Train Travel

Osaka Obsession - Your Love for Japan (and your tummies) Will Grow in "The Nation's Kitchen"

We recently spent 10 days in Japan, and figuring out what we were going to do (when there is SO much to see!) was a huge struggle for us. After much deliberation, we decided to spend 4 days in Tokyo and 5 days in Osaka. While this was the best trip EVER, and we crammed our days full, we've since realized we need to return to Japan soon - because there's so much we still have yet to do! During our journey, we fell in love with Tokyo, Osaka, and nearby Kyoto. Today we’re going to share a few reasons why Osaka is a perfect spot to have as a home base while you explore Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, and beyond.

Osaka is known as “The Nation’s Kitchen”, so food will be a big part of your time here. The name originally came from Osaka being the mecca for the rice trade and other produce. Eventually that reputation grew as tons of great restaurants and local delicacies are scattered throughout the city. Our favorite was Matsusaka beef at Matsuzakgyu Yakiniku M, Sushi at Ginza Kyubey, and green tea ice cream at the Osaka castle (a MUST!!). There is also an INCREDIBLE variety of street food, so walk everywhere to burn off some calories. A local favorite is Takoyaki (octopus ball), but it was a little too much for us. Bobby tried, but couldn’t handle it… which isn’t normal because he’s eaten some weird stuff.

Shinsaibashi-Dotonbori Area – A crazy part of Osaka where you’ll want to spend a good chunk of time. Shinsaibashi for shopping, and Dotonbori for eating. Shinsaibashi is an enclosed shopping mall, different from what we think of in the states. It is a large strip of shops spanning more than half-a-mile! Here you’ll find retail, luxury, boutiques, and street vendors. It is a great shopping area where you could spend a ton of money but also score some bargains. We were there over New Years, which is a bummer because many of the best stores were closed. I guess we have to go back? Nearby Dotonbori is essentially the capitol of the “Nation’s Kitchen”. Incredible food. Looking back on it, we realize we should’ve spent more time here eating, and probably walked more too. You’ll know you are entering the Dotonbori area when you see the iconic giant Glico Man (Glico makes Pocky!). Don’t bother with Pocky here, though. Explore street food, ramen, crab, takoyaki (we dare you), and blowfish (we also wimped out on this). Put your walking shoes on, don’t eat too much rice, and enjoy this sensory (and stomach) overload in Osaka.

Trains make day-trips easy – While there is plenty to do, see, and eat in Osaka, there are some incredible towns just a short train trip away from Osaka. We recommend getting the JR Rail Pass so you can hop on the Shinkansen train from Shin-Osaka Station to Kyoto Station in 15 minutes! We did this trip multiple times and most of the time didn’t even sit down. We just stood by the doors and watched the scenery during the quick trip. Kyoto is a beautiful city full of shrines, temples, and gardens, and is full of tradition including kabuki, geisha dancing, and picturesque onsens. Other day trips that we want to do during our next trip (we were obsessed with Kyoto and didn’t go anywhere else) would be Hiroshima (85 minutes via shinkansen), Kobe (14 minutes), and Nara (30 minutes). Aside from day-trips, we used our JR Rail Pass to get between Tokyo and Osaka as well! It’s so easy… can we please get some trains like this in CA!?!

So depending on how much you love food (we’re biased), we would recommend having Osaka as either a short stop (2-3 days) or as a hub as you explore this area of Japan. There is so much to see, and you’ll probably love it wherever you end up. Get your train pass, stretch your stomach, and embrace YOLO with all the cuisine and experiences you can have in Osaka!  

Traveling by Train in Japan: 5 Things to Know!

We recently went to Japan and were absolutely obsessed. We explored Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka over a 10-day period, and already planning our next trip back. While we were there, we made a point to splurge on hotels (the Japanese take service to the next level) and food (again, amazing). Because Japan is not the cheapest place to visit, we needed to find other areas to save money. After doing some research, train travel seemed to be the most cost-efficient way for us to get all around the country. Here are some tips we learned along the way!

1. Get a Rail Pass

If you are traveling around Japan in a relatively short amount of time, we would highly recommend getting the Japan Rail (JR) Pass. This pass must be purchased outside of Japan! If you are only visiting Tokyo or another major city, then the pass may not be for you. But if you are traveling across the country and visiting multiple places, get a pass. The best website (with the best prices) is www.japan-rail-pass.com, and you need to book early. Deciding on first or second class really just depends on your budget and preference. We were fine riding second class, and sometimes the rides were so fast/short that we would stand.

 

2. Be on Time

Japan’s train lines are extremely punctual, so you need to be on time. If a train is supposed to depart at 10:07, it will, so give yourself a little time. Many train stations have very efficient setups where they show you where to stand to wait in line. The line-up area often even labels at which point in the line the car will be full, so you can either beg somebody to give you their seat, or patiently wait for the following train. All that to say, if you need to be somewhere, just get to the station on time (early).

 

3. For Short Routes, Stand!

We stayed in Osaka and branched out from there, so we were often taking day trips to places like Kyoto. Understand that the Shinkansen bullet trains are FAST, and by the time you find a seat on a busy afternoon, you’ll probably be there. Osaka to Kyoto is 40 miles, and takes 15 minutes! If you’ve been walking a lot and want to rest your legs, fair enough, but we enjoyed beating the traffic getting off the train by standing right by the door on short journeys.

4. Bring Food! Bento Box!

Most trains will have food on board, but it will be way more expensive (and not as good). We would highly recommend that you get snacks on the street or in the station before you board the train. We are HUGE fans of Bento Boxes. Ekiben, aka Bento Boxes, are boxes of food that contain delicious Japanese cuisine. Our favorite is the Tonkatsu (deep-fried breaded pork cutlet) Bento Box! Get one (or two)!

5. Have a Wi-Fi device

For the longer trips, we recommend having a Wi-Fi device so you can get some work done, stream movies, or catch up on your Instagram. The views from the trains are spectacular, so don’t be glued to a screen the whole time. We were super thankful to have the Wi-Fi device so that Alli (and maybe Bobby) could catch up on the Bachelor. We were able to bundle our train passes with a pocket Wi-Fi device from Japan Experience. It was a lifesaver. Especially when we had to find out who Nick took on his hometown dates. 

Please go to Japan. It is incredible. And if you travel by train, hopefully this helps you navigate. Where have you traveled by train? Can you give us any tips? Happy travels!