Formerly known as Naniwa, Osaka enjoyed brief periods of being the capital of Japan. Even after, Osaka continued to grow in importance as a culinary destination and a cultural and transportation hub. Osaka is now Japan's second largest metropolitan area after Tokyo, and boasts a whole vibe of its own separate from the capital city.
Osaka is now host to a number of attractions, and this guide acts as a quick guide to introduce said attractions which are all incredible experiences for the first-timer.
My time in Osaka was short, but best believe I managed to get in a whole host of attractions and experiences, and Osaka was one of my favourite cities on my trip to Japan.
We start off with Shinsaibashi (心斎橋) and Dōtonbori (道頓堀), which is where you want to be.
The former boasts some world-class shopping and the latter is the best place in the city to grab a bite, which is not a thing to take lightly given that Osaka itself has been dubbed the Nation's Kitchen. The vibe downtown is incredible, it's literally packed day and night, and fluorescent neon billboards light up the streets. Here you'll find many fantastic hole-in-the-wall spots for food and drinks, just get into any that are packed with people and you won't go wrong.
The area was a pleasant place to be, and it's where the city felt most alive and buzzing, as people poured into the streets headed for a great evening out.
Of course, in a country as rich with history and culture as Japan, you'll find some incredible sights, and Osaka's best known site is arguably the Osaka Castle (大阪城). While it may not be the king of all castles like Himeji, I do think on a clear day, the green of the castle looked beautiful glistening in the sunshine, not to mention it's park is also a popular spot for cherry blossom viewing.
In the castle, there are a number of floors of museum exhibits, and you'll eventually end up at a viewing terrace where you can see the city's skyline.
However, if rooftop views are what you're after (one should in any city lined with skyscrapers), head to the Umeda Sky Building (梅田スカイビル) for its observation deck. Here is where I felt I got the best views of the city as I felt like we were tens of stories higher than the other surrounding buildings. To get up to the observatory deck, you'll traverse through some cool escalators that will make you feel like you're travelling through a glass tunnel.
Covered shopping arcades are aplenty in Japan, but the longest is said to be here in Osaka, with the Tenjinbashi-suji (天神橋筋商店街) Shopping Street which is said to stretch for over 2 kilometres, with the surrounding area also known for its nightlife.
The second most visited theme park in all of Japan is Universal Studios Japan (ユニバーサル・スタジオ・ジャパン) located in Osaka, which features 8 sections and numerous rides. Outside the park is Universal Citywalk Osaka, a shopping promenade featuring merchandise and numerous F&B options.
Osaka also boasts a number of temples and shrines, although perhaps less visited than those in neighbouring Kyoto, which is well-worth the trip out, even for a day, as much of Osaka was rebuilt and reconstructed post World War II.
But if you can't make the trek out, Osaka has Shitennōji Temple (四天王寺) and Sumiyoshi Taisha (住吉大社), which offers some features architecturally unique and of different influences.
If you need to get out of the city, nature's never far away in Japan, and in the case of Osaka you'll find Minoo Park (箕面公園), featured on the northern outskirts of the city. Travel from Osaka's downtown Umeda takes only half an hour, and offers numerous hiking trails, temples and the biggest draw— the waterfall. The park is especially stunning when the leaves start turning various hues of red and brown.
All in all, Osaka felt like a nice respite from the bustle of Tokyo.
There was no shortage of all the commercial amenities you'll find in the capital, yet it felt like it had a whole vibe of its own that felt more laidback and less serious.
But when it comes down to it though, there's no better city to live, work, eat and party quite like Osaka.
From this trip to Osaka, I turned a photograph of the cherry blossoms I took into a postcard here, which you can purchase now from the shop, along with the rest of the catalogue of Series 001 and 002!
One of the biggest draws to Japan is its cherry blossoms, which begin to bloom in the south and gradually make their way up to the north of the archipelago. It is the essence of Japan in the Spring. When we were there in 2014, I managed to catch the blossoming of plum blossoms, which are differentiated from peach and cherry blossoms by the shape of their petals and the way they grow out of the tree. I took this when I was under such a tree, and simply looked up.