She Won't Be Getting Carpet Sample Faxes
October 22, 2010 5:49 PM   Subscribe

JapanFilter: My friend is going to be in Osaka for a MONTH alone on business. She knows no one there, speaks very little Japanese, and will be all in all pretty bored. What are cool things she can do? Where are places she can hang out? Are there English websites she can read for ideas?
posted by aliceinreality to Travel & Transportation around Osaka, Japan (18 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite has nice travel guides for most major Japanese cities. When I was in Osaka I used it to find many things to do.

Osaka is at the center of one of the largest urban areas in the entire world. There is always something to do. My favorites were the castle and the Umeda, Namba, and Shinsaibashi areas of Osaka (all of which are directly north-south from each other along a major road). There is also the Shin Tennō-ji temple and the Osaka Temmangu shrine. The Osaka history museum is next to the castle and is very cool. The Osaka castle park has a very large concert hall/event center and there always seems to be something going on there.

Osaka is also very close to Kyoto and Nara, which are very much worth going to. Also Kobe. Access to those cities on the train is very convenient and inexpensive, and all take less than 1 hour. They are perfect for day trips, or even for half-days. The Hyperdia website ( gives train schedules in English.

If she is going to be admitted to Japan on a temporary visitor visa, she can buy a Japan Rail Pass and use it to travel to other parts of Japan. The JR pass has to be purchased before she gets to Japan.

My number one recommendation is for her to get a good map of Osaka, preferably in English since she can't read Japanese. The street address system in Japan is completely different than in other places and a map is necessary. Mine is in Japanese and is about the size of a small paperback book. Each page is one part of the map, and the inside cover shows which page covers which part of the city. There were English versions in the bookstore where I bought mine. In a bookstore, she should look for the section called "chizu" (地図), which means "maps".

My other recommendation is that she purchase an Icoca card. All of the train companies in the Osaka area accept it. It can be purchased from vending machines in JR stations. The initial purchase is about 2000 yen, 500 of which is a deposit on the card, and the rest of which is available for train fare. She can tap it on the top of turnstyles to enter and exit train stations. If she doesn't get an Icoca card, she has to buy the correct type of ticket for the train company she is using, which is a pain in the butt.
posted by twblalock at 6:12 PM on October 22, 2010

SpaWorld. It's wonderful.
posted by Xurando at 6:19 PM on October 22, 2010

Japanese pronunciation is straightforward (no tones, no stressing) and imo, easy. A good phrasebook should take her a long way.

I've found that a map with Japanese AND English is best (or two maps) for asking directions, because people WILL help you, but many can't read English. Sorry I can't recommend anything specific; mine are in storage

I've never encountered people who are more helpful to visitos than the Japanese. It's really a pleasure traveling there.
posted by cyndigo at 6:51 PM on October 22, 2010

twblalock has covered the best sources for info (and good lord, she must get to Kyoto if nowhere else!) but I just wanted to add: of all the cities in the world a person could be "stuck" for a month, Osaka is not one in which I think it is possible to be bored...unless she tries really, really hard. merely going out and walking around the city will be an assault on her visual, auditory, and olfactory senses.

I've called central Japan home for 16 years and Osaka is still the go-to place when I need a little sensory overload and excitement.
posted by squasha at 7:03 PM on October 22, 2010

Kyoto isn't far--she can go there pretty easily. So much to see and do! (Get a good guidebook. I like Rough Guide, but I don't have an opinion on its Kansai coverage as opposed to anyone else's.)

Food info in English:
Osaka & Kobe restaurant reviews on

Various random sights and sites:
The Tale of Genji museum
The Sakai City Cultural Hall has a tiny Alphonse Mucha museum if she likes his art (and a Yosano Akiko museum--little to read in English of hers there, but there are books of her poems in English), and it's super easy to get to.
Quirky Japan: Kansai
Kansai Scene
Festivals and events: Osaka
Matsuri (festival) list
Meetups near Osaka

I hope she has a good time!
posted by wintersweet at 7:04 PM on October 22, 2010

Kansai has enough worthwhile tourist attractions to easily occupy whatever free time she has in her month. I'm going to assume she knows about those and will go to the ones that most interest her. While the big attractions are definitely worth going to, there are tons of seasonal things going on that are probably equally worthy. For example, there are a lot of museums in the Kansai area (art, history, manga, whatever), and they regularly have great travelling exhibits. Different temples/shrines have a constant stream of festivals/ceremonies that are probably more rewarding than going somewhere famous to take a postcard picture (ideally she could do both, but a month isn't that much time).

