But there’s more to Osaka than the food. Add to that buzzing canal sides, blossom-filled parks and the country’s most luxurious toilets and you’ve got a winning combination. Here are six reasons why Osaka should be your next trip.
1. It’s the Venice of the East
Thought canals were a European thing? Think again. Osaka has miles and miles of them.
The Dōtombori neighbourhood is the best place to check them out. This is also where you’ll find some of Osaka’s best eating spots (though the area is particularly famous for its vending machine restaurants).
While there aren’t any barges, there are plenty of tour boats. We recommend hopping on a night-time cruise to admire Osaka in all its dazzling glory: enormous neon crabs, shrimps and dumplings are especially popular displays. Most tours depart from Dōtombori’s Tazaemonbashi Bridge boat dock: expect to pay around ¥700 (£5) for a 20-minute cruise.
2. It’s noodle heaven
Pot Noodles will look rather plain after a visit to Osaka.
Ramen noodles were invented here and there’s even a tourist attraction dedicated to this Japanese delicacy. Stop by the Instant Ramen Museum and you’ll find a replica of a Japanese street, arty displays of colourful ramen pots and a food court where you can try out the many (and we mean many) different varieties.
But there’s more to Osaka than noodles – in fact, it’s got the country’s most diverse food scene. One of our favourite gourmet haunts is the Nipponbashi district; it has several of Osaka’s quirkier eateries, including some of Japan’s famous maid cafés.
Oddly, Osaka is also one of Japan’s largest producers of plastic food: that is, the synthetic sushi, noodles, dumplings and crabs you’ll see displayed on plates outside almost every restaurant in Japan. At in Namba, you can even learn how to make some fake food yourself.
3. It has its very own castle
Osaka Castle is a beautiful, towering fortress, surrounded by citadels, a moat and some 600 cherry trees. It may seem as though it has always stood here – but don’t be fooled. Although work on the first version started in 1583, the castle was destroyed in 1615. Its replacement burned down in 1665, and in 1931, a concrete version was built.
Head to the castle’s museum to learn about Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the fearsome general who ordered the original castle’s construction.
4. The weather is perfect
Japan can get rather hot – in fact, the mercury can regularly hit 40°C during the warmer months. But Osaka’s position on the coast helps keep the temperature under control, thanks to the cooling breeze rolling in across Osaka Bay.
This means the city’s many parks are a delight year round. Our favourites include Osaka Castle Park (prettiest in autumn) and the flower-filled Kema Sakuranomiya – the latter is best avoided in spring when it’s filled with the hanami (cherry blossom-viewing) crowds.
5. It’s the perfect base for some really cool day trips
As if there’s not enough to keep you in Osaka, Kyoto is just a 15-minute train ride away. With time at a premium, priorities should be visits to Nijō Castle, followed by the Sentō Imperial Palace, with its beautiful gardens.
And just 40 minutes on the super fast Shinkansen trains, you’ll find Nara, Japan’s first capital city, which dates back to 710. While you’re here, check out the Todai-ji Temple and Kasuga-Taisha Shrine (the latter is famous for its glittering lanterns) and say hello to Nara Park’s famous bowing deer.
6. The toilets are amazing
Okay, admittedly, this is a country-wide phenomenon. But park your behind on a heated loo seat and there’s really no going back. In Osaka, they’re not just in five-star hotels, either. You’ll find ludicrously luxurious loos everywhere: in department stores, budget hotels and ryokans (traditional inns).
You’ll usually find at least five settings relating to washing and drying – and as for that button bearing a single music note? Press it and you’ll hear a pleasant little jingle – this particular function is known as otohime (translation: sound princess).