Home to Japan’s tallest building (Abeno Harukas), one of its oldest Buddhist shrines (Shitenno-ji), and some of the country’s most iconic street foods, Osaka is a truly awe-inspiring destination.
Japan’s second city has plenty to keep culture lovers, history buffs and wandering foodies entertained. There are lots of shrines and temples, a packed festival calender and even a couple of theme parks. Once you’ve ticked the main attractions like Osaka Castle, Dotonbori, and Universal Studios Japan off your to-do list, these five under-the-radar attractions are bound to keep you entertained.
Make your own souvenir at Maishima Pottery Museum
Osaka has a long history with pottery. Sueki pottery, which went on to influence other types of pottery, was invented here. The Maishima Pottery Museum is dedicated to local Naniwazuyaki pottery, made from marine clay sourced from Osaka Bay.
During your visit you can get hands-on and make your own pottery. They offer one-day courses teaching how to hand-form pottery, use a potter’s wheel or paint your pieces. Unfortunately you can’t take it home the same day – although they will ship it for an extra fee – but you can pick up some authentic pieces from the gift shop. If you’re hungry, you can grab lunch at the Maido Café – food and drinks are served from the Naniwazuyaki ceramics.
Pay your respect to student grub at the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum
We’ve all reached for a cup noodle during a lazy lunch break. The humble ramen is elevated to an art form at the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum. Each of the fun, colourful, and interactive exhibits takes you through the history of instant noodles. Did you know chicken ramen was the first ever flavour?
Walk through a tunnel lined with packaging from different instant ramen brands, sample rare flavours in the tasting room, or create your very own personalised packaging. You can pay extra for a masterclass in making your very own instant noodles from scratch. You’ll knead, spread, steam and flash-fry the dough before packaging it up to take home. Ideal for a jet-lagged hotel room snack.
Strengthen your relationship at the Tsuyu-no-Tenjinja Shrine
Osaka is studded with shrines, so picking just one or two to visit can be tough. That said, if the long-haul flight and general travel stress is taking its toll on your relationship, your best bet is Tsuyu-no-Tenjinja Shrine – locally known as O-hatsu Tenjin.
Although the shrine is more than a thousand years old, it’s most famous for the story of two star-crossed lovers – Ohatsu and Tokubei – who met in 1703. After family pressure to keep them apart, they met at the shrine and took their own lives. Today, people look for blessings from the unlucky couple, writing prayers for luck in love on wooden ema tablets and hanging them in the shrine. There’s also a love sanctuary where you can pray to a statue of the lovers.
As for the real-life Romeo & Juliet, their story has been turned into a bunraku puppet play, The Love Suicides at Sonezaki. Look out for performances of it at the National Bunraku Theatre while you’re in Osaka.
Embrace youth culture in American Village
Osaka’s answer to Harajuku, Amerikamura has been the beating-heart of hipster culture in Osaka since the 1970s. Back then it was famous for shops selling imported goods from the USA, hence the neighbourhood’s nickname. Start at Sankaku Koen Triangle Park and go for a wander.
There’s street art to admire, street food to sample, and plenty of cool shops and galleries to explore. Or simply go people-watching – there are always some unique fashions on display. At the weekend the area is even more lively, with flea markets and street performers. Hang around after dark – the nightlife is excellent, with lots of rock bars and nightclubs to hop between.
Live out your video game fantasies on a Go-Kart tour
If you’ve ever fancied zipping around the streets of Japan in a custom-made go-kart while dressed in a dinosaur onesie, now’s your chance. Street Kart Osaka offers one of the most unique – and probably the most fun – ways to see the city. Once you’ve chosen your costume and hopped into your car, you can choose your own music or chat to your friends using the communication band.
There’s also an in-car 4K camera so you can snap some action shots – just bring your own Micro-SD card, or rent one when you start your tour. The only other thing you’ll need is your International Driver’s Permit.