Greetings, Internet Stranger and welcome to 24 hours in Osaka! If the cities of Japan held an Olympics, Osaka would be the perpetual bronze medalist. It would be forever standing on the shortest podium while Tokyo or Kyoto gets to take home the gold and get its picture on a box of Wheaties. But while Osaka does not have Tokyo’s size or Kyoto’s beauty, it has enough quirky charm to satisfy any tourist. I only had 24 hours in Osaka because I went as a day trip from Kyoto and did not stay there overnight.
However, the next time I go to Japan, I definitely plan to spend more than 24 hours in Osaka, the city that many call “Japan’s kitchen”. Join me for a day of strange mascots, amazing seafood, magical sodas, castles, hidden clocks, and acrobats. On the way, we might even accidentally get drunk! (Spoiler Alert: We will definitely get accidentally drunk.)
24 Hours in Osaka
Where to Stay?
I went to Osaka as a day trip from Kyoto, so I’m going to suggest my lovely hotel in Kyoto, Kyoto Uraraka Guest House. It was in a neighborhood that was so safe, I saw children playing unattended in the nearby playground at night.
There was also a tasty breakfast with several kinds of fluffy, sweet Japanese breads every morning. Also, there was a Japanese-Australian-French family with an adorable three-year old son who was obsessed with trains. I mean, probably that little boy won’t be staying there when you are in Kyoto, but he is adorable and you never know.
24 Hours in Osaka
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
Japan is hot in the summer, so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, if you’re not from Japan or the US, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. Japanese electrical outlets don’t work with UK or non-UK European plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
24 Hours in Osaka
Morning: All Star Osaka Walk
The absolute first thing you must do during your 24 hours in Osaka is take the All Star Osaka Walk. This is a three hour guided walking tour around three of the most important sights in Osaka: the Osaka train station, the retro Shinsekai area, and the popular entertaining and dining district, Dotombori. You do not need to reserve in advance. Just show up with your 3500 Yen in cash and be ready for your Japanese guides to lead you around a Kansai-mazing day.
24 Hour Tip
Your guides will be awesome, but DO NOT tip them. Tipping is not part of Japanese culture and might accidentally give offense, so do not tip a Japanese tour guide, waiter…etc.
It would be impossible with me to share with you all of the Osakan delights I experienced on this tour. Should I begin with the friendly couple from Kuala Lumpur on the tour with me? Or should I focus on the origami salesman who refused to give me a brown origami samurai hat because it was “not for a girl”? You’ll have to be satisfied with…
Approximately top 5: 24 Hours in Osaka edition
1) The clocks of Osaka Train Station
The first fact we learned is that Osaka train station is home to six wondrous hidden clocks. You might be wondering why someone would want a train station to be part of a tour. But this isn’t just any station. Our guide told us that it inside a complex that is so big it is called Osaka Station City. The six clocks are there because Osaka was historically a merchant city and knowing the correct time is very important for people who are selling fine goods. They have everything from a regular looking old-fashioned gold clock…
to a sundial!
The coolest clock is the water clock. It looks like a digital clock but the numbers in the display are actually created by the movement of falling water. A picture doesn’t do it justice. You’ll just have to go to Osaka and see for yourself!
One of Osaka’s mascots is a strange gnome creature named Billiken who was created by a schoolteacher from Kansas City. She claimed to have visualized Billiken in a dream. We met Billiken in Shinsekai, which literally means “new world” in Japanese.
This neighborhood is a little seedier than one would expect in Japan, but that just adds to its charm. Its flashiest feature is that Eiffel Tower wannabe called Tsutenkaku in the photo above, but my favorite thing about Shinsekai is that it is home to about a million statues of Billiken.
Billiken is insanely popular in Osaka, and you can find his statue all over Shinsekai.
It’s good luck to touch Billiken’s feet, which I hope explains this photo.
Here is Billiken wearing the costume of Kuidaore Taro, who is another one of Osaka’s mascots. It’s a mascot within a mascot!
3) The Glico Running Man
Osaka, like similarly slighted mid-sized cities Boston and Chicago, is the home of a baseball-related curse. We learned this in Dotombori, which is like the Times Square of Osaka. We stopped at the Dotombori River to check out the famous Glico Running Man ad. (Glico is a company most famous for making Pocky.) ‘Twas here we heard the sad tale of the Curse of the Colonel.
