is also worth a tour. It is also the temple's special feature: although it is located in the middle of the city, it is nevertheless a small oasis of peace amidst the hustle and bustle of the busy metropolis.

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Hozenji Temple

Hozenji Temple (Hozenji Yokocho) is a small Buddhist temple in Osaka next to the busy Dotombori Street, Japan - © eyetronic - stock.adobe.com
© eyetronic - stock.adobe.com

Hozenji Temple (Hozenji Yokocho) is a small Buddhist temple next to the busy Dotombori Street. The temple became famous, among other things, through the novel "Meoto Zenzai" by Sakunosuke Oda.

The Hozenji Temple wasbuilt in 1637. After World War II, only the Fudō-Myōō statue survived the attacks. However, the entire temple area was soon rebuilt by the people of Osaka.

Compared to the Shitennō-ji temple, for example, the Hozenji temple may seem almost a little small. But the popular moss-covered Fudō-Myōō statue is quite impressive in its venerability and simultaneous whimsicality. The statue represents one of the five guardians (wisdom kings) of Buddhism. Like the Shitennō-ji Temple, the Hozenji Temple is a good opportunity for quiet contemplation in the midst of the big city.

Hozenji Temple is one of the few temples and shrines in the country that can be visited at night all year round. There are far fewer tourists here in the evening and at night, and the small place of tranquillity takes on a very special, calming atmosphere.

Before leaving the temple again, don't forget to look at the calligraphies of Harudani Katsura (the sign at the east gate) and Kambi Fujiyama (the sign at the west gate).

Tip: The lively alleys around the temple and especially Hozenji Yokocho Alley invite you to stroll and browse before or after visiting the temple. There are many restaurants here that are also worth a visit.

Namba Yasaka Shrine

The Namba Yasaka shrine in Osaka is shaped like a lion's head, making it look almost like the entrance to a ghost train, Japan - © PROMA - stock.adobe.com
© PROMA - stock.adobe.com

Perhaps one of the most unusual sights in Osaka that is not mentioned in every travel guide is the Namba Yasaka Shrine. The entire building, including the "stage", is designed in the shape of a lion's head, making it look almost like the entrance to a ghost train or other fairground attraction.

The mix of tradition, retro, modernity and futurism often found in Osaka is more than exemplified in the form of Namba Yasaka Shrine. It is located in the centre of Naniwa-ku, perhaps the city's flashiest entertainment district.

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The Lion's Head Stage was built in 1975, is 12 metres high and 7 metres deep. The huge lion's mouth is said to swallow evil spirits and bring good luck - especially to those who want to achieve good results at school and at work. For this reason, many people especially visit the shrine during exam time or at the beginning and end of the financial year.

On the third Sunday in January, the annual festival of the shrine takes place, the highlight of which is a big tug-of-war competition. This is meant to simulate the myth of "Susanoo" and "Yamata no Orochi". According to the myth, the deity of the shrine once killed a giant snake and thus brought peace to the people of today's Namba region.

For a visit to the Namba Yasaka Shrine, we recommend early morning, as there are usually no tourists there yet. Instead, locals tend to gather for prayer at this time - a special moment.

Umeda Sky Building

Not only the temples and shrines of Osaka are truly breathtaking and represent architectural highlights. The same applies to some of the city's museums and art galleries as well as skyscrapers and office buildings.

One of these highlights of modern architecture is the Umeda Sky Building (Umeda Sukai Biru). The city's impressive landmark consists of two office towers connected at the top by a large platform-like structure.

The building has a height of 173 metres and allows visitors a panoramic view of Osaka from the observation deck that you won't find anywhere else. The Umeda Sky Building's roof structure is one of the most popular tourist attractions for precisely this reason.

Every day between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m., quite a few people visit the network of bridges high up on the building, which offers a breathtaking view into the depths. If you don't have a head for heights, it's best to stay on the ground.

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The Kōbe Port Tower

The Kōbe Port Tower stands out against the backdrop of the main harbor with its 108 meters and distinctive exterior, Osaka, Japan - © leungchopan - stock.adobe.com
© leungchopan - stock.adobe.com

The Kōbe Port Tower is also one of Osaka's tallest structures and is also one of the city's most popular landmarks. With its 108 metres and distinctive exterior, it stands out against the backdrop of the main harbour.

