Although it's the third largest city in Japan, and certainly not the last in terms of interest, I feel that Osaka is sometimes ousted by travelers planning a trip to Japan. As if one of its mandatory stops beyond Tokyo, Kyoto was still favored in Kansai.
However, Osaka still has a lot of strengths, in terms of location to begin with:
- it's closest to the Kansai International Airport (KIX), also often called 'Osaka Airport'
- in the Kansai area, it's probably best positioned, through its various stations (Shin-Osaka, Umeda and Namba): between Kyoto, Himeji, Nara or Kobe
- it's a fairly ideal hinge region between the inevitable Tokyo and the south/west of Japan (Shikoku / Kyushu)
Osaka is a rather unique city in Japan for several reasons. First, its population is a little apart, slightly less formatted, a little less in the mold (and that's not pejorative). The city is perhaps the least clean, certainly more relaxed, at least very urban. For example, you can see people crossing the streets on the red light, something a little less common in the rest of Japan. As if to mark its difference, you'll be walking on the right side, Western style, which entitles recurring skits on escalators.
As for the earthquake / tsunami of March 11, 2011, Osaka doesn't feel very concerned by the restrictions of electricity. Certainly, their power generators don't depend on the same central regions of Kanto and Tohoku, but this reflects a "Westerner" spirit.
Overall, the city is divided into two main areas: Namba / south, and Umeda / north. A circular train line (called 'Loop Line') goes around Osaka like a Yamanote, and a dozen subway lines complement it. I have a particular fondness for Namba, for its uniqueness. First there's Tenjinbashisuji, shopping arcades, which spread over 2.6 kilometers, including the famous Shinsaibashi. And just around the corner, Den-Den Town and Otaroad (for "otaku road") form a local small Akihabara. Shinsaibashi is crossed by Dotonbori, a river which agglutinate restaurants around it. At night the lights are amazing!
But there are also a lot of other famous attractions: Kaiyukan aquarium, Osaka Castle, the area around Tennoji or the Umeda Sky Building, and some other tourist spots which I show in the following photos. Only Spa World doesn't appear in the pictures, and for good reason (it's forbidden to shoot inside), but I advise you to spend 1.000¥ to have a good time there.
For an upcoming trip, I kept the baseball game at the Dome with the famous team Hanshin Tigers (but I went to the Sumo Tournament), and the visit of the Universal Studios park, certainly not very Japanese.
Oh, and while you are in Osaka, don't forget to taste the famous fried octopus: Takoyaki!