What to see and do in Osaka beyond the blossoms

The best things to do when you're done snapping the sakura

It says a lot about Osaka that one of its main tourist attractions when the city’s cherry blossoms aren’t in bloom is a giant billboard of a running man. But while it might suffer in comparison to the excitement and out-there weirdness of Tokyo – where doesn’t? – it’s unfair to dismiss Japan’s second biggest city as a bore. And if you’re headed there this spring, you’ll find there’s lots to enjoy once you’re done sniffing and snapping the sakura.

What to do

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You mean aside from seeing the running man sign, aka the Glico billboard? It’s a bizarre source of pride admittedly, but the Glico billboard – originally erected in 1935 – actually serves as a decent geographical anchor-point for you to get your bearings in the city.

For slightly more exciting moving images, you can head to Japan’s Universal Studios (2 Chome-1-33 Sakurajima, Konohana; usj.co.jp), or for lower-octane entertainment, you can take a trip to the Instant Ramen Museum (8-25 Masumi-cho, Ikeda-shi), which as the name suggests tracks the history of the pot noodle.

osaka canal

If Osaka isn’t exactly over-flowing with daytime activities, the city’s nightlife has plenty to offer. Tiny whisky and cocktail spot Bar K (1 Chome-3-3 Sonezakishinchi, Kita-ku; 06 6343 1167) is one for the serious drinker, while the more relaxed Space Station (2 Chome-13-3 Nishishinsaibashi, Chuo Ward; 80 4151 6336) serves reasonably priced drinks with a side of retro games consoles in the buzzing central area of Dotonbori.

Much of this buzz is courtesy of the main pedestrianised stretch of Dotonbori Street, stacked with tourist-luring snack spots with giant signs advertising their wares – a huge mechanical octopus with moving tentacles serves as a marker for classic takoyaki, for example. The massive imitation foodstuffs are one of many signifiers that eating is a big deal in Osaka, and one of the main things to do here is fill your stomach.

Where to eat

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In short: everywhere. Even the bad restaurants in Osaka are good; in a country that takes its eating very seriously, Osaka is renowned as a foodie favourite. It’s a well-trotted out line that the city’s maxim of kuidaore means ‘eat yourself into ruin’, and while there are so many Michelin stars here that they’re almost unremarkable, away from the tyred tips there are some bargainous street snacks and deliciously fresh seafood to be had.

A good place to start is the central Kuromon Market (2 Chome-4-1 Nipponbashi, Chuo-ku Ward; pictured above), which is akin to a pick-and-mix of assorted seafood, marbled beef cuts and pickled vegetables. It’s a little touristy, but the quality of the produce makes it a worthwhile visit, and you can happily put together your own lunch by wandering from tempura stand to yakitori grill to fresh uni stall.

The original branch of Fukutaro (3-17 Sennichimae 2 Chome, Chuo- ku; 06 6634 2951) is the place to go for the classic Osakan dish of okonomiyaki. Referred to on the menu as a ‘Japanese pizza’, but really more of a savoury pancake adorned with ground meat or sh, Fukutaro’s okonomiyaki are cooked on hot plates right in front of you at the central bar-like counter.

osaka market 2 (cropped)

If inexpensive, delicious sushi is your thing, stop into Namba’s Toki Sushi (4-21 Nanbasennichimae, Chuo-ku; 06 6632 0366). The restaurant is regularly packed, especially at lunchtime, when it attracts office-worker crowds for the unagi (eel). If you’re in search of noodles, there’s also a branch of famed ramen chain Ichiran (7-18 Soemoncho, Chuo-ku; 06 6212 1805) near the Glico man. It’s a classic study in impersonal Japanese efficiency: ramen are ordered via a form with minimal options while you queue outside, before you take a spot at a long counter (which can be divided off into your own private section should you be feeling especially anti-social) and wait for your noodles to be slapped down in front of you through a small window into the kitchen. The reason they can get away without such ‘service’? They make some of the best ramen in town.

How to get there

Flights from Shanghai to Osaka start from 605RMB one-way on Ctrip.

Where to stay

All the big brands are here, along with home-grown gems such as the Imperial Hotel Osaka, but be prepared to pay upwards of 900RMB a night for these. Alternatively, the sleek Drop Inn Osaka offers more bank balance-friendly bunk beds and tatami rooms from around 300RMB a night if you’re not too bothered about personal space.

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