Japan's Kitchen

Work hard, play hard is Osaka’s motto: this is a city that does everything to maximum effect. A visit here means absorbing the myriad options the city has to offer in every department, from the ever-increasing number of fabulous restaurants, to astounding and ancient buildings, and the profusion of neon lights and animatronic signs that is Dotonburi. The list of things to do in Osaka is never-ending, but here’s a place to start.

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From Castles to Jellyfish

Osaka Castle, one of Japan’s most important historic sites, dates back to the 1500s and was once the keep of General Toyotomi Hideyoshi before being conquered by the Tokugawa shogunate. It’s one of the best attractions in Osaka, a place you could easily spend a full day exploring.

The grounds are popular with locals, especially when the plum trees blossom into pink and white towards the end of winter, but the castle itself is startlingly imposing, its gates and turrets looming impressively over the moat. Much of the site was reconstructed in the 1930s but it’s historically accurate, and the inner museum has plenty of information on its origins.

In stark contrast with the ancient atmosphere of the castle, Dotonbori feels like the 22nd century. This road is jam-packed with restaurants and bars blazing neon lights and billboards, with every place doing its best to entice you inside. What to do in Osaka when evening rolls around? You could just start strolling around Dotonbori and dive into whichever bar, restaurant, nightclub, shop or karaoke bar looks most interesting. Always thronged with people, this place is Osaka’s heart, and every night there’s something different – a street performer, a dazzling sign or a completely unfamiliar food – to see or do or eat.

Top of most lists of things to see in Osaka is the Kaiyukan Aquarium, the world’s largest. Home to everything from penguins and Arctic otters to otherworldly jellyfish and an enormous whale shark, it’s an immersive experience with 15 exhibits detailing the different environments of the Pacific Rim. If you time your visit right (check the website for the schedule), you can watch staff feed the fish, seals or river otters.

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