The following are two monthly publications that will highlight what is going on when your friend is in Osaka. Disclaimer - I left the country 5 years ago so the quality of these publications may have changed (for the better or worse).

Kansai Scene is a magazine that has a good listing of events/exhibits/shows in the Kansai area.

Kyoto Visitor's Guide is Kyoto specific, and has a greater emphasis on traditional Japanese events.

Kyoto station also has a tourist office that will be able to hook your friend up with what is going on in the area and possibly give her some free tickets for things.

There's also Japanzine, but it doesn't have as much of a focus on the Kansai area.

Also, there is a brand of cheese crackers there called Cheeza. These crackers are quite good. They can be found at most any convenience store.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 7:04 PM on October 22, 2010

If she likes aquariums at all, she should check out the Osaka Aquarium. There's a few nice exhibits and then the trail starts wrapping around this huge 30 feet deep tank.

I second seeing Kyoto, and Nara is a nice daytrip.
posted by dragoon at 7:05 PM on October 22, 2010

I have nothing to say other than if she likes food she should eat some takoyaki! And, you know, she should hunt down some good ramen too (incidentally, I just found that site searching for "osaka ramen," but looks like it may have other good Osaka stuff...).
posted by dubitable at 7:48 PM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, okonomiyaki is awesome, and while you can get it anywhere in Japan, I guess it's associated with Kansai; she should try it if she hasn't had it. A lot of places you make it yourself with a little grill at your table, although usually the waitstaff will help you if you are an ignorant gaijin.

I think I may be hungry.

I'm really jealous of her! She'll have a blast. I'll also repeat what cyndigo said about the Japanese being nice to tourists; they are really really nice to tourists in my experience and I've only been to Tokyo—supposedly, folks from Osaka are extra friendly. There's a stereotype about comedians being from Osaka (dunno actually if you'd call it a stereotype since I think it is true that more comedians are from there). But I digress.
posted by dubitable at 7:55 PM on October 22, 2010

This has a lot of info about sightseeing in Osaka - I check it from time to time even though I live here just to see what sort of of things I haven't done yet.
posted by emmling at 10:15 PM on October 22, 2010

Getting the Iccoa card makes life easier getting around on trains, second that.

This map has all of the private (NON-JR) train and subway lines in Kansai in English. Good reference.

If she's going to be here soon, seeing the changing leaves will be in effect. Arashiyama (easy access on the Hankyu trains) would be a nice trip. Also seeing some of the temples on the east side of Kyoto at night all lit up would be nice--but crowed.

Staying overnight at an onsen ryokan (hotspring hotel w/ full Japanese style dinner and breakfast) would be worth trying. Since it's close, Arima Onsen, near Kobe, would be a good option. If she's already a fan of going to hot springs in the USA, she should look into trying out a local sento or super-sento bathhouse. (If she is, I can recommend one for her near her hotel/apartment.)

If she's into drinking a good place to meet some fellow English speakers, who aren't too crazy, would be the Blarney Stone in Umeda or Shinsaibashi. A bit out of the way, but also good bet, would be the Wexford Tavern in Nishinomiya. Disclosure: I work there on occasion. I recommend it because the regulars who come who are Japanese are for the most part good English speakers, the foreigners are mostly long term residents with lots of experience and families here in Japan. It's more of a neighborhood bar and not a party, or pick-up bar.

Riding Kansai's three remaining streetcar lines is a very cheap tour of some typical neighborhoods in Kyoto and Osaka.

People watching at JR/Keihan Kyobashi station and Hankyu Umeda is fun.

