Authored by Kim-Ling Richardson
Whilst Tokyo is the popular big city for tourists, Osaka is the darling sister, holding a charm that can’t be denied. It has all the culture, attractions and delicious food you can expect from a Japanese city, though with the bonus of less crowds and congested streets.
Perfect for families, or those who prefer a slightly quieter, but still fulfilling, Japanese holiday, Osaka is the place to visit. Here is our list of highlights and attractions you shouldn’t miss!
Universal Studios & Universal City
If you’re a ‘big kid’ (or have some of your very own), Universal Studios Japan should be your first stop in Osaka. I am the former, and was truly in my element among the whimsical buildings, larger-than-life cartoon characters and HARRY POTTER WORLD (enough said, right?).
2016 marks USJ’s 15th Anniversary, so there are plenty of special events held throughout the theme park, including colourful parades, Minion-themed foods, stores and concerts.
For Fans of the Wizarding World …
For fans of the wizarding world, a visit to Universal Studios Japan is a must. Unlike its international counterparts, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at USJ is separated from the rest of the park by a haunting forest of pine trees, emitting owl sounds and familiar music from the movies.
Walking through the forest towards Hogsmead (the magical village) allows visitors to forget the muggle world and truly immerse themselves into the magical world of Harry Potter. And it’s hard to remember that this is all make-believe.
Enjoy a sweet, refreshing glass of Butterbeer and visit the different magic stores as you make your way towards Hogwarts Castle. You can even visit Ollivander’s Wand Shop to purchase your very own magic wand to cast spells throughout the village, such as lighting a chimney or making objects move at the wave of your wand and command. (if you’re still inspired at the end of the day, enjoy the instant free readings online and gain a bit of experience on casting all types of spells).
Though the highlight has to be Hogwarts and the ‘Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey’ ride. An indoor rollercoaster, utilising the best of virtual reality glasses, you are swept up into the magical world of Hogwarts, a quidditch match, the forbidden forest and more. The exhilarating 5-minute ride goes way too fast though, and will leave you wishing you had more time to do it all over again.
Beyond the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Beyond the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, there is a land of wonderful attractions and rides, including Jurassic Park’s ‘Flying Dinosaur’ – a new and insane roller-coaster, that has been named the world’s longest ‘flying roller coaster’ (putting the rider headfirst into a ‘flying’ position), reaching incredible speeds, heights and even 360 degree turns!
For those visiting in time for Christmas, there are plenty of family shows, restaurant promotions (including a delicious Christmas roast) sparkly decorations and a stunning light concert, called ‘The Gift of Angels III – The Voice of an Angel’. This was truly one of the best light installation/Christmas concerts I’ve witnessed and worth getting a good seat for!
If you plan to visit Universal Studios Japan, pair it with a stay in one of the many hotels in Universal City, such as Hotel Keihan or Universal Port Hotel. It saves the hassle of getting to USJ, as you can literally stroll down from your room, straight to the entrance of the theme park. There are plenty of exciting shops and restaurants in the precinct, making your stay and visit to USJ a perfect match.
Did you know Japan was home to over 2,000 castles at one point in history? Osaka Castle is one of the long-standing remaining castles, despite having faced its fair share of challenges over the centuries.
Originally constructed in the 16th century on the site of Ishiyama Honganji (monastic temple), Osaka Castle has managed to stay standing in spite of war, fire and even a lightning strike, thanks to continued reconstruction and restoration projects.
Walking up to Osaka Castle is a wonderful experience in itself, especially in autumn when stunning maple leaves display their fiery hues. It’s hard not to be taken back in awe looking up as the castle looms imposingly ahead. It now acts as a museum, with each of its seven floors exhibiting fascinating artifacts, models and installations, covering the history of the castle and the famous samurai general Hideyoshi Toyotomi. The eighth floor offers wonderful panoramic views of Osaka City.
Aquarium Kaiyukan is a fantastic way to spend the day in Osaka. It attempts to recreate the natural environment around the Pacific Rim over eight floors, including ecosystems from the Japanese forest, Ecuador Rain Forest, Antarctica, Great Barrier Reef and the Pacific Ocean.
Each exhibition offers plenty of room to see the animals and their habitats, and also offer additional interesting information (for those of us with a curious mind!). The most impressive part however, is the Pacific Ocean feature, which is a 9m deep, 34m long tank, positioned in the centre of the building, and visible from the spiralling ramp over three levels.
Watching whale sharks, manta rays and other marine species glide peacefully through the water is almost hypnotising, and it’s easy to let the time slip by. The aquarium also houses interactive exhibits, including the opportunity to touch sharks (something I couldn’t resist)!
Minami and Dotonbori have the atmosphere you come to expect from a Japanese city. Shops and restaurants line the streets, accompanied by massive neon signs that flash and sing with rolling advertisements. I loved the buzzing atmosphere of this area, especially as the sun went down and the neon lights turned on.
The Dotonbori river comes to life with river cruises carrying happy tourists, the streets are filled with crowds, all rushing to get to their next appointment and the shops display all kinds of exciting goods, from beauty products, to kitchen utensils, shoes and watches.
There are plenty of restaurants, bars and cafes to choose from and if you love to ‘shop til you drop’, you can’t resist checking out Don Quijote, a six-storey store filled with just about everything you can think of and open 24-7! With bright lights, busy cash registers and overflowing aisles filled with bags, costumes, make-up, cameras and food, I found I suddenly wasn’t tired even though it was 10pm!
Keitakuen Garden is exactly what you would expect from a Japanese garden – beautiful leafy trees, a serene pond inhabited with large goldfish and cranes and a lovely traditional wooden house to rest.
It’s very easy to forget that right outside the garden walls lie the busy city (although, if you look up, you might just spot the Harukas 300 tower). Whilst I’m sure it would be beautiful during any season, autumn is a pretty spectacular time to visit.
For ease of travel (and to save money!), you can purchase the Osaka Amazing Pass, which includes unlimited all-day bus and train travel, entrance to 30 tourist attractions and additional discounts with participating retailers.
If you are short on time, JTB offer a 1-Day Osaka Bus Tour for ¥13,900 per adult / ¥12,900 per child, covering the Nambayasaka Shrine, Osaka Castle, lunch, Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine and Daisen Park. For more information, check out www.japanican.com/en
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