I love Osaka! It's full of spectacular places for sightseeing, but if you're looking for unique things to do in Osaka, those less-touristy experiences, then the great news is this city virtually has a neverending supply.
And many of them are free. If you know where to look.
What you need is an experienced insider to show you those off the beaten path activities that will stay with you long after you return home. That's where I come in. 😉
Here's my guide to 11 of the best, cool, unusual and unique things to do in Osaka.
Download my "Unique Osaka" interactive Google Map:
11 Unique Things To Do In Osaka
by Rob Dyer
11 Unique Things To Do In Osaka
I've compiled this list from things I have done and experienced in Osaka over many years. Some I return to time and time again, others are best enjoyed less frequently, while others you may only want to try out just the once.
With the exception of the Babe Ruth Memorial, all of these are in the centre of Osaka and within walking distance or a short subway ride away from each other.
Beneath each entry, I've included an Essential Info guide.
Here you'll find handy details such as the best time to visit, how much it costs (if anything), links to official websites, and my specific insider tips to make planning your activities as quick and easy and the experiences themselves as enjoyable as possible.
If you've never been to Osaka and would like to get a feel for it before you make your plans, there are online virtual tours of Osaka you can take that will do that for you.
Before we delve into the list, if you want an introduction to the sightseeing highlights Osaka has to offer (along with a few leftfield ideas too) then be sure to check out my 3-Day Osaka Itinerary.
1.) Shop for collectables in an ancient temple
Set in the extensive grounds of the ancient Shitennoji Buddhist temple, this sprawling monthly antique and flea market regularly has over 300 stalls.
Hunt down that elusive antique netsuke or simply stroll and people-watch in the oldest Buddhist monastery in Japan. Second-hand kimonos, hand-carved furniture, vintage film posters, china, retro video games, even samurai swords can be found here, often at genuine bargain prices.
It’s easy to spend 3-4 hours here, so build in plenty of time for your visit. Mobile yatai stalls sell street food and there is an indoor canteen area where you can sit down and eat your lunch or rest and take a break.
The market takes place on the 21st and 22nd of every month. Arrive early to bag the best bargains.
Essential Info - Shitennoji Temple Flea Market
2.) Travel in luxury for less than $15 (¥1,500)
Normally, the chance to experience luxury train travel like on Japan’s incredible Seven Stars in Kyushu is reserved for the few with very deep pockets. However, there’s one train service in Japan that doesn’t skimp on indulgence and can be experienced for less than ¥1,500 each way. That's less than $15.
The magnificent Blue Symphony from the private Kintetsu Railway company offers the luxurious interiors of the Orient Express but at a fraction of the cost. The catch? The maximum journey lasts just an hour and a half each way. But what an hour and a half it is.
The return journey passes through fruit-growing areas and some noted for producing wine and sake. The service on board the Blue Symphony specialises in serving local foods using seasonal ingredients, wines, and sake from the areas along the train’s route.
Announcements (in Japanese) point out notable sights along the line and indicate where their produce has come from.
The handsome three-car train is finished in royal-blue livery highlighted with flourishes of gold, lending the coaches a regal air. In addition to the sumptuous seating cars, the train has a lounge car, bar (where food and drinks can be ordered), and a small library.
The service operates between Osaka-Abenobashi Station and Yoshino Station twice a day. Read this post for ideas of how to spend your day in Yoshino.
BOOK TICKETS: Blue Symphony tickets can be booked online HERE
Essential Info - Blue Symphony Luxury Sightseeing Train
3.) Make new friends in a live music club
Osaka has a reputation in Japan for the welcoming nature of its live house (club music) scene. It’s also a city where you can catch some big-name artists in relatively small venues. If you like your live music to be more of the emerging, up-and-coming variety, you need to head for the smallest, most intimate clubs like Live Square 2nd Line.
Located beneath the arches of the elevated railway running into Osaka Station, this modest little place exudes a friendly vibe, making it a memorable spot to spend an evening, even if you are alone. It opened in 2002 and since then has established a reputation among those on the local rock music scene as a venue for performing and going to see other acts.
Unlike some clubs where the clientele seem to pose more than enjoy the music, folks here frequently offer a smile, making it easy to strike up a conversation with those who have a similar taste in music. Multi-band nights are a staple, so for a modest entry fee you can often see four or more bands in a single evening.
Good sound system, friendly staff, cheap nights. Just a 3-minute walk from Fukushima Station.
Essential Info - Live Square 2nd Line Live House
4.) See where baseball legend Babe Ruth played ball
Contrary to popular belief, baseball, not sumo, is the most popular sport in Japan. Remarkably, legendary American player Babe Ruth toured Japan in 1934, playing an exhibition game at Koshien Stadium. The most hallowed baseball park in Japan.
