If you are looking for an alternative Osaka travel guide then you have come to the right page. Japan expert La Carmina shares her best tips and advice for exploring Osaka’s underground.
Only a three-hour bullet train ride from Tokyo, Osaka is the perfect destination for a long weekend getaway. While historical landmarks such as Osaka Castle are worth seeing, visitors shouldn’t miss out on exploring the subterranean culture to learn about the city in another way. Osaka, for example, has a gritty, loud music scene matched only by its drinking establishments — where staff are all feathered and dyed hair, Def Leppard is blaring from the speakers and grinning skulls adorn the walls.
I’ve been writing about Japan and visiting Osaka on my La Carmina travel blog for over a decade.
If you want to experience some great subcultures, here are some of my all-time favorite places in the city to visit. From art galleries and live music venues, to trendy cafes and underground clubs, there’s something for everyone!
So be sure to check out these spots on your next trip.
See also: A day in Osaka, Japan
Osaka Shopping Guide
This offbeat Osaka travel guide starts with some vintage, indie and unique places to shop.
The Shinsaibashi shopping mall is a great place to find unique and vintage items. Dangerous Nude is just one of many independent shops in the area. American Village, or “Ame-mura” for short, is Harajuku in Tokyo. Triangle Park is home to goth, punk and rockers. If you’re brave enough, you can stick your head through the beaded curtains and step into some of the online boutiques there. You might also find tarot cards and 1980s toys on sale.
Just a stone’s throw from Umeda Station, you’ll find EST: a shopping district for young women full of dreams and excitement. The boutique lures shoppers with crazy J-pop music and chic outfits from Cutie and ViVi magazines. And if the more than a hundred independent stores weren’t enough, across the street is Hep Five: a huge shopping and entertainment complex with a red ferris wheel on top.
Here are some of the more unique spots in Osaka.
If you are a Pokémon fan, the Pokémon Center is definitely a must-see in Japan. It is one of the largest and most popular stores specializing in Pikachu and friends merchandise located in Umeda, Osaka. You’ll find every character imaginable here, plus plenty of memorabilia and merchandise to take home.
Kids wearing Pikachu hats will remind you that the brand’s motto is “Got to Catch ’em,” so bring your wallet.
Kaiyukan is a top-notch aquarium that is always family friendly. Takumi Tanaka, a young Osaka resident, fondly recalls visiting as a child. “It’s a joy to see the penguins and dolphins playing, but my favorite thing to do is watch the floating pool of jellyfish. The intertwining tendrils look so peaceful,” he said with a smile. “I also enjoyed watching the staff feed the sea otters; they played like little children.”
Tanaka also advises first-time visitors to visit the historic Osaka Castle, especially during cherry blossom season. “There are always festivals and parties in the beautiful park, and small stalls selling traditional foods like takoyaki. It’s fun to sit on a bench and watch people go by.” He said.
Related Tours: Guided Walking Tour Around Osaka Castle
Bars and Nightlife in Osaka
What’s an Osaka travel guide without a list of the best bars and nightlife spots?
Related Tour: Osaka: Nightlife Experience
When fans of the now-defunct J-rock band Blood found out that the band’s former frontman, Fu-ki, was alive and working at a bar called Bar Midian, they were ecstatic. Located in Umeda, this bar is hard to find but definitely worth a visit.
Here are some useful directions: From Umeda Station, walk east to the Hep Five mall with the red ferris wheel. You’re almost there when you see the yellow TSUTAYA BOOKS sign. Go to the other side of the street and turn left at the Big Echo and Drug store signs. Now, you’ll find yourself in a maze of alleyways and gay bars; but don’t worry, if you spot the dragon, you’re on the right track (aha). Proceed until you see the BINGO sign on the left and the red fish sign on the right; then turn left. Welcome to Midian Bar!
As you approach the building, you will see many signs. One of them says “2F, Bar Midian”. Go ahead and walk to the entrance of the skull. Once you get there, you’ve reached your destination!
