Bright, Brash and Funky Osaka

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Since leaving Japan, I’ve been asked several times what my favorite place in the country was — and I honestly can’t put my finger on it. I loved Japan, but I think I loved the country overall more than any particular destination within the country.

Tokyo was a great city, and it would be a great place to live for a year or so, but there was no quality that made me crazy about it. Kyoto was gorgeous, and traditional, but I’ve never been a fan of cities that seem to be dominated by the tourists more so than the locals.

But then there was Osaka. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it my favorite place in Japan — but it made my heart beat a bit faster. These days, recalling my time in Japan, I feel great affection for Osaka, something that I don’t feel for anywhere else in Japan.

Well, how do I describe this city?

Tokyo is sleek and sophisticated. Kyoto is traditional and beautiful. They are perfect, immaculate representations of life in Japan.

Osaka, by contrast, is LOUD.

Osaka Crossing

While both Tokyo and Kyoto can often feel like a majestically choreographed art piece set against the unblemished porcelain backdrop that is Japan, Osaka is brilliantly unpretentious by comparison. The fashion isn’t quite as on point as Tokyo. The markets are shabbier. And “sophisticated” certainly wouldn’t be the first word to come to mind.

It’s just fun. And bright. And casual.

Osaka Baseball Fandom

While baseball may be America’s sport, it’s incredibly popular in Japan as well. Huge crowds stopped to watch the latest game on the screen. (Now, are we ever going to get an actual World Series? That would be interesting…)

Osaka Crazy Outfits

I had seen a few goth loli (gothic Lolita/zombie Marie Antoinette) girls roaming the streets, but where do they actually buy their costumes? While wandering Dotonbori Arcade, I found myself in a costume shop filled with crazy dresses, six-inch platform shoes, crinoline miniskirts, neon tights, and wigs in every shade of the rainbow.

Osaka Crazy Outfits

The shoes were pretty interesting.

Osaka Platform Shoes

Goth loli love their super-high platforms.

Osaka Vending Machine

Next door was I guess what one might call an arcade — but instead of games, it was filled with giant photo booths where groups of girls went in to pose, then used the computer to change their makeup, hair, even their outfits!

They also had lots of crane games with seemingly unattainable prizes — like these giant spellbound teddy bears…

Osaka Santa

And then there was SANTA. Peace, Japanese Santa!

Osaka at Twilight

Soon the sun began to set — and I learned that visiting Osaka in the evening was one of the best decisions of my trip.

Osaka Sunset

The wild and brash neighborhood of Dotonbori lights up at night with neon all over the place, easily making it the best visual spectacle I saw in Japan. The sunset was absolutely spectacular.

Osaka in Black and White

Even without color, though, it’s still a sight to behold.

Osaka Blowfish

Giant papier-mache fish dominate the streets. They’re actually signs for fugu, or pufferfish, restaurants. Fugu is actually safe to eat when prepared safely (and chefs go through extensive training in order to serve it), but it still causes occasional deaths — mostly to fishermen who don’t prepare it correctly. Read more here.

Takoyaki Stand

As for food somewhat less likely to kill you, Osaka has a fabulous street food scene! One thing to try is tako yaki, fried octopus balls. Believe me, they’re delicious. Okonomiyaki, a savory pancake filled with everything from pork and shrimp to vegetables, is another Osaka specialty.


But more than anything, Osaka was a city where I felt like I could relax more than anywhere else. Perhaps it was because Osaka isn’t as formal or fancy as Tokyo or Kyoto. Maybe the street food made me feel like I was in Southeast Asia. Either way, I completely fell for this neon-drenched city.

If you’re visiting Japan — and especially if you’re visiting Kyoto, a short train ride away — don’t miss Osaka. Simply don’t. Go to Dotonbori at night and you’ll be as dazzled as I was.

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34 thoughts on “Bright, Brash and Funky Osaka”

  1. Those goth loli shoes are crazy! The thought of the tako yaki makes my mouth water too. I love the black and white photo by the way Kate, it really makes everything almost pop out.

  2. I’ve been absolutely loving your posts about Japan. You’ve captured the country beautifully and have inspired me to travel there sometime in the near future! Thanks for sharing.

