Walking through Nakanoshima Park after dark could be the night cap on a perfect day in Osaka. (Photos: Said Karlsson)
Osaka’s constant culinary creativity might be a natural outcropping of its reputation for having some of the most down-to-earth and industrious people in Japan. It may also be a direct expression of the warmth of its people. Whatever it is, it’s something that must be experienced in Japan’s third-largest city. Plus, there is plenty to do between adventurous bites, according to Tokyo-based VSCO photographer Said Karlsson, who shares his perfect day in Osaka.
Kuromon Ichiba Market
Visitors to this central Osaka market are often taken aback by the range of seafood on offer. Sea urchins and fugu, anyone? But there’s one particular delicacy for which Kuromon has become famous: pink baby octopus stuffed with quail eggs — on a stick. It might sound like a jarring combination, but visiting food enthusiasts flock to get sightings. The snack is known to be as visually arresting as it is tasty. “It looks a little like a pink tentacle-pop,” adds Karlsson. The nearly 200-year-old Kuromon market bustles daily with both locals and tourists and is known as “Osaka’ s Kitchen” to many in the area. It doesn’t only sell seafood, though; there’s marbled beef and all manner of vegetables.
1 Chome Nipponbashi, Chuo Ward, +81 6-6631-0007, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. daily
Osaka Castle Park
“This is like the Central Park of Osaka,” Karlsson says of the the 106-hectare home to hundreds of cherry trees and the iconic wood and stone Osaka Castle. Originally constructed as temple grounds and later converted to a military base for the Imperial Japanese Army, the high-walled fortress park is surrounded by a moat and feels a little like an island in the middle of the city. From inside, the towering high-rises of downtown can be seen peeking over vegetation. “This is a place where locals go for a picnic and where I like to go to unwind,” Karlsson adds. “The castle is popular and architecturally interesting.” Indeed, Osaka Castle is one of the more beautiful structures in a city known more for its warm hospitality and fine dining than for its architectural aesthetic. Dating from the 16th century, it follows the traditional Japanese style and is among the most striking in the country.
1-1 Osakajo, Chuo Ward, +81 6-6941-3044, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily
Elegant Sumiyoshi taisha is a Shinto shrine that draws crowds all year round, but particularly on New Year’s Day when many flock for Hatsumōde. In Shinto tradition, this makes up the first shrine visit of the year and is seen as a time to plan the year ahead. Sumiyoshi’s honden — a honden is the most important building in any Shinto shrine and is often off-limits to the public — is one of the oldest examples of its architectural style in the country and is designated a national treasure by the government. “It’s a quiet and very beautiful place,” adds Karlsson.
2 Chome-9-89 Sumiyoshi, +81 6-6672-0753, 6 a.m. – 5 p.m. most days
Smack in the middle of bustling downtown are the remains of the once sprawling Hōzen-ji Temple, most of which was lost during World War II. Founded in 1637 by a monk, what visitors see today are Konpira-san and Mizukake-fudo, statues dedicated to the deity Fudō Myō-ō. “It’s pretty cool to walk around the modern streets of the city and come across this ancient site,” says Karlsson. Locals traditionally splash water on the statues as a way of protecting themselves from evil and to help grant any wish.
Namba, Chuo-ku, +81 6-6211-4152, accessible most days
With linoleum floors, a homey welcome mat, a signature model cow on the premises and a London underground–style roundel as part of the logo, Henrietta is one of the hippest spots in town. It’s also a place to get top-quality beer and equally delicious ice cream. The best thing about places like this, though, Karlsson says, isn’t really the food and drink on offer: It’s where you experience the real warmth and friendliness of Osaka locals. “These are the places where people will walk up to you and speak English if they know how and will gladly entertain your shaky Japanese if they don’t.”
3 Chome-14-30 Higashiobase, Higashinari Ward, +81 6-4306-3936, open late most days
Osaka’s largest and oldest park is an elegant waterside mall bursting with greenery and featuring a popular rose garden. From here, some of the city’s most attractive buildings — like Osaka City Central Public Hall and the Osaka Prefectural Nakanoshima Library — are visible. Opened in 1891, the park was once home to a beer garden and is a place where locals come to escape the hubbub of the city streets. “It’s particularly attractive at night,” Karlsson says. “The relative quiet of the park makes a great contrast with the city lights.”
1 Nakanoshima, Kita-ku, +81 6-6312-8121, open 24 hours
In a city known for culinary feats — this is the town that invented conveyor-belt sushi — it’s pretty hard to pin down one edible as its most famous. But takoyaki comes pretty close. And this simple combination of fried squid balls served with mayonnaise, ginger and spring onion is as delicious as it is ubiquitous. “It’s like the signature dish of the city,” Karlsson says. “It’s available on pretty much every corner, and it would be strange to come here and not try it.” Takoyaki pans — which feature rows of half-spherical molds — are sold all over town, for those wanting to replicate the experience at home. Watch out though: For the uninitiated, takoyaki is served very hot.
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