At first sight, Osaka just seems like a regular metropolis with not much to offer in terms of culture. If it was not for its proximity with Kyoto, a lot of foreign visitors would even skip it just based on its notorious attractions. However, for some reason almost every foreigner I have met, whether they are just visiting or living in Japan, seem to just feel something when visiting this city.
Based on their reputation, people from Osaka are real epicureans and their notable figure proves it. They do enjoy their food and the city is filled with very cool bars or restaurants. My personal favourites are the standing ones which are usually tiny places, sometimes sort of outdoors, and where it’s so easy to socialise with the locals. Takoyaki (octopus balls) and okonomiyaki (filled salty pancakes) are of course some traditional dishes that you will find everywhere and they taste so much better than anywhere else in Japan. Other than the local food, the city also offers delectable foreign cuisine. The neighbourhood of Korean Town for instance offers a different vibe. I particularly enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere in Osaka in general. It felt you could talk and laugh out loud without the disapproving looks.
The locals and the vibe:
The locals are most certainly what defines the atmosphere in the city. I personally have never set foot in a small local place without encountering Osakans trying to engage in a conversation. They are undeniably less shy than their compatriots from Tokyo and they will try to communicate even with very limited English or sometimes with no English at all. This is also why it is a great place to work on your Japanese skills. The locals seem so eager to interact that they will try really hard to understand you. Neighbourhoods like Dotonbori are very popular among tourists, but the local scene is most definitely vibrant and this is where your most memorable encounters will take place.
Nature & power spot :
If despite all these attributes, you are still not convinced a big town can be attractive then this last point might persuade you. Surprisingly, Osaka is not just a big metropolis, if you look for it you can find a lot of nature nearby. One very good example is Minoo Park. It is on the outskirts of the city, but still at a reasonable distance from the centre which makes for a perfect day out in the green. You can go for a hike through the forest, visit some shrines along the way and within an hour finally end up by a splendid waterfall. That particular point is also famous for being a “power spot” where you should feel some sort of energy. I found that out only after going there, but that would explain why once sitting right in front of that fall I just had to stare at it for hours and could not leave. That was a superb meditation session.
The hike itself is a very easy one as the terrain is mostly flat. Therefore, you do not need to be in great shape to make it all the way to the end. If you are struggling, you will come across a lot of elderly Japanese people putting you to shame when overtaking you.
I know everybody is fond of the autumn leaves in Kyoto. What can be more beautiful than a Japanese temple surrounded by beautiful red, orange and yellow trees? Nonetheless, Minoo National Park also makes for a lovely sightseeing spot in the fall. Coming back to the topic of food again, the place is also renown for a sweet made of deep fried maple leaves and I mean actual maple leaves.
Proximity to Kyoto:
The fact that Osaka is right next to Kyoto makes it easy to just hop on the train and spend a day visiting temples and hanging around traditional spots like Gion or Pontocho Alley. That is why foreign tourists often combine the visit of those two cities in one trip.
Naturally, most visitors give in to their fascination for Tokyo at first. Nonetheless, after visiting Osaka they often get enchanted by this vibrant city that offers ineffable qualities.