    Happy travels 🙂

  3. I always recommend people visit Osaka, but thought maybe I was just biased because it’s where I lived in Japan.

    While Tokyo and Kyoto are both amazing cities in their own rights, there’s just something special about Osaka. It’s like Tokyo’s more casual, spunky little brother.

    Although I’m looking to move back to Japan, and this time closer to Tokyo, I think I’ll always be an Osaka gal at heart.

  4. I’m really glad that you posted this, Kate, as I *may* have to make a decision involving Osaka and Tokyo next month…keep your fingers crossed for me! Osaka looks like my kinda city for sure.

  5. Hello, I would like your help with some project. This project is an app that will help people and tourist all around world to connect and meet, go to drink, on concert or something else…this app will come soon but before that we will like to hear your opinion and ideas….so search Funility App and leave feedback. Thanks

  6. I lived in rural Japan for quite some time, and after my first two months there I went to Osaka to visit a friend. I remember giogn to Osaka and having my feeling of homesickness be washed away, because there was something about the atmosphere of the city that was very reminiscent to the US. People were loud, open, not afraid to speak to strangers, outgoing, food obssesed… it helped me to assimilate into Japan.

    Now I live in China, but Japanese people always say that Osaka natives and Chinese are similar.

    I’m really surprised you were able to notice this subtle difference in the overall environment of Osaka with just one go! You really know how to understand a city and its culture.

  7. Hi !!! Pictures you used here are really beautiful.And the post is obviously great. I also had written a similar post in my site i think it lacked only the great pictures that you included. from next time on i will try to include such beautiful pictures.After all thank you for such a great article

  8. I love this article! I thank you so much for being such a good journalist and taking me to places I otherwise might not see. I was moved by the kindness of the tweets I found after the earthquake in Japan to share some of them on my blog.


  9. My daughter wants to move here so bad when she turns 18. Now I see why! I’ll need to tell her about the Octopus balls. LOL. Hopefully we will be able to save up and go before then. but i can see I’ll need to save up a ton for that Lolita gear. She’s a huge anime fan at 13. Thank you for this post.

  10. I see you went to the Dotonbori area in Osaka. I highly recommend this spot.

    I’m surprised you chose Osaka, because I rarely hear people say they like Osaka the best.
    Most people actually go for either Kyoto or Tokyo, but that’s simply because they haven’t been to that many places in Japan yet.
    People who live here often say Kobe – which is not too far from Osaka.

    I have many favorite spots in Japan and as I have travelled to all 47 prefectures, I feel like it’s easier for me to compare.
    I do like Kobe as well, I’m a huge fan of Nagasaki (the prefecture, not only the city) and I adore Gujo Hachiman in Gifu Prefecture. I highly recommend you visit the latter in August during the “Gujo Odori” when people and tourists dance through the night on the streets. It’s amazing!
    Other than that, I recently fell in love with the Yaeyama Islands of Okinawa.

  11. We saw a kabuki show in Osaka which is pretty traditional Japanese. After the show we filed out onto the street with all the lights and crowds – such fun energy. My husband enjoyed some tako yaki octopus balls. We loved visiting Japan and I think Kate did a good job comparing Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. Each city has its own very distinct vibe and dynamic – Osaka definitely being loud. Tokyo was special for my husband. He got tattooed by a traditional tebori artist and was very excited.

    Nice pictures and post!


  12. I lived in Japan for 1 year and travelled to a half of Japan. Osaka is my least favourite city. It’s crowded, always packed with people and traffic. If Tokyo is messy in order (especially in Shibuya or Harajuku Street), everything in Osaka goes without order. The first time I stepped out to Osaka street in Umeda, I felt like I was coming back home in Hanoi, overcrowding and overwhelming. Cars, people were everywhere and no one gave a fuck to traffic lights, which made me shocked as Japan is a very well – organized country. Moreover, the accent of Osaka people is very strong. They are loud (yes you are right, Osaka is LOUD). Some of my friends like Osaka, they came back there several times but I just didn’t. If I could choose one or some cities, I’d say they are Kobe, Hiroshima and maybe Fukuoka.

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