A memorial to the record-breaking major-leaguer outside the front of the stadium, near the ticket office, commemorates his visit, providing an unexpected photo opportunity. The Museum of Hanshin Koshien Stadium on site includes a small display of artefacts related to Ruth’s visit. Included is the promotional poster for the 1934 tour featuring a painting of Ruth that convinced him to come to Japan.
When you walk into the large bowl of Koshien Stadium it is an impressive sight. It is the oldest ballpark in Japan, and was the largest in Asia when it was opened in 1924. The stadium is a 15-minute express train ride from Osaka Umeda and Osaka Namba stations on the Hanshin Dentetsu line. Get off at Koshien Station, directly outside the stadium.
Tip: it can be difficult (sometimes impossible) to buy tickets on the day of a game, especially when the most popular teams like the Yomiuri Giants are playing. So it is best to buy your tickets in advance. Read this post about baseball at Koshien for more ticket info.
Access to the Babe Ruth memorial is free. There is a charge to enter the museum.
SEE ALSO: Going To A Baseball Game in Japan
Essential Info - Babe Ruth Memorial Koshien Stadium
5.) Sip cocktails in a secret steampunk submarine bar
Osaka’s bar scene is one of the best in Japan and with hundreds, if not thousands to choose from, it takes something special to stand out from the crowd.
Deepening Submarine Bar SHINKA, or simply Shinka bar, is a tiny subterranean drinking establishment in Osaka’s Chuo Ward, not far from Osaka Castle. Barely bigger than a large closet (it can hold a maximum of 8 customers at any time), its unique Steampunk aesthetic comes from its intricately hand-crafted submarine interior design.
Once the entrance door closes behind you, immersed in its sparsely lit, dark space it’s easy to believe you’re 20,000 leagues beneath the sea. The authenticity of the setting comes partly from the fact that genuine parts from a 1930s submarine were used in its design and construction, with gauges, flashing lights and switches covering every inch of the walls .
It specialises in cocktails but also serves beer. It doesn’t have a website and it isn’t easy to find, but armed with my Google Maps guide and Captain Nemo-like determination, you’ll be glad you hunted this remarkable place down. It's a 6 minute walk from Tanimachi 6 Chome station on Osaka Subway's Tanimachi Line, and a 10 minute walk east from JR Osaka Station.
Note: Closed on Wednesdays.
BROWSE: Top Osaka Food & Drink Tours
Essential Info - Deepening Submarine Bar SHINKA
6.) Drive through a skyscraper
Yes, through the building.
The Hanshin Expressway cuts straight through floors 5-7 of the Gate Tower Building in the heart of Osaka. The bizarre configuration is the result of a compromise between the developer building the expressway and the owners of the land on which the building sits, who did not want to sell to the developers.
You don’t need to be an architecture fan to marvel both at the engineering and the surreal spectacle of it. It offers many incredible photo opportunities that your friends and family back home might not believe, except when they hear that it’s in Japan.
You can drive right through the Gate Tower Building by taking the Umeda Exit on the Ikeda Route of the expressway. (If you're considering driving in Japan read this post.) The building itself is simply offices, so it isn’t open to the general public. Anyhow, the best views of it are to be had from the outside.
It is possible to stand directly beneath the elevated exit at the point where it enters the building. Head for the Umeda 2 Nishi junction, turn north, and look up.
Essential Info - Gate Tower Building
7.) Relax in Osaka Station’s rooftop gardens
Most people don't know there is a series of gardens above Osaka's biggest train station which provide room to relax and take in extensive views of the city below.
On the upper floors of the North Gate Building you’ll find two rooftop gardens and a working farm. They were designed by the architects in order to provide a peaceful haven from the relentless hustle and bustle of the more than 2.3 million passengers using the station below every day.
In the north building is the Yawaragi-no-niwa garden (Peaceful Garden), a serene Japanese zen garden on the 10th floor with plenty of seating. The design is built to represent a ripple in the landscape caused from a drop of water falling into it. Kaze-no-hiroba (Garden of the Wind), on the 11th floor, is an architectural garden with extensive seating, a decked area, several pergolas providing cool shade, a wind sculpture in a small pool, and an artificial lawn area suitable for children to play in.
Both North Gate gardens offer excellent views of the landmark Umeda Sky Building.
Further up on the 14th floor of the North Gate Building is the Tenku-no-noen Farm. Conceived as a ‘farm in the sky,’ it may be small, but it is a real working farm. Seasonal fruit and vegetables are grown here and it is possible to participate in some of the planting and harvesting activities.