Walking around the Den-Den (Nipponbashi) area of Osaka is great if she wants to see the girls dressed up like maids and other anime stuff and/or she likes computers/tech stuff.

I live in Nishinoimya (15 min by train from Osaka) and wouldn't mind answering any questions she might have about getting around or daily life kinda things.
posted by sleepytako at 10:58 PM on October 22, 2010

Seconding Arima onsen and Kobe! Drooling over the possibility of okonomiyaki (yes it is an Osaka food), and would like to add takoyaki (if you are up for octopus) and kushikatsu.

Kansai Scene is indeed a good publication, as far as foreigner publications go.

Another note on the Icoca card: you can add more money to it and keep using it. There is no discount, but it does beat having to look for your destination and its price on the often-Japanese-only maps and wait in line to pay for the old paper ticket.
posted by whatzit at 12:26 AM on October 23, 2010

I'm surprised nobody has mentioned the Umeda Sky Building. I've happily spent many hours watching the world go by from the best vantage point in the city.

For getting out of Osaka, I'd recommend taking Hankyu trains (running out of Umeda station, next to JR Osaka). Ticket prices are much more reasonable than JRs too. If going into Kyoto, you get out right in the heart of the city, as opposed to the JR station which is a bit too far south. Speaking of which, JR Kyoto station is a tourist attraction in itself. The view from the top floor is comparable to what you pay for at Kyoto Tower. By the way, I really can't recommend Nijo Castle in Kyoto less. If your friend wants to see a proper castle, Himeji has it.

For seeing the autumn leaves, Arashiyama in northern Kyoto is terribly overrated and is always overrun with tourists. I'd recommend taking the train up to Omihachiman over in Shiga prefecture. There's a cable car to the mountain top where you get some awesome views as well as plenty of autumn leaves action.

Couchsurfing is a good way of meeting new people when you're new to the city, and there are a fair few members in Osaka. You don't need to host or surf, just ask people if they want to meet up for a coffee. CS members are often more than happy to show you around or give you some tips, so definitely worth a try.
posted by Juso No Thankyou at 5:13 AM on October 23, 2010

If she lands at Kansai International Airport (KIX) she can go straight to the tourist information desk on the first floor (they speak English) and pick up a free English map that details all the train routes in Kansai (it's called 'Map of Kansai'). I always pick up copies of these whenever I travel through KIX or go and meet people there.

For other information I like the JNTO's (Japan National Tourist Organisation) website. You can browse destinations from this page, but there are links to other good stuff in the top left.

posted by mukade at 6:09 AM on October 23, 2010

A lot more ideas. (^_^)v

Himeji-jo is indeed amazing, but it's currently undergoing renovations.

April 2010 to January 2011
A large scaffold structure is constructed that will eventually cover up the entire castle keep by the end of November. The interior and immediate surroundings of the castle keep will be off limits to visitors, but other areas of the castle grounds, including the Nishinomaru Citadel will remain open.
posted by emmling at 12:59 PM on October 23, 2010

Bored, in Osaka? How could this be? So many excellent suggestions upthread, nothing to add really -- but that Umeda Sky Building? Scariest escalator I've ever ridden, YMMV.

Tako yaki, okonomiyaki, etc -- oishi sou! (Sounds delicious!)
posted by Rash at 1:51 PM on October 23, 2010

Yes, it is best to skip Himeji for now. I was just there about a month ago and the scaffolding had already covered almost the entire castle.

The mention of the Umeda Sky building reminded me of two other tall buildings in the area: the Osaka World Trade Center in the area near the aquarium, and Rinku Gate Tower which is a bit closer to the airport.
posted by twblalock at 12:16 AM on October 24, 2010

Wow, thanks, guys! I've been busy with work so I forgot to check back, but this is an exhaustive list! I loved almost all the answers. I am going to forward a link to this to her right now so when she gets up tomorrow she can read it.

Thanks again, so much. =) She'll be a lot happier with things to explore.
posted by aliceinreality at 9:45 AM on October 28, 2010

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