Osaka is part "Shogun" and part "Lost in Translation." Tidy Buddhist temples rub up against modern hotels and pachinko parlors. In the center of town, the iconic Osaka Castle and its ancient moats and beautiful grounds are ringed by high-rises. Flattened during World War II, Osaka is a tangle of bridges, elevated roadways and skyscrapers, but surprisingly, Ferris wheels are also a big part of Osaka's visual signature, throbbing at night in neon color.
Port of Osaka
Find a Cruise to Asia
With 2.6 million people, Osaka is Japan's third-largest city after Tokyo and Yokohama. Another 1.5 million businesspeople and students crowd into town on weekdays. The city, located at the mouth of the Odo River on Osaka Bay, has a high energy quotient, which ticks up several notches at night when people spill into the entertainment and restaurant districts. And there are thousands of restaurants. Osaka has a longstanding reputation as "the kitchen of Japan," a culinary mecca known for its hearty cuisine. It's a city, it is joked, where people eat and go broke.
Osaka is also known for its stylish malls and shopping arcades, basically roofed shopping streets. It's a good thing some cruise ships choose to overnight here. With its many dimensions, Osaka is a town to take your time with.
Top Osaka Itineraries
Le Soleal8 Night Southeast Asia CruiseNagasaki, Kagoshima, Hiroshima, OsakaNow
Le Soleal8 Night Southeast Asia CruiseOsaka, Hiroshima, Kagoshima, NagasakiNow
Quantum of the Seas7 Night Best Of Japan CruiseShanghai, Osaka, Osaka, Kobe, Tokyo , ShanghaiNow
Spectrum of the Seas7 Night Best Of Japan CruiseShanghai, Osaka, Osaka, Kobe, Tokyo , ShanghaiNow
Viking Orion36 Night Far East & AlaskaVancouver, Ketchikan, Sitka, Icy Strait, Seward, Kodiak, Tokyo , Tokyo , Tokyo , Osaka, Hiroshima, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Kagoshima, Taipei , Hong Kong, Hong KongNow
Where You're Docked
Ships dock at the fabulous Tempozan Pier, which basically puts you smack dab in the center of Osaka's ever-developing waterfront. You can't miss the huge neon-lit Ferris wheel, said to be among the largest in the world. In advance of disembarking, passengers must go through a rigorous immigration inspection, lasting several hours and including fingerprints and photographs.
It would be easy to spend a full day in the area around the port, called Tempozan Harbor Village. Just steps from the pier, the terrific Osaka Kaiyukan Aquarium is home to nearly 600 species and 30,000 marine animals that come from the Pacific Rim. You'll find Pacific white-sided dolphins from the Tasman Sea, penguins from Antarctica, giant spider crabs from Japan, green sea turtles from Cook Strait and an impressive jelly fish collection. The aquarium's headliner is a whale shark that presides over the planet's largest fish tank. Exhibits are labeled in English and Japanese. Open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Also nearby is the stylish Suntory Museum, which features a 3D IMAX theater and rotating exhibits of art and design based on everyday life. The museum is open 10:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday (closed Monday). Tempozan Marketplace is loaded with souvenir shops and restaurants and a food court offering Osaka specialties like Takoyaki octopus balls, broiled blowfish and okonomiyaki, a Japanese-style pancake or pizza topped with ingredients such as red ginger, udon noodles, squid, shrimp, bean sprouts and thinly sliced pork.
Osaka has a convenient subway system (easily navigable by non-Japanese speakers), and there's a stop at Tempozan Harbor Village. It's also easy to hail a taxi on the street or at taxi stands. A cab ride from the pier to the Sony Building in Shinsaibashi, a central area of downtown for shopping and dining, costs 3,000 yen (about $30). Editor's note: It's not customary to tip your driver.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The national currency is the yen -- visit www.xe.com for up-to-the-minute exchange rates. ATM's are plentiful. Credit cards are widely accepted in finer stores and restaurants. Many taxis also now accept credit cards.
Japanese is the language, so don't count on hearing much English spoken or understood. Editor's tip: If you plan on using a taxi, it's a good idea to have your destination written in Japanese characters to show the driver.
Food and Drink
With its unofficial motto of "cheap but delicious," Osaka is a great place to score a foodie's fix. Restaurants crowd the streets and many have picture menus, often posted outside, to help you order. Among many other dishes, Osaka is associated with shabu shabu, a savory hot pot similar to sukiyaki; kitsune-udon, noodles in a slightly sweet broth seasoned with fried bean curd and chopped chives; yakitori, traditional Japanese chicken or beef kebobs; and, of course, sushi, sashimi and tempura dishes. Many of the shopping arcades and underground malls have food courts as well as restaurants. There are also countless restaurants within walking distance of Tempozan Pier.
Fine souvenirs include silk kimonos, porcelain and Japanese pearls. If you're thinking about taking a small gift to someone back home, there's Japanese tea, fans and the rice lotion that Sumo wrestlers rub on their bodies. Osaka is known for its vast underground shopping malls, selling anything and everything. But it also has specialized retail districts selling, for example, electronics and kitchen goods. Two noteworthy shopping destinations: The super-trendy America-Mura, or American Village, a bustling, energetic district popular with teenagers and young people, and Shinsaibashi-Suji, which is signature Osaka with its many shops, both traditional and fashionable.