Midian’s decor has a heavy metal theme, including candles dripping from a Dracula bottle and an ax on an umbrella stand. The night we were there, we sat down with the tattooed rockers who bang their heads against Black Sabbath videos while shocking us with their boy-on-boy antics.
Drinks are 500 yen and have names such as “Black Rose” and “Satan”. Fu-ki makes strong cocktails and will be happy to make you a special cocktail or pour you a Belgian Satan beer. He also pays for newcomers, especially if you bond over music—so don’t forget to ask him about his Motley Crue cover band.
If you’re a metal or rock fan, Moonwalk is definitely worth a visit the next time you’re in Osaka. This is a bar that pumps out Marilyn Manson and Japanese glam metal to a young, pierced crowd.
My traveling companion and I were instantly smitten with the eyeliner-stained waiter Kouta, who plays bass in the new Visual Kei band. The illusion fades away when he walks into the kitchen to prepare us: delicious 315-yen Korean fried rice and pork patty with lotus paste. While there’s a 400 yen service charge, the drinks menu (over 300 drinks at 200 yen each) more than makes up for it. Have a sweet tooth? Try the Raspberry Yogurt Cocktail. More of the hardcore type? Go for the Brandy Ginger Blender. Don’t be surprised if charming bartenders bring free drinks.
bar rock rock
Alice Cooper. bad religion. Molly Crew. metal band. They are among the hundreds of celebrities who have caused a sensation at Rock Rock since the Rock Rock Bar opened in 1995, leaving behind autographed photos and stories of vandalism.
The vibe of Rock Rock reminds me of a really chill jazz club, only sometimes with screams playing in the background. The bar plays everything from punk to metal, and hosts events throughout the year to attract rock fans. These include special DJ nights such as Hell’s Bells (AC/DC), Emotion is Dead (emo) and the self-explanatory Loud & Heavy.
The menu is quite varied, with everything from pizza, pasta, to salads (600-800 yen). Drinks are also standard price, with a selection of fruity cocktails (500-800 yen). Prices can be a bit pricey, but it’s worth it when your drink is concocted by celebrity bartender “Noxl Rose”.
Food in Osaka
Bring your taste buds on an adventure.
See also: Japanese Pork Chop in Downtown Osaka
Be sure to remember this word if you are not Japanese “Okonomiyaki”. It would be a tragedy if you left without sampling Kansai’s soul food, the savory grilled pancake (often served with seafood and topped with bonito flakes and red sauce). Look for family restaurants like Tengu, where recipes have been passed down through generations.
Osaka is famous for its takoyaki – grilled octopus balls made by pouring batter into molds. You can find creative flavors such as eggs or melted cheese on every major street corner. For something more authentic, try Tako House at Umeda Station, run by a shy grandma who cooks each ball to perfection herself.
Yuzu (citrus fruit)
Yuzu is a delicious combination of lemon and orange. In Osaka, you’ll find this flavor in many different dishes, such as sorbet, sake, and shochu. This fruit is rarely found fresh outside of Japan, so be sure to enjoy it while you get a chance!
Related Tour: Eat Like a Local Street Food Tour
Day trips from Osaka
If you’re looking to escape Osaka for a day, here are some places to check out nearby.
To explore Kobe, visit its stunning parks, zoo and port. For a dark twist, check out gothic/fetish/occult/satanic bar ideas. Lovely ladies behind a spiked bar chat with you and perform dark rituals, including rope-bondage shows.
Nara is a great place to visit if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Only an hour away by metro, there’s a lot to see and do here. You can explore six different Buddhist temples, a shrine and imperial palace. Of course, one of the highlights for visitors of all ages is getting up close and personal with the sacred deer that roam Nara Park.
Related Tour: From Kyoto or Osaka: Private Walking Tour in Nara
Kyoto is a charming city just north of Osaka. It has thousands of beautiful and well-preserved religious sites, such as the Kinkaku-ji Temple. Originally built in the 14th century, the three-story gilded building houses the ashes of the Buddha and is set in an exquisite garden with a mirrored pool.
Related tours: Departure from Osaka: One-day tour of popular attractions in Kyoto