Osaka: Where to Visit (and What to Eat) Any Time of Year
Reading time: 4 Minutes
June 26th, 2023
Osaka is a well-known hub of cultural activity and worthwhile attractions in Japan, yet can sometimes be overlooked by overseas visitors. Don't miss this cultural hotspot; with nonstop direct flights from Honolulu on Hawaiian Airlines®, it's easier than ever to visit Osaka, a delightful trove of culture and food any time of year. This major port city is the largest metropolitan area in Japan after Tokyo and is filled with historic landmarks, scenic walking areas, bustling street markets, parks, museums, onsen (hot springs), Shinto shrines, and exquisite restaurants.
When to visit?
With year-round attractions and things to do, there's never a bad time to travel to Osaka. Cherry blossom season is from late March to mid-April; a stroll at Sakuranomiya Park (named for the Japanese sakura) is sure to enchant as nearly 5,000 cherry trees along the banks of Okawa River bloom with light pink flowers. Or enjoy a walk in Nishinomaru Garden, a lush green space filled with more than 600 trees and a tea house situated across a moat from Osaka Castle, a vision of ancient Japanese architecture built in the 16th century, with an elevated stone foundation and pointed roofs.
Osaka summers may burst with outdoor activities and events. However, Osaka is every bit as beautiful and engaging in autumn. November is an especially gorgeous time for sightseeing, as maple leaves turn hues of red and gold. For unparalleled views, meander through picturesque Minō Park, where its namesake waterfall is said to resemble a farmer winnowing grain from a basket. Or Daisen Park, one of Japan's 100 historic parks, filled with garden trails, ponds, bridges, and museums.
Winters in Osaka are mild and pleasant; at the heart of the season is a string of dazzling light shows, The Festival of the Lights, where Osaka's trees, streets, parks, and buildings are lit up in a luminous display. When February approaches, don't miss Setsubun, a Buddhist ceremony that dates back to the 8th century. This celebration welcomes the arrival of spring, where roasted soybeans are consumed (one for each year of life, as is custom)—or even thrown out the front door to help drive away bad spirits in the new year.
Attractions for All Visitors
Whether you're hoping to explore the great outdoors with excursions in nature—or prefer the great indoors, at museums and other historic attractions, there are experiences for all visitors. Those looking to relax may enjoy onsen, where guests can luxuriate in mineral baths and natural springs (geothermally heated by volcanic activity) that usually overlook incredible nature vistas. Baseball fans can sit shoulder to shoulder with Orix Buffaloes fans under the roof of Osaka Dome, a massive stadium that resembles a flying saucer. Catch a traditional Japanese drama at Osaka's only kabuki theatre, Shochikuza, which offers a stylized performance of song, dance, and mime. Or marvel at more than 30,000 sea creatures in Kaiyukan Aquarium, one of the world's largest aquariums that attracts close to 70 million visitors a year.
Immersive Cultural Getaways
To explore further, head to nearby Kyoto and Nara, two ancient capitals of Japan that are both just minutes away. North of Osaka, Kyoto is a must-visit destination for those looking to experience formal Japanese tradition. With numerous shrines, parks, imperial palaces, and temples, visitors can partake in authentic experiences, including the (many) diverse courses of a kaiseki dinner and geisha tea ceremony.
Meanwhile, east of Osaka, Nara is home to several shrines, temples, and other historic monuments that together comprise a World Heritage Site. Many additional buildings here are considered national treasures. Although Nara is perhaps best known for the tame deer that gently approach visitors as they wander freely about the city, to the delight of visitors of all ages.
A tad south from Nara is Koya, one of Japan's holiest mountains. At its peak is Shojoshin-in Temple, with guest-room lodging run by resident Buddhist monks; visitors who stay at Shojoshin-in are welcome to participate in the daily meditation practices. A variety of traditional meals is available to guests, as are tours of the temple and grounds, which feature hot springs and an ancient mausoleum. Surrounded by wild nature and gardens that can best be described as mystical—picture moss-covered stone steps alongside reflecting pools and delicately manicured greenery—the temple offers a serene, meditative experience away from bustling Japan.
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