In 1985, the Hanshin Tigers, Osaka’s baseball team, won the Japan Championship Series. The city erupted in celebration, but sadly there was one casualty from the event. The deceased was a statue of KFC mascot Colonel Sanders who was ripped from outside one of his restaurants and thrown into the river. Since then, the Hanshin Tigers have not won the Championship Series, so this is known as the Curse of the Colonel.
No trip to Osaka would be complete without a snack! The city’s motto is “kuidaore”, which translates to “Eat until you drop!” The Shinsekai neighborhood is known for a snack called kushikatsu, so we all stopped at one of the myriad kushikatsu restaurants in the area for a bite. (The snack is included in the price of the tour.)
Kushikatsu is a fried….something served on a wooden stick with a sweet and sticky dipping sauce placed in the middle of the table. (Double dipping is strictly verboten.) They had everything from fried chicken to fried banana, and I chose eggplant and cheese because it was recommended by the tour guide. The cheese was amazing, so warm and gooey and savory. I highly approve of this snack. Nothing tastes better than fried cheese.
To drink we had Ramune, which is a popular lemonade-soda. It comes with a bottle stopped with a glass ball, so you need to use the plastic cap to punch the glass ball to the bottom of the bottle. If you are super into Ramune and want to get it in the States, they serve it at the Japan Pavilion at EPCOT at Disney World and pretty much any Japantown, if your city has one.
24 Hours in Osaka
Afternoon: Explore Osaka
Now that the tour has concluded, you’ll be familiar enough with the city to explore on your own! Don’t be shy! Osakans have the reputation for being the friendliest and funniest people in all Japan, so they’ll love to help you enjoy their delicious city. I can help you get started with.
Approximately top 5: 24 Hours in Osaka
1) Lunch at Akaoni
When you’re done with the tour, you’ll want to stop in one of the many tasty but inexpensive restaurants in the Dotombori area for a little lunch. I think Akaoni is a great choice, but you don’t have to take my word for it! It received a Bib Gourmand in the prestigious Michelin guide. The Bib Gourmand is the award given to tasty but inexpensive restaurants. So I have the word of the French to backup my assertions, and none of us want to argue with the French about food.
Akaoni is famous for its takoyaki, scrumptious balls of fried octopus. However, I wanted to try their also-famous okonomiyaki, which is both a kind of savory pancake and an Osakan delicacy. Okonomiyaki is made with eggs, flour, cabbage and other fun ingredients mixed in.
24 Hour Treat: Okonomiyaki
My okonomiyaki was with shrimp and squid. It was topped with okonomiyaki sauce, which tastes kind of like the sweet and sticky kushikatsu sauce, fermented bonito flakes, and mayo. It came sizzling-hot off the grill, and the seafood tasted so fresh I could almost feel it wriggle in my mouth. But perhaps I was just having a delusion brought on by my poor choice of drink.
I can read Japanese and I saw on the drink menu something called a Chuhai lemon. I thought this would be a lemon soda, so I ordered it. To my surprise, as soon as I had a sip, I realized that it was definitely booze. In fact, it tasted kind of like a vodka tonic, but sweeter. So I wound up being a little drunker than I was expecting to be at two o’clock in the afternoon.
Ben Stiller did a really weird commercial for Chuhai; please watch it here.
2) See the sights of Dotombori
When you’re done, feel free to explore Dotombori a bit more. You can find this building that has tragically been attacked by a dragon.
Be careful though! Billiken likes to hide around here and he may jump out and try to mug you.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
3) osaka castle
Osaka Castle was originally constructed in the 16th century by legendary Japanese warrior Toyotomi Hideyoshi. It has since been destroyed or partially destroyed several times, including during the Meiji Restoration in the 19th century and during the bombings of WWII. The castle is famous because of its colorful beauty and because of its connection to Hideyoshi.
Hideyoshi is sometimes referred to as the Napoleon of Japan because of his historical importance and military prowess. But I was there during cherry blossom season, so I wanted to visit the OC because the castle’s park is one of the most popular sakura viewing spots in Osaka.
24 Hour Tip
The interior of the Main Tower of the OC is the Osaka Castle Museum, which is dedicated to the history of Hideoyoshi and Osaka Castle. It costs 600 Yen to enter and use of the observation deck in Osaka Castle is included. I didn’t have time to go in because the line was long and I was more interested in seeing the cherry blossoms. If you have more time or are not there during cherry blossom season, by all means check it out.
