Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Nara, Wakayama, Shiga and Mie — these seven prefectures make up the Kansai region (関西, west border) and are a powerhouse in terms of tourism.
Once the political and cultural centre of the nation, it is now a beautiful mesh of traditional Nihon meets new-age Japan. As you make your way from the glitzy city of Osaka to the mysterious mountains of Wakayama, you’ll discover that western Japan surprises you at every turn, in more ways than one.
Formerly known as Naniwa-kyō (難波京), the third largest city in Japan buzzes with unstoppable energy and treats you to plenty of good fun, food and festivities.
Although lively in the day, the Dotonbori and Shinsaibashi areas truly comes to life at night, offering up a wide selection of restaurants and bars to the throngs of passers-by. Hundreds of neon lights and mechanised signs reflect upon the Dotonbori canal, including the famous Glico Running Man sign. Stroll over to Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade and the surrounding area for some retail therapy!
If you get hungry, why not try some tasty takoyaki? Invented by street vendor Tomekichi Endo in 1935, these street snacks are made using wheat flour-based batter filled with diced octopus, tenkasu (天かす, crunchy tempura bits), pickled ginger and green onion.
Found in the vibrant Shinsekai district, the original Tsutenkaku Tower was erected in 1912 and became the second tallest structure in Asia at the time. It was damaged by a fire in 1943 and later rebuilt in 1956. Standing at 103 metres, the current tower has two observation decks and souvenir shops.
For dinner, dig into kushiage (串揚げ), deep-fried skewered meat and vegetables said to be first served at food bars in Shinsekai, downtown Osaka. Unlike with tempura, the batter for kushikatsu uses breadcrumbs. The golden rule to note when tucking into this local favourite is to not double dip in the shared sauce pot!
The waterfront cityscape of Kitahama and Nakanoshima has lots of lush greenery to offer. A centre of business, political and cultural facilities in Osaka. recent development to the area has gained it Instagram fame. The imposing Nakanoshima Library, built in 1904, can be found here alongside trendy streets full of cafes, bars and fashion stores.
Touted one of the city’s best burger joints, Critters Burger offers classic American-style burgers, milkshakes, pancakes and other desserts that are loved by locals and expats alike. Chow down on the Avocado Cheeseburger or go big with the Bacon Cheese Eggburger for a bit more oomph!
After lunch, look rad shopping for books and magazines at Hirakata T-site. This bookstore cum commercial complex features eight-metre-high shelves are packed with a wide range of books, with wooden tables and chairs for readers to sit and browse in comfort.
Instead of traditional Japanese cuisine for dinner, why not sample pieces of unagi sushi topped with rich butter? Offered at the four outlets of Jinen restaurant in Osaka, these tantalizing pieces of grilled eel sushi each come with a thick slice of butter, which begins to melt just as they are served.
Finally, no visit to Osaka is complete without a day spent at the exhilarating Universal Studios Japan. Harry Potter fans can enter the magical village of Hogsmeade and indulge in some butterbeer, while thrill seekers can get their fill of excitement through the many rides and attractions.
(This feature first appeared on WAttention Singapore magazine, Mar/Apr 2018 Vol. 43)