Although it is a little further from the city centre, it is one of the must-see attractions in Osaka. Of course, many tourists know this, which is why the tower is usually well visited.

Opened in 1963, the earthquake-proof red steel structure has retained its modern look - the tower is timeless and architecturally unique. From the observation deck, you have a breathtaking view over the city and the bustling harbour area of Kōbe.

If you're hungry, you can treat yourself to a meal in the revolving restaurant. Especially when it is already dark outside, a visit is worthwhile: through the large windows, you have a special view of the illuminated city during dinner.

Dotonbori District and Dotonbori River

Constantly shining neon signs, colourful lanterns, quaint little restaurants and arcades: All this can be found in Osaka's entertainment district: the Dotonbori district. Nowhere else in Osaka is strolling around at night as much fun as here.

Dotonbori is especially worth a visit for typical Japanese restaurants. Large signs in the shape of sea creatures such as octopuses or crabs point the way to one or the other restaurant where you can enjoy a rich meal. Incidentally, street food stalls offering real delicacies can be found all over Osaka.

For a short break from the busy streets, take a detour to the Dotonbori River. The river flows right through the centre of Minami and Nanba and is best viewed and accessed from Ebisubashi Bridge. Here you can also set off on the Tombori River Walk and stroll along the river.

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Shinsekai district

If you're into Asian culture and Asian art design, you'll get your money's worth in the Shinsekai district, Osaka, Japan - © carlusgg - stock.adobe.com
© carlusgg - stock.adobe.com

What Dotonbori is to food, Shinsekai is to shopping: here you can be tempted by a new temptation at almost every corner. But anyone visiting Shinsekai for the first time could easily be overwhelmed. Because the entire district almost seems to come from a kind of parallel universe.

The quarter was built in 1912 with the intention of giving the citizens of the city a kind of glimpse into the future. Therefore, the neighbourhood is accordingly colourful, crazy and experimental in design. Those who are interested in Asian culture and Asian art design will get their money's worth in Shinsekai. Film visions from "Blade Runner" and "The Fifth Element", but also the atmosphere from films by Wong Kar-Wai or novels by the Japanese master Murakami send their regards.

Here is another tower, the Tsūtenkaku Tower (formerly "Osaka Tower"). It is located in the middle of Shinsekai and offers a fantastic view of the city with its height of 103 metres. The construction is inevitably reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Amerikamura district

Amerikamura (or America-mura) is the third district that visitors to Osaka should definitely see. It is perhaps the most modern and hippest district of the city and is considered the centre of Japanese youth culture.

In Amerikamura you will find countless modern cafés, vintage shops, galleries and similar businesses that you would otherwise expect to find in trendy cities like Berlin, New York or Los Angeles. It's not without reason that the district is called Amerikamura, which translates as "American village".

However, the neighbourhood only got this name in the 1980s. Before that, there was only one really trendy café here. However, due to its popularity, it became such a popular meeting place that young people from the entire Kansai region gathered there. Over time, the whole neighbourhood became a hub of youth culture.

Universal Studios Osaka

Universal Studios Japan has only been around since 2001, but it is already one of the most popular attractions in Osaka, Japan - © wiangya - stock.adobe.com
© wiangya - stock.adobe.com

Universal Studios Japan has only been around since 2001, but it is already one of Osaka's most popular attractions and one of Japan's busiest destinations when it comes to movies and video games.

Around 10 million visitors a year come to Universal Studios - hardly any other places in the city can boast such impressive visitor numbers. But since the studios are quite spacious, you don't usually have to fear unpleasant crowds.

As one of five Universal theme parks worldwide, the Osaka location offers a number of well-known pop culture franchises. One of the latest additions is "Hollywood Dream: The Ride". This roller coaster not only goes forwards but also backwards and is definitely not for the faint-hearted. There are also family-friendly areas such as "Universal Wonderland", where travellers with younger children feel particularly at home.

For Nintendo fans, Super Nintendo World, which opened on 4 February 2021, is a dream come true. The attraction combines the most famous Nintendo themes and characters in its own area: Mario and Luigi as well as Bowser and many other fictional characters can be encountered here in life size.

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