Essential Info - Osaka Station Rooftop Gardens
8.) Drink world local collective coffee in a traditional kissaten
Forget your Starbucks. If you need a coffee fix in Osaka, head for a local kissaten like the Sunshine Cafe. Completely unknown to tourists, this retro cafe sources excellent coffee beans from local collectives around the world, including Brazil, Ethiopia, and lesser-known coffee-producing countries like Zimbabwe.
Sunshine Cafe opened in 1973 at the height of the burgeoning kissaten scene in Japan. These then-new-fangled teahouses which also served coffee and sweets offered a quiet refuge emphasising the absolute quality of their offerings. Their emergence was a move away from the original, more entertainment-driven cafes which catered to an increasingly fast-paced lifestyle.
Fancy something sweet with your coffee? The fat pancakes are a good choice. If you’re after a premium, professional-quality coffee in surroundings with a taste of tradition, Sunshine Cafe is a fine example of an increasingly rare, but essential, part of Japanese cafe culture.
Bags of the cafe’s own blend, both beans and ground, can be purchased and make a nice souvenir of your visit.
Essential Info - Sunshine Cafe Traditional Kissaten
9.) Appear live on a billboard
Dotonbori has long been the lively heart of Osaka. It's a place to play, eat, drink, and be merry. At night it dazzles with multicoloured neon lights and advertising screens. Its streets are an assault to the senses and buzz with people at all times of day.
Next door to the famous Kani Douraku restaurant with its giant red crab is a colourful billboard advertising Meiji candy. It is directly opposite the Forever 21 fashion store, and only a 5-minute walk from Namba Station.
Thousands of people walk past it every day, but not many realise that it has a special interactive feature.
Built into the 3D display of characters from its range of candies is a camera pointing to the street. Spot it, smile, and see yourself on the billboard. You can take a photo of yourself alongside the famous Meji characters. You have now appeared live on a billboard in Japan!
It makes for a unique selfie memento of your visit to Osaka and a great one to share with friends and family back home.
Essential Info - Dotonbori Live Billboard
10.) Take an Osaka architecture walk
If you’re interested in architecture, Osaka is blessed with countless buildings worth seeking out. During a leisurely 15-minute walk in Fukushima Ward, near Osaka Station, you can see cutting-edge architecture as well as famous-name hotels.
Begin beneath the Gate Tower Building, where an elevated expressway goes right through the building, and finishes at the Sakurabashi Entrance of JR Osaka Station. The architecture takes on another dimension at night, as the buildings are illuminated by thousands of lights, making this a good choice for a post-drink stroll on a balmy evening, too.
Buildings along the route include the Azusa Sekki's Gate Tower Building , The Ritz-Carlton Hotel, and the Kajima Corporation's Osaka MODE Gakuen.
Read my Discovering Osaka Architecture: Night Walk From Fukushima Ward to Osaka Station post for more detail on this walk and photos of the architecture you'll see along the way.
WALKING ROUTE MAP:
Use this route on Google Maps (to walk the same route yourself)
Essential Info - Osaka Architecture Walk
Location Map - starting point
11.) Get a haircut at a wild west saloon
Many Japanese have an affection for America and its culture. One of these is barber shop owner Kazu Kuroda. He has two passions in life: being a hairstylist, and the American wild west.
To bring together these two unlikely things, he opened a Western saloon-themed hair salon called Barber John Wayne. Its logo is a stagecoach.
Don’t expect theme park-sized theatrics (this is a working salon, after all) but it does come complete with wall-mounted Winchester rifles, photographs of John Wayne, swinging saloon doors, the odd Stetson hat lying around, and sometimes a life-size cutout of the owner in full cowboy gear posing as John Wayne, which is perfect for a selfie!
A haircut and shave with cut-throat razor optional.
Essential Info - Barber John Wayne
Where to stay in Osaka
There's no shortage of great value accommodation in Osaka. The competition is fierce, which means companies have to either go out of their way to offer excellent value or to offer something unique.
If you're looking for a mid-range (ie. 3-Star) hotel close to the majority of the experiences in this post then I suggest you check out Hotel The Flag Shinsaibashi. It's located 650 yards from Dotonbori River and the Ebisu Tower Ferris Wheel, 750 yards from the music and shopping district America Village.
BONUS! Osaka 3-Day Itinerary
Population: 2,668,586 (city) / 19,302,746 (metropolitan area)
Signature Food: Takoyaki, Okonomiyaki, Kushikatsu
Theme Park: Universal Studios Japan (USJ)
Recommended: Osaka Castle, ABENO HARUKAS, Shinsekai, Shitenno-ji Temple
Where to Stay: Hotel Nikko Osaka, Hotel Vischio Osaka by Granvia
About the Author
A writer and publisher from England, Rob has been exploring Japan’s 6,800 islands since 2000. He specialises in travelling off the beaten track, whether on remote atolls or in the hidden streets of major cities. He’s the founder of TheRealJapan.com.
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