“Why Japan?”, was the very first question I was asked when I told my friends and family that that’s where I was headed to this summer for a holiday. Honestly, I didn’t have a good answer then. “Tickets were cheap and I wanted to go somewhere East”, was all the reason I could think of. Not a very convincing reason to travel, I suppose.
Now that I’m back from Japan, ask me the same question again and I can give you several reasons why I would visit Japan, “a thousand times over”. One, Japan is so diverse that it can cater to the needs of all kinds of tourists. There are beaches to relax in, mountains to trek, historical sites and museums to quench your thirst for knowledge, shrines to meditate in, popular theme parks for some fun and entertainment, and a vibrant night life – all in the proximity of one city, in my case – Osaka. Two, the country is quite safe to visit as a tourist. Unlike a few cities in Europe, or the rest of the world for that matter, you can wander about with your wallet and your phone in your back pocket and be rest assured that it would remain there at the end of the day. (Having said that, I would advise against doing the same. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.). Three, the country is extremely clean and well-organized with great infrastructure and connectivity. It is one of the very few countries in the world where tradition meets modernity. Finally, the most important reason of all, the people are incredibly warm, accommodating and courteous. Never have I been to a place where people literally go out of their way to help you despite not having asked for any help.
On the whole, my six-day trip to Osaka was nothing short of perfection.
Best time to visit Osaka:
The obvious answer would be springtime – March to May when the cherry blossoms appear. However, one cannot predict exactly when the cherry blossoms would appear. At times, they appear early and at times they appear late. It’s a risk you should be willing to take. I have never seen this for myself but the photos of Japan during springtime are breath-taking and would be worth a visit. However, you should be willing to put up with the swarm of tourists who flock to Japan during Spring to see the cherry blossoms. If you don’t mind the crowd or spending a little extra money, then this is the best time to visit Osaka. On a side note, it’s best to avoid travelling to any part of Japan during the end of April and the beginning of May. The Golden week (a series of Japanese holidays) fall during this time and is the busiest and expensive time to travel to any part of Japan.
September to November (autumn), is the next best time to visit Japan. The weather is perfect and the skies are clear which also makes it a popular season among tourists. You can therefore expect a lot of crowd.
My husband and I visited Osaka during summer (the months of June, July and August). It was a little hot in the afternoon and it rained a bit during the day making the day, humid and nights, cool. If you are used to the summer in India (tropical climate), summer in Osaka is no big deal. The days are longer which gives you more time to look around and the crowds, far thinner. Just ensure you check the weather forecast in advance because summer in Japan is often accompanied by rains and if is going to rain in Osaka, you can decide to go on a day trip to a place where it is not raining. I made day trips to Hiroshima and Kyoto on the days it was supposed to rain in Osaka.
Travel to Osaka (from India):
A return air ticket from Chennai, India to Osaka in the month of August will cost you roughly around Rs. 25,000 (~USD 400) in Air Asia. Air Asia is a budget airline and hence this cost does not include any extra baggage (2 cabin bags of 7kg in total are allowed for the base fare), food or entertainment.
Staying in a hotel in Osaka can be a little expensive. Airbnb is the best option for a budget, yet comfortable stay. You can find a small cozy apartment for less than Rs. 4000 per night (~60 USD). You could also choose to stay in a private room for a lesser price. Yet another option would be to stay at youth hostels/capsule pods which are quite popular in Japan and are aplenty. This option is way cheaper than an Airbnb. If you are a backpacker, this would be ideal however, if you are claustrophobic and want privacy but at a cheaper rate, Airbnb would be the best.
Keeping in mind that this is the day you land in Osaka, I have listed down the places of interest that are very close to one another (at walking distance). With the exception of the bookstore and the memorial museum, the rest 4 are quite close to each other.
- Hirakata T-Site Bookstore (a popular book store in Osaka) or, Tadao Ando Library, Shiba Ryotaro Memorial Museum (a museum for one of the best known historical novel writers in Japanese history) – I suggest you visit either one of these two places if you happen to be a hardcore fan of books and reading. Both my husband and I love visiting the library or book stores where ever we go just to get a feel of the reading culture in different parts of the world and simply because we love being amidst books. We missed the Memorial but got to visit the T-Site Bookstore which is just adjacent to the Hirakato station (you don’t even have to step out of the station. The bookstore and the station are connected by a flight of stairs and a corridor). Despite the store having very few English books, we still had a great time simply because we got a chance to admire this majestic collection of books. Look at the size of the shelf! It was humungous! It was worth the visit.
- Namba District – Historically a theatre district, Namba is now popular for its vibrant night life, dining and shopping. Spend some time exploring the streets of Namba. The streets are home to both high end upscale designer showrooms as well as your affordable discount/thrift stores. If you’re looking to pick up some souvenirs for yourself or your friends, this is the place. There are several 300-yen shops (I have heard of the 100-yen stores, but couldn’t spot any) and you can pick up some good quality stuff for yourself and your family/friends back home.
- Dotonbori – One of the most important tourist destination in Osaka, Dotonbori is a street that runs along the Dotonbori canal in the Namba district. This street is characterized by the very popular illuminated sign board of a runner crossing a finishing line. This is a billboard for a confectionary company ‘Glico’. It is an iconic spot in Osaka and is a must visit at night (See featured image on top).
- Ebisu Bashi – One of the many bridges that runs across the Dotonbori canal with views of iconic billboard. This bridge has the best views of the Dotonbori canal and the neon nightscape on either side of the canal.