4) Take in a street performance
I was particularly impressed with a pair of acrobats who were performing in the park. They did balancing tricks, lifts, and juggled while standing on an assortment of precariously placed objects. They also provided chairs for their elderly viewers to sit upon. Way to be polite, Osakan street performers! As I mentioned earlier, Osakans are famous for being the funniest people in Japan, so if you get a chance to catch a performance in Osaka, don’t pass it up. Even if you don’t understand the jokes, I’m sure the laughter of your fellow spectators will warm your heart.
24 Hours in Osaka
Evening: Peruse the Osaka Station Area
I had only visited Osaka as a day trip from Kyoto and even though the train trip back to my hotel was about an hour long, I wanted to spend my late afternoon close to my sweet ride back home: aka the train. Fortunately there is plenty to do near the Osaka train station. If you don’t believe me, let me convince you with…
APPROXIMATELY TOP FIVE BEST THINGS: osaka station
1) The Ohatsu Tenjin Shrine
This shrine is dedicated to two lovers–Japan’s answer to Romeo and Juliet–who killed themselves here because they could not be together. Like Romeo and Juliet, the lovers had a very popular play based on their story. Since it is a Japanese play there are certain differences from the English version. In Japan, the play was performed by puppets, Juliet was a classy prostitute, and Romeo was involved in the seafood industry in some capacity.
I love the heart shape that covers the explanation of the shrine and all the bright colors, but as a solo traveler, I wasn’t quite up to getting my picture taken in one of those cardboard cutouts with just an empty space where the man’s head should be. My self esteem is high, but it’s not quite that high.
2) Dine on Takoyaki
These are tender fried octopus balls topped with okonomiyaki sauce, mayo, and fermented bonito flakes, just like okonomiyaki. I got mine at a hole in the wall called Hanadako at 9-16 Kakudacho in the shops under Osaka Station. The young man behind the counter spoke English very well, so it was easy to order. Just remember that your takoyaki will be piping hot! Poke a little hole in them so the hot air can be released and wait a few seconds before biting them. You don’t want to burn your tongue.
3) Find dessert!
Now that you’ve had dinner, you’ll want to end your 24 hours in Osaka with dessert! I have a weakness for fluffy Japanese sweetbuns, so I stopped at the A-1 Bakery right near Hanadako and purchased a milk cream bun. This is an airy bun filled with a rich, sweet custard. I love the contrast between the dense creaminess and the nonexistent bread. Plus it costs like a dollar.
4) Visit Hankyu
Hankyu is Osaka’s most popular department store, conveniently located right by Osaka Station. Osakans are very proud of their local chain, and on the walking tour earlier in the day, I learned that the popular Tokyo-based department store company Mitsukoshi had tried to open a branch in Osaka. However, it failed because Hankyu is so popular.
If you only visit one department in Hankyu, make it the depachika, the luxurious basement level food court in any major Japanese department store. The pastries are so gorgeous that it was hard for me to choose just one, but I settled on a delicate strawberry sweet. It was impossibly light and felt almost like eating a delicious cotton ball that tasted of fruit and milk. Unfortunately it was a little too delicate, so it didn’t look very pretty by the time I was able to photograph it.
This branch of Hankyu sells a luxury potato chip by the Calbee company called Grand Callbee. If you want to buy it, you need to get to the store as soon as it opens because they sell out rapidly. People are super weird. But I guess if you can line up for a Cronut, you can line up for a potato chip.
Your 24 hours in Osaka are sadly over. Now it will be time to hop on your train and head back to Kyoto. Sayonara, Osaka, and until next time, KUIDAORE!
Further Reading: A Perfect 24 Hours in Osaka!
Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Osaka right now? Then let me give you some suggestions for further reading for your 24 hours in Osaka itinerary. I like the Lonely Planet guide to Osaka and Kyoto. It’s divided according to neighborhood, which is very helpful.
If you’re a fan of fantasy literature, I really think the Japanese are some of the best in the world at the magic stuff. Read Kappa by Ryonusuke Akutagawa. It’s like Alice in Wonderland if Alice in Wonderland were about underground lizard people.
And if you prefer mysteries, settle in for a cozy evening with Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edogawa Ranpo. (Ranpo was a Japanese writer, but he admired Edgar Allen Poe so much, he changed his name to sound more like his idol.)
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that just because this is a 24 hour itinerary in Osaka, it doesn’t mean you should only spend 24 hours in Osaka. If you’d like another day trip to Nara, check out this itinerary. And if you’re looking for things to do in Kyoto, try here. Or here. Or even here. Don’t forget other places in Japan! If you want to add a Japanese Alps itinerary, click here.