Osaka is one of the main cities along the often-followed “Golden Route” of Japan travellers, with Kyoto and Tokyo being the others. The range of culture, from the traditional temples to the soul food has earned Osaka it’s place on the Golden Route. However, it isn’t as easy to pigeonhole as traditional, historical Kyoto or modern, fast-paced Tokyo. Osaka occupies a middle ground, with aspects of history, aspects of modernity, and a little something extra that you will find with 48 hours in Osaka.
48 Hours in Osaka – Day 1
To start the journey in Osaka, we are going right back to the beginning. This is Shi-tennoji Temple. Shi-tennoji is Japan’s oldest Buddhist temple and was first built in 593AD. It marks the introduction of Buddhism to Japan by Prince Shotoku, the son of the emperor at the time. After entering the Gokurakumon, or Paradise Gate, there are a number of different temple buildings to see, including the Main Hall in which Prince Shotoku is enshrined.
One of the main attractions is a 5-storied pagoda, which visitors can enter. No photos are allowed inside the pagoda, or from the windows at the top, so it is unique experience for each visitor. There is a nearby museum, known as the Treasure House, which displays various statues, paintings and artifacts from the temple’s history. Shi-tennoji temple is a key part of not only Osaka, but Japan’s cultural history and identity.
Osaka Castle Park
Osaka Castle and the surrounding park are a common first recommendation for anyone visiting Osaka, and for good reason. The park is located close to the centre of the city and is designed to be beautiful regardless of season. There are a range of different trees and flowers, including the famous cherry blossoms and plum trees. Osaka Castle is in the centre of the park. This castle is one of the most famous in Japan. It has been reconstructed a number of times since it was first built in the 1500s, and currently, the inside contains a museum explaining the history of Osaka Castle and displaying historical artifacts. At the top of the castle, there is a wraparound balcony which gives the viewer a panoramic view of Osaka. Osaka castle is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Osaka, and no visit would be complete without seeing it.
After a day of history, it’s time for something more modern and Shinsaibashi is the perfect place. Shinsaibashi is one of the most popular shopping areas in Osaka and Shinsaibashi-suji is the main shopping street. It is about 600m long, and lined on both sides with a variety of shops. 600m might not sound like much, but Shinsaibashi-suji has many intersecting streets, all filled with yet more shops, restaurants and more.
One end of Shinsaibashi-suji is located at the Dotonbori canal, another of Osaka’s most famous attractions. Dotonbori is a canal cutting through the city. The area is famous for its bright lights and signs. The most famous of these is the ‘Glico man’ sign. When crossing the bridge from Shinsaibashi, it is usual to see a crowd of people on one side of the bridge, all wanting to see the Glico man. The Glico man is originally an advertisement for Glico candy which has been in place for over 80 years, albeit with upgrades. Throughout this time it has become iconic to Osaka.
This is the perfect area to be in for dinner, as it is the entertainment district of Osaka. Dotonbori is filled with restaurants selling all types of food, many of them with large animals or mascots on the outside of their restaurant. The crab restaurant is particularly famous, but they are all known to be good restaurants. In fact, the area gave rise to the term ‘Kuidaore’, meaning ‘eat till you drop’.
48 Hours in Osaka – Day 2
Umeda is one of the main business districts of Osaka and is the daytime cousin to the Dotonbori/Shinsaibashi area. While Namba really comes alive in the evening, Umeda is a bustling business hub during the day. There is no shortage of shopping buildings, but some of the best are the department stores. They are several stories high and often operate in a similar manner to a bunch of small shops crowded together. Hankyu Department Store is located between the JR station and the Hankyu station and is 12 stories high, selling everything from luxury bags and jewellery to products from independent artists, to beautifully-designed housewares. Below the nearby JR station, there is a large food hall, making it the perfect place for a late breakfast or morning tea.
Katsuo-ji temple is known as the victor’s temple, named so after the Emperor at the time was cured of a sickness after he prayed at the temple. It is considered to give good fortune in matters of health, business and exams. However, Katsuo-ji has a number of quirks differentiating it from other temples. Firstly, it is located on the outskirts of Osaka City, in the mountains of Minoh. It is on the top of a mountain, surrounded by lush forestation and within the temple ground, beautiful gardens.
Visiting Katsuo-ji feels like being at an isolated temple in the middle of nowhere, despite being so close to Osaka city. The temple is particularly beautiful in Spring and early Summer when a range of plants are flowering, from the cherry blossoms in early Spring, to the hydrangeas in Summer. Katsuo-ji is also famous for it’s darumas. The daruma is a small round doll-type figure, often thought to bring luck. They are common throughout Japan, but at Katsuo-ji, they are everywhere.
Daruma dolls are sold with the eyes blank and it is custom to fill in one eye, write a wish on the bottom, and when the wish comes true, fill in the second eye and return the daruma to the temple. Due to this custom, people have left daruma’s everywhere at the temple, from in the trees around the lake, to the stairs to the main temple, to the balcony overlooking the mountains. Nowadays, many people buy the daruma and leave it at the temple with their wish, rather than returning it after the wish is fulfilled, therefore adding even more to the mix. Katsuo-ji is a temple unlike any other, with an amazing view over the mountains and a small army of tiny daruma dolls.
After two long, busy days, Spaworld is the perfect finale. Spaworld is a super-sento, a multi-floor, artificial onsen. Spaworld has many floors, including a gym, restaurants and a pool, but the 4th and 6th floor are the most important. These are divided into the ‘Asian Zone’ (6th floor) and the ‘European Zone’ (4th floor). Each ‘zone’ has a number of onsen-like baths, with the décor and bath type inspired by different countries from the area.
The European zone includes Finland spas with accompanying saunas, a Blue Grotto cave bath, a Greek-inspired bath and many more. The Asian zone has a few Japanese onsen-style baths, a Bali-inspired bath and a Hinoki (Japanese cypress) bath. Both floors also have salt saunas. The floors are separated by gender, with a different gender using each floor on alternating months. Within a short time it is easy to relax into the experience and enjoy the variety of baths.
After travelling around the city, it can be amazing to spend your time relaxing in the hot water, and if you’re feeling like spending a little extra, indulge in one of the beauty treatments they offer. By the end you will be ready for the best sleep ever and wake up with the softest skin ever.
Osaka is Japan’s second-largest city and one of the key cities on most traveller’s itineraries. However, it can be difficult to plan what to do in a city like Osaka, as it is so diverse, with such range of places to see and things to do. That is also the beauty of Osaka though. It is possible to have an itinerary like this, going everywhere from historical sites to busy city buildings to beautiful gardens, all within two days in Osaka. Osaka has a little something for everyone, regardless of what type of traveller you are.
Book Attractions in Osaka
Hannah Cook has been living and working in Osaka, Japan for the last 2 years. She enjoys seeing and trying new things and has been doing her best to experience everything Japan has to offer.