- Hozenji Yokocho Alley + Hozenji Temple – An ancient Buddhist temple situated at the end of Hozenji alley – a pathway with tons of traditional restaurants and izakaya (gastro pub) along its narrow path. This alley retains an old-time atmosphere with its old narrow cobblestone path that ends at the moss-covered idol of Hozenji Temple. Both locals and tourists alike, pour water over the idol as a form of worship which has led to the formation of a thick layer of moss around the idol. The Alley and the temple are situated at walking distance from Dotonbori.
Universal Studios Japan (USJ) – Just a small suggestion here. The wait times for most of the rides reduce to almost nil at the end of the day. So, when you enter the park, don’t rush to the most popular rides (e.g., The Forbidden Journey at the wizarding world of Harry Potter). Instead go to those rides that have a shorter wait time. I made the mistake of waiting for almost an hour and a half at the Forbidden Journey ride when I could have done this right at the end when the wait time was reduced to just 10 minutes. In fact, I went on this ride twice within a span of half an hour just before the park closed.
If you want to skip USJ, you can spend an extra day in Kyoto which has a lot more to offer than what can be covered in a single day.
A day trip to Hiroshima.
Take the fastest Shinkansen (Bullet train) at Shin-Osaka and you will reach Hiroshima within an hour and a half. We had purchased the 5-day JR Osaka – Hiroshima pass that lets you go anywhere between Osaka and Hiroshima (Kyoto included) on any JR line, inclusive of the bullet trains (unreserved), any number of times for a five day period. We found this worth the money. This pass can also be used on the JR ferry from Miyagima to the Torii gate and the local JR lines in Hiroshima/Kyoto/Osaka. The pass costs around Rs. 9000 (~130 USD). But trust me, it’s absolutely worth the cost. You save both time and money.
Places to visit in Hiroshima –
- Atomic Bomb memorial
- Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, Park and Children’s peace monument
- Miyajima Island – Torii gate & Itsukushima Shrine (Must visit – one of the best places I have ever been to)
- Hiroshima castle
A day trip to Kyoto.
It is impossible to cover Kyoto in just a day. If you decide to skip USJ, you can use the additional day to see Kyoto. I have however, listed down some of the most important places in Kyoto that can be covered in under 2 days.
To reach Kyoto from Osaka, take the JR Rapid from Osaka station. Do NOT take the JR local train from Osaka station to Kyoto. You will still reach Kyoto, but much much later. It is very slow and stops at all stations in between Osaka and Kyoto. The JR Rapid on the other hand, stops just at about 2 or 3 major stations before reaching Kyoto.
Places to visit in Kyoto –
- Fushimi Inari Taisha – Do NOT hike to the top of the hill if you want to cover as many places as possible. The hike will take you at least half a day to complete and most of the temples and castles close by 5 PM.
- Kinkakuji temple (Kyoto city bus – 101, 205 – right from Kyoto station)
- Nijo castle
- Kyoto Imperial Palace park (Kyoto Gyoen Garden)
- Heian Shrine (Heian shrine and Tenjuan Garden are close to each other)
- Tenjuan Garden
- Ponto-cho – Traditional area – famous form Geiko and traditional tea houses (Ponto-cho and Gion are very close to each other – walkable)
- Gion, Kyoto – Geisha District (Gion Corner, end of Hanami Koji Dori – a stroll in the evening for cultural shows held every day)
- Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
- Shitennō-ji – One of Japan’s oldest Buddhist temples.
- Shinsekai – Colourful Downtown with an “old-time” atmosphere. According to some, entering Shinsekai may feel like entering in to the past.
- Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine – One of Japan’s Oldest Shinto Shrine
- Osaka Castle – Another popular tourist destination. It is one of Osaka’s most loved and famous landmarks.
- Climb up the Umeda Sky Building (supposedly the world’s highest escalator) during sunset for a beautiful 360-degree view of the city from the floating garden observatory on the top.
- Nara Park – A public park known for its historical sights, temples and a number of tamed deer running around, is located in the city of Nara, Japan, at the foot of mount Wakakusa. It is one of the oldest parks in Japan.
Japanese food to try
- Udon Noodles
- Soba Noodles
- Matcha Ice Cream (or anything Matcha) FYI, Matcha is just green tea
Vegan and Vegetarian Restaurants at Osaka
- Megumi – Vegan, Japanese cuisine
- Café Atl – Vegan, Western and Japanese cuisine (close to Dotonbori)
- Govinda’s – Vegetarian Indian Restaurant
- Sharma – Vegetarian Indian Restaurant
- Green Earth – Vegan, Western and Italian cuisine
- Le Coccole – Vegan, Japanese cuisine
- Paprika Shokudo Vegan – Vegan, Japanese cuisine
Souvenirs to get
- Origami Paper
- Japanese Kimono (traditional dress)
- Kokeshi Dolls – traditional Japanese dolls
- Japanese fans
- Maneki neko – A beckoning cat that we see at the entrance of many stores
- Wagasa – Japanese traditional umbrella
- Daruma dolls – Red dolls without eyes
- Japanese knives
- Anything related to a ‘Samurai’ or ‘Ninja’
Budget for one for a stay of 6 days & 7 nights:
Air ticket: Rs. 25,000
Accommodation for 2: Rs. 3500*6
Food & Beverages: Rs. 15,000
Miscellaneous: Rs. 15,000
Total: ~Rs. 65,000 for one person for an amazing holiday in Osaka (This does not include travel by the Shinkansen which can be pretty expensive)