If you’re looking for an alternative travel guide to Osaka, you’ve just landed on the right page. Japan expert La Carmina shares her top tips and advice for exploring Osaka’s more underground side.
Just three hours from Tokyo by bullet train, Osaka is a turbocharged setting for a long weekend getaway. While it’s worth seeing historical landmarks like Osaka Castle, travelers shouldn’t miss exploring the underground culture for an alternative perspective of the city. For example, Osaka is home to a gritty and gritty music scene matched only by its drinking holes — where staff have feathered and dyed hair, speakers blare Def Leppard, and walls are adorned with grinning skulls.
I’ve been writing about Japan and visiting Osaka for well over a decade La Carmina travel blog. Here are some of my favorite subculture hangouts in the city that I hope you can visit on your next trip.
See also: A Day in Osaka, Japan
Osaka shopping guide
Let’s start this alternative Osaka travel guide with some vintage, indie and unique shopping in Osaka.
Shinsaibashi’s Shopping Arcade is a busy treasure hunt: amidst the mass retailers, look for indie and vintage boutiques like Dangerous Nude. Nearby Americamura is the cultural equivalent of Tokyo’s Harajuku, with goths, punks, and rockers partying in Triangle Park (Here’s a map of the best deals). Stick your head through the beaded curtains of 1980s cyberfashion, tarot cards and toys.
A stone’s throw from Umeda Railway Station, EST is a “shopping city full of dreams and excitement” for young women. The boutiques entice with frantic J-Pop music and chic outfits from Cutie and ViVi magazines. If the 100+ indie and alternative shops aren’t enough, there is across the street hep fivea shopping and entertainment metropolis with a red Ferris wheel.
Sights in Osaka
Here are a few more unique attractions in Osaka.
Believe it or not, the Pokémon Center is one of the top tourist attractions in all of Japan. The gigantic store in Umeda, Osaka is stocked with every imaginable character. Kids in Pikachu hats will remind you that the brand’s motto is “I’ve got to catch ’em all,” so bring your wallet.
One of the largest aquariums in the world, Kaiyukan is a family favorite. Young Osaka resident Takumi Tanaka reminisces about his childhood visits. “It’s always fun to see the penguins and dolphins play, but my favorite thing is visiting the floating jellyfish pools. It’s so relaxing to watch the tangled tendrils,” he says. “Plus, I enjoy watching the staff feed the sea otters, who play like children.”
Tanaka also encourages first-time visitors to visit historic Osaka Castle, especially during cherry blossom season. “In the beautiful park, there are always festivals and gatherings and small stalls selling traditional foods like takoyaki. It’s fun just sitting on the benches and watching people go by,” says Tanaka.
Related tour: Guided walking tour around Osaka Castle
Bars and Nightlife in Osaka
What would an Osaka travel guide be without a list of the best bars and nightclubs?
Related tour: Osaka: Experience Nightlife
Fans of visual kei/J rockers Blood were heartbroken when the group broke up. But living like a goth Elvis, singer Fu-ki menacingly wields an ice pick behind the counter at his Bar Midian.
The Umeda dive is almost impossible to find, so I suggest studying these detailed instructions on mine La Carmina blog. Midian’s setup is a heavy metal wet dream: a dripping candle sits in a Dracula wine bottle; an ax rests in the umbrella stand. That night we sat with tattooed rockers headbanging to Black Sabbath videos and shocking us with their boy-on-boy antics.
Drinks cost 500 yen and have names like Black Rose and Satan. Fu-ki mixes a strong cocktail and is happy to make you a special one or pour you a Belgian Satan beer. He’s also known for picking up the bill for newcomers, especially if you’re connecting through music – so don’t forget to ask him about his Motley Crue cover band.
When metal and rock bands tour Osaka, they stop by regularly moonwalka bar that pumps Marilyn Manson and Japanese glam metal to a young, heavily pierced crowd.
My traveling companion and I had an instant crush on our eyeliner-smeared server Kouta, who plays bass in a new visual kei band. The imagination faded a little when he went into the kitchen to prepare our order: delicious 315 yen platters of Korean fried rice and lotus pork cake. There’s a 400-yen fee, but the drinks menu — with over 300 choices for 200 yen each — more than makes up for it. sweet tooth? Try the raspberry yoghurt cocktail. More of a hardcore guy? Opt for the Brandy Ginger Mixer. And don’t be surprised if the charming bartender brings you free shots.
Bar Rock Rock
Alice Cooper. bad religion. Motley Crue. Metallica. You’re among the hundreds of famous faces who’ve made hell of it rock rock since the bar opened in 1995, leaving behind autographed photos and stories of destruction.
The atmosphere reminds me of a really chilled jazz club, only with screamo vocals. The bar plays everything from punk to metal and hosts events throughout the year that draw crowds of rock fans. This includes special DJ nights like Hell’s Bells (AC/DC), Emotion is Dead (emo) and the self-explanatory Loud & Heavy.
The menu is a typical selection of pizzas, pastas and salads (600-800 yen). Drinks are standard, plus a selection of fruity cocktails (500-800 yen). A little pricey but worth it when poured by the famous bartender “Noxl Rose”.
Eat in Osaka
Take your taste buds on an adventure.
See also: Japanese pork chop in downtown Osaka
Non-Japanese people memorize the word okonomiyaki. It’s a tragedy if you leave without trying the grilled savory pancakes (usually seafood and topped with bonito flakes and brown sauce) that are Kansai’s soul food. Look for family restaurants like Tengu, where recipes are passed down through generations.
Takoyaki — grilled squid balls poured into molds from batter — are another Osaka specialty. There is a stand on every major street where you can buy a dozen for 500 yen. Twists on the original include egg or processed cheese toppings and takoyaki stuffed in crepe. But nothing beats corner shops like the Tako House at Umeda Station, where a shy grandma oversees the cooking.
Yuzu (citrus fruit)
Yuzu is a divine pairing between a lemon and a tangerine. In Osaka, you can find flavor in seemingly every type of dish: sherbet, sake, shochu. The fruit is rarely found fresh outside of Japan, so don’t hesitate to munch on it at every meal.
Day trips from Osaka
If you want to escape Osaka for a day, check out some of these nearby places.
Take a trip to Kobe to explore the excellent parks, zoo and harbor. For a walk on the dark side visit Gothic/Fetish/Occult/Satanic bar idea. The friendly ladies behind the nail-studded bar will chat with you and perform dark rituals including shibari or rope bondage demonstrations.
Escape the hustle and bustle on a day trip to Nara, just an hour away by subway. The cultural capital shines with six Buddhist temples, a Shinto shrine and the Kaiserplatz. But the biggest thrill for tourists of all ages is petting the sacred deer that roam Nara Park.
Related tour: From Kyoto or Osaka: Nara Private Walking Tour
Located north of Osaka, Kyoto is home to thousands of well-preserved places of worship such as the Kinkaku-ji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion). First built in the 14thth The three-storey, gilded building houses the ashes of the Buddha and is set in an exquisite garden with a reflecting pond.
Related tour: From Osaka: Kyoto Top Highlights Day Trip