Boasting the largest population outside of the capital, Osaka Prefecture is located in the centre of Kinki region in mid-west Japan.
But this compact city is not just filled with people; it also bursts with incredible architecture, buzzing nightlife, a tasty street food scene and attractions aplenty, including Universal Studios and the world-renowned Kaiyukan Aquarium.
With mountains surrounding three sides, the west-facing the arc-shaped Osaka Bay, and its proximity to the former capitals of Kyoto and Nara, Osaka has prospered over the years as a commercial centre and port city. Split into two major city centres – Minami (Southern Downtown) and Kita (Northern Downtown) – you’ll discover plenty to explore here during a tailormade tour of Japan, and what’s more, it takes only 2 hours 30 minutes to Shin Osaka Station from Tokyo Station via the high-speed ‘bullet’ train JR Tokaido Shinkansen Line.
Highlights of the Kita area include the huge underground mall at Umeda station, with its restaurants, shops and boutiques. Minami is renowned for its entertainment district filled with bars, theatres, cinemas and dining venues.
Don’t miss Dotonbori, a street that runs parallel to the canal of the same name and a foodie hub. Here there are hundreds of food stalls to sample unusual Japanese delicacies, with a cool, laidback atmosphere that is very typical of modern Japanese culture. At night the street is lit by hundreds of neon lights and mechanised signs – including the famous Glico Running Man sign – making it a great stop for those with an interest in night photography.
For culture, venture to the Osaka Castle and its surrounding park, where you’ll find the 600 cherry trees of Nishinomaru Garden; during cherry blossom season in the spring this park is especially crowded thanks to the hanami (cherry blossom festival). Or for retail therapy, there’s the Tenpo-zan Harbour, and the ATC (Asia Pacific Trade Centre); Japan’s largest outlet mall. The kids meanwhile will love Kaiyukan Aquarius – one of the biggest aquariums in the world – and Universal Studios on Osaka’s waterfront.