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Japan: Insider Guide to Osaka

One of Japan's oldest cities and its first capital, Osaka is a class act in a scenic setting. Flanked on three sides by mountains, the city at the heart of the Kansai region opens onto Osaka Bay in the west and is laced with a network of rivers. Hence its nickname, the 'city of water'.

Discover what there is to do in Osaka aside from gawk at its moated castle or doing a 48-bridge river cruise. Oddly, much of Osaka’s entertainment centers on the sky rather than rivers. You could call it Sky City.

Five reasons to visit Osaka

1. Tempozan Ferris wheel

For a sweepingly scenic sense of Osaka, why not climb into its Ferris wheel. Osaka’s Ferris wheel is a monster, one of the world’s largest, soaring over 100 meters into the sky and affording dazzling views of the town, the bay and the nearby port city of Kōbe. Ride the wheel at night for a hypnotic view of the whole city lit up. Or just admire the wheel’s high-tech, intelligent exterior. The wheel is studded with colored lights that give a next-day weather forecast. While orange lights signal a sunny day, green means a cloudy day and blue spells rain.

The big wheel stands at Tempozan Harbor Village, beside one of the world’s largest aquariums http://www.kaiyukan.com/language/eng.

2. Hōzen-ji & Fudō-myōō statue

A stroll from Osaka’s Dōtonbori neon wonderland stands a dinky temple tucked down an alley. The temple, Hōzen-ji, serves as the arena for a moss-covered statue of Fudō-myōō, the ‘Immovable Wisdom King’: a divine smooth operator whose roles include destroying illusion and resisting temptation. You wonder what Fudō-myōō would make of the Dōtonbori’s sparkly nightlife options. He might feel more comfortable sipping a cup of jasmine tea in Hōzen-ji Yokochō, a nearby alley lined with traditional restaurants and bars.

3. Floating Garden Observatory (Kuchu Teien Tenbodai)

For another dramatic take on Osaka, try the Floating Garden Observatory. Suspended almost 200 meters up in the air, the space-ship-style observatory hovers between the Umeda Sky Building’s twin towers. To access the observatory and its sweeping views, take the lightning-fast glass elevator from the East Tower's third floor. If you feel romantic, you might want to bring your object of affection, if you have one.

1-1-88 Oyodo-naka Kita-ku.

4. Universal Studios

A stop on the ‘loop line’ that coils around the Osaka’s heart, Universal Studios invites you into the rapid-fire world of American blockbuster movies: thrill rides and live entertainment, with everything that themed around films. Hop on a boat for an encounter with a great white shark straight out of the disaster film Jaws, among other buzzy experiences. Skip weekends to dodge the crowds.

5. Café Solare

Bright and airy, Cafe Solare offers harbor views and a fresh, simple menu. Think salads, soups, fresh pasta. After eating, you can always kick on to the Suntory Museum with its sky lounge, or head to the giant aquarium www.kaiyukan.com/language/eng.

1-5-10 Kaigandori.

Getting There

Osaka's Kansai International Airport (KIX) fields domestic and international flights; http://www.kansai-airport.or.jp.

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