Osaka: Bullet Train, Food, Nightlife, Aquarium, & Wanderings

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After exploring Tokyo, it was time to head to Osaka, the Japan’s second-largest city.

Bullet train

We left Tokyo via bullet train (Shinkansen) for the journey of about 500 kilometers. It took a little over 3 hours, not including getting to and from the train stations on either side. One-way tickets were ~$145 for the fare and seat reservation.

Because we departed from the Shinjuku station near where we stayed at the Hilton Tokyo, travel time was minimal (~20 minutes, if that).

We had reserved seats, though the midday train was only at about half capacity. An attendant came through every so often to offer snacks and coffee, but I noticed savvier riders unwrapping their pre-packaged meals on board.

The train was clean, the seats were comfy, and the overall experience was positive. Watching the scenery flying by was hypnotic.

On this day, the clouds gathered low to the ground. For that reason, we only got the faintest glimpse of Mount Fuji in the distance. But I bet on a clear day, the views would be incredible!

From Tokyo to Osaka, you’ll see Mount Fuji from the right side of the train. It’s huge. You literally can’t miss it.

The bullet train was awesome! Calming, actually. No squealing metal and sparks of fire shooting out from the wheels *cough* New York City MTA *cough*

Eating Osaka

We got to Osaka around 3 or 4pm, and headed to the hotel to check-in.

After we set our things down, we turned right back around in pursuit of a late lunch.

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TOMATO RAMEN WHAT

Pro tip: Osaka is super super cash-y and ATMs that accept foreign debit cards are hard to come by. Bring cash from Tokyo or the airport if you can!

We ended up at this ramen restaurant where they had… TOMATO ramen. I’d never heard of that before, and I love tomatoes, so that was a huge hell yeah. It was dee-lish!

Afterward, we headed to the Amerikamura neighborhood, kinda near Dotonbori – which is insane. So many shops, cafes, and a huge selection of the street food Osaka is known for.

Osaka street food

Osaka street food – octopus tentacle, anyone?

We tried melon pan ice cream from a food trailer.

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Outside the melon pan food trailer

It was the second most delicious melon pan ice cream in the world, lol.

We wandered some more and wound up at this totally random restaurant with hot pots. But I got a little of this ‘n’ that, including a fresh sushi roll, a couple of skewers, and a soup.

To find it, look for the gigantic blowfish next to the disembodied hand holding a piece of sushi.

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It’s upstairs

Dotonbori is jam-packed full of more restaurants than you’ll ever be able to try. Have a loose idea of what you want, and be open to trying a new place. The prices were all very reasonable.

I passed a craft beer cafe along the way and made a mental note to return to it. But when we headed back to the train, I couldn’t find it again… this area is so dense you may have a hard time navigating. Google Maps is a lifesaver here!

Nightlife

We were in Osaka during the week. Even still, peeps were out and (ab)out.

Same deal as Tokyo, with the microbars on the upper floors of lit-up buildings. But, more commonly, we found small bars on a ground floor.

Out and Out in Osaka

Out and Out in Osaka

We ended up hanging out at Frenz-Frenzy for a while – to take in the psychedelic decor and incredibly strong, cheap drinks. 🙂

Most of the gay bars are concentrated in the Kita Ward.

Most bars are within a few blocks of each other

Most bars are within a few blocks of each other

Regardless of if you want gay bars or not, you’ll most likely end up here if you want any type of nightlife or shopping. Because everything is all mixed together. Like Dotonbori, it’s incredibly dense. But the focus here is on bars and shops instead of restaurants – although you can find a little of everything here.

It was so bright, it looked like day even well into the evening. I imagine on the weekends it turns into quite the scene.

Kita is a must-visit area.

Wanderings

Wanted to share a few other photos, to show more of Osaka.

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Pop art as big as a building.

There was a huge Roy Lichtenstein image on the side of an entire building. We passed it on the way to America Mura,

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The street lamps shaped like people holding lights

Even the street lamps were whimsical. There are also huge sections devoted to street art and graffiti. Be on the lookout for several murals around town, if you’re into that.

Shopping in America Mura

Shopping in America Mura

Osaka nights

Osaka nights

On the whole, I found Osaka to be grittier, and in a lot of ways, more chill, than Tokyo. I loved the vibe there. I dare say I liked it more!

Leaving Dotonbori

Leaving Dotonbori

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One of Osaka’s many bridges

It’s very much a city of neighborhoods. Each ‘hood has its speciality or thing it’s known for.

It’s also a mish-mash of admittedly bland architecture with totally unexpected flourishes. Osaka is a city of details. Like Tokyo, you’ll be aptly rewarded if you pay attention to how the experience all comes together.

Aquarium

It rained all during our last day in Osaka, so we wanted something that was fun but inside. We hopped on the train and went to the Osaka Aquarium – the #2 thing to do in Osaka, according to TripAdvisor.

A ticket cost about ~$23 – and was well worth it.

There were hammer sharks, penguins, dolphins, jellyfish, and lots of other sea creatures throughout the aquarium.

Jellyfish

Jellyfish

The design is set so you start at the top and wind your way down, including around the large centerpiece aquarium with the sharks inside.

I appreciated the design once I figured out its thoughtfulness. Aside from the center, there were many small hallways that led to tanks of smaller fish, so you could study them more closely.

Penguins

Penguins

The visit was surprisingly interesting. Before I knew it, nearly 4 hours had passed. During that time, we didn’t feel rushed, the crowds weren’t that bad in the middle of the week, and I loved the overall setup of the place.

There was a very mixed crowd there. Infants to the elderly, and everyone in between.

It’s one of those things you should see once, especially if you want a fun rainy day activity.

Bottom line

Now that I’m back, I find my memories of Osaka are just as vivid and sentimental as my time in Tokyo.

Osaka has a totally different vibe – a little more down-to-earth, a bit rough around the edges – whereas Tokyo is a thoroughly scrubbed and polished metropolis. There’s really no comparing the two. I loved them both!

Tokyo got the lion’s share of my time in Japan, so I’ll be sure to spend more time in Osaka next time – and venture to Kyoto, too. And it can’t come fast enough!

If you’ve been to Osaka, feel free to share your favorite things to do there!

Editorial Note: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

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About Harlan

Just a dude living in Dallas.

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