- Lifestyle & Sports
- 07 Nov 17
With its neon-lit Blade Runner vibe, Osaka is one of JapanÕs true gems.
Where exactly is it?
Osaka is a port city in south-central Japan. Part of the Kansai region - which also boasts such conurbations as Kobe, which is beloved for its culinary offerings, and the old capital Kyoto - Osaka has distinguished itself as a liberal and creative metropolis. Dissecting it are the Aji River and the Dotonbori Canal, both of which are ideal to wander along. Combined with the ubiquitous neon lights and skyscrapers, the overall feel is like a more utopian Blade Runner.
How do I get there?
Travelling to Osaka is highly convenient, whether you're in Japan or coming from another country.
For those flying from Ireland, the Kansai International Airport will require you to make one change, with the best options being Copenhagen, Helsinki or London. Once there, the airport is situated 10kms off the coast of the Osaka Prefecture, and the city centre can be accessed via the JR (Japan Rail) trains, which stop in each terminal, with an estimated one-hour travel time.
If you're travelling internally then you can opt for a Shinkansen, or Bullet Train, which reaches speeds of 320km/h. This will set you back about €100 one-way - so if you're travelling on a budget, try the JR Bus services, which operate between prefectures day and night.
What's the transport like?
The three most popular means of public transport are the JR trains, the Hankyu trains and the Municipal Subway. The JR is ideal for longer distances, specifically travelling to Kansai Airport or neighbouring cities, while the Hankyu line is the most reliable for those who want to visit Kyoto. In the city, the subway is the only way to go, as Osaka can be quite a tiring place to explore via-foot.
What's the drink like?
On a national level, Japan is noteworthy for its production of the rice-wine sake and smoky whiskeys, such as Suntory, Hibiki, Nikka and Yamazaki. One of the more popular drinks is the Highball, which is a combination of whiskey and soda water. More recently however, the Kansai region has developed a taste for gin and craft beers.
As one of Japan's foremost party cities, Osaka is a pioneer in the field of 'mixology' with some seriously creative cocktails.
What's the nightlife like?
Osaka is a 24-hour city with whiskey bars, karaoke houses, and casual drinking and dining spots known as Izakayas located on every street. It also has a thriving LGBTQ scene, which has done a great deal to reduce the stigma surrounding what are still very taboo subjects in Japanese society. As mentioned before, its cocktail bars are a must for those eager to delve into the very heart of the city. Largely clustered around the Miniamisenda district, two recommendations are Bar Freedom (Sennichimae 1-6-14, #202, Osaka; Tel +81 90-5091-0394) and Bar Nayuta (1-6-17 Marioville 5th floor, Tel: +81 6-6210-3615). The latter makes cocktails based on your mood, and will allow you in on the condition that you are not a member of the German Air Force... It's a specific rule, yes, but the story behind it is pretty good, if the bar tender is in the mood to talk.
What's the food like?
As a port town, Osaka is the perfect place to indulge in sushi and sashimi. Literally every street has a restaurant that produces these dishes at consistently high quality. Whether a chain or a spot carrying multiple Michelin-stars, the care put into the preparation of each piece of sushi is remarkable. However, when it comes to a specific and affordable recommendation, Tokisushi, which is close to the Namba area of the city, is a strong way to start (4-2-1 Nanbasennichimae, Chuo Ward; tokisushi.jp).
Why should I go?
One of the major errors people tend to make when travelling to Japan is selecting Tokyo as their main destination. A trip to the Kansai Region is a much more enriching experience for those not keen on staying in Japan for long periods of time. Within this, Osaka is one of the most open-minded and welcoming cities, which embraces multiculturalism, diversity and the quirks of each individual who visits.
What are the touristy things to do?
Osaka Castle in the Chuo Ward is one of Japan's most cherished historical landmarks, and one locals take particular pride in. Constructed during the 16th century, it's symbolic of Japan's unification. As such, it has been lovingly restored on countless occasions, and thus remains a magnificent anomaly on an otherwise contemporary cityscape.
What should I bring home?
In Japan, it's traditional to bring back gifts from one's travels. These gifts are referred to as Omiyage, and in most cases, they are a type of food unique to each prefecture. Internally, the most common gifts are fruits, such as oranges, but in all honesty, nobody's going to thank you for bringing oranges back from Japan.
The Omiyage industry is quite an eccentric one, and a lot of fun can be had buying presents for this reason. From wasabi-flavoured Kit-Kats to mini Hello Kitty donuts - by way of soap with the essence of lager - it's a treasure trove of gift options.
When should I go?
Every season in Japan has its own distinct selling point. However, in the case of Osaka and the greater Kansai area, spring is the one to mark on your calendar. Given the fact that Osaka has a myriad of parks and trees scattered across each of its districts, once the cherry blossoms bloom, it's difficult not to be awestruck.
What's my challenge?
In Japan, convenience stores are second to none when it comes to... well, convenience. Indeed, superstar chef Anthony Bourdain spends much of his time waxing lyrical about their service. The three big names are Family Mart, Lawson and Seven-Eleven, and you can pretty much live out of them, from paying bills and buying essential clothes, to purchasing all of your square meals at an extremely low price.
So your challenge is to try living out of a convenience store for at least twenty-four hours.
While it may seem strange as a recommendation, keep an eye out for several of the Irish bars in Osaka, such as the Blarney Stone (530-0057 Osaka Prefecture, Kita Ward, Sonezaki, 2 Chome1015) or MurphyÕs Bar (542-0085 Osaka Prefecture, Central District), because there are a number of Japanese bands who fuse Japanese traditional music with Irish folk. The Kansai region in particular is noteworthy for its fascination with Irish culture. In fact, mentioning any connection to Ireland is a solid way of making friends very quickly.