by Bryce Marley
You loved Japlanning's 30 Free in Tokyo (link to post), so now we're moving on down into the Kansai region. Today we're looking at what the budget conscious traveller can experience in the bayside metropolis of Osaka for free. As long as you have the means to travel by train, you can experience everything we have here, all while saving your precious Yen!
Lets jump right into the 10 freebies to experience in Osaka-
A must do while in Osaka is taking a stroll along the Dōtonbori. This neon soaked area is filled with amazing shopfronts, all with bright colourful store fronts, and a festive ambiance that is simply infectious. Here you will also find many restaurants with a street window where you can taste some amazing street food, which will put any Japanese favourites back home to shame. The Dōtonobori runs alongside the Dōtonbori canal where you will also get amazing pictures of the neon buildings and the world famous Glico (running man) sign.
Just a short walk from the Dōtonobori is another quirky area of Osaka that is a must see, Amerikamura. It is seen as Osaka's answer to Harajuku, with the latest fashions and pop culture bursting at the seams. It is filled with shops, cafés and clothing stores, as well as come crazy store fronts too. Be sure not to miss the creepy Uncle Sam clown!
To get to the Dōtonbori and Amerikamura, take a train to either Namba or JR Namba station, where it is just a 5 minute walk away. Look out for the neon entrance arches that say "DOTONBORI" on them. If you cross the canal, you have gone too far.
Japan is known for it's beer, and for their love of drinking, so why not take it all in and see how it is all made, and get a tasting on the side too!
Just outside the main city area of Osaka is the Asahi Beer Suita factory, where you can get a guided tour of the brewery and see how they make their delicious brew. At the end of the tour, guests can try the beers they make for 20 minutes, with free refills! (Note: being Australians, we learnt first hand that you can actually drink quite a lot in 20 minutes if you put your mind to it) They also have free samples of Asahi soft drinks and other beverages for the minors and drivers of the group.
The Asahi factory is located in Suita, just outside Osaka and is a 10 min walk from JR Suita Station on the JR Kyoto line. Advanced bookings for tours are recommended. Please visit the Asahi website for more information here.
So most people know about Kabuki, however there is another traditional theatrical spectacle that Osaka has been at the heart of, called Bunraku, which is a traditional Japanese puppet theatre show, and it's national theatre is in Osaka. The performances can take all day for the drama to unfold, so if you're planning to see a performance of this beautiful art, prepare to be in for the long haul.
At the National Bunraku Theatre, they have an exhibition that has a wealth of knowledge about this quintessentially Japanese art form, from its rich history, to the process of how the puppets are made, in fact you can even have a play with the puppets yourself and see if you are suited to the Bunraku life.
To get to the National Bunraku Theatre, take the subway to Nipponbashi Station on the Sennichmae and Sakaisuji lines, and from there it is just a 1 minute walk away. For more information see the theatre's website, here.
Located in the center of Osaka, the park is an urban oasis in the middle of this bustling city. Here you will get spectacular views of the majestic Osaka Castle, with its impressive castle walls that are up to 50 meters tall, and completely made of stone, surrounded by moats reflecting their beauty.
Nestled along the Neyagawa River, this is the best place to view cherry blossoms during the Sakura season in Osaka, with hundreds of Sakura trees along the river and throughout the park. You will find many Osakians here relaxing in the beauty and celebrating under the cherry blossoms. Cherry blossom season is at its peak here in the first weeks of April. As the park can get busy during this time, you may want to get in early to stake out your picnic spot.
Keep your eye out for the festival of light in Osaka, it's currently running until the January 19th, 2014, and each night they use the Osaka castle as a canvas for some amazing projections. Full details at the festival website here.
Getting to Osaka Castle Park is easy, as it is on the PR Osaka Loop Line. Just get off at Osaka-jo-Koen Station. See Osaka Castle's English website for more information, here.
Now you didn't think we were going to skip any shrines did you? The Sumiyoshi Taisha is one of the oldest Shinto Shrines not only Osaka, but in all of Japan.
This beautiful shrine was erected in 211AD, yes -- it's old, and quite spectacular. It's has a rich history spanning over several periods in Japan's history, and was even the object of Imperial patronage back in the Heian Period. The Shrine has amazing architecture and an impressive stone Tori gate at the entrance.
Be sure to wander the grounds and take in the beautiful gardens and bridges, its a tranquil place, and great to escape the hectic streets of Osaka for some solace.
To get to Sumiyoshi Taisha from Osaka, make your way to Sumiyoshi Taisha Station, and it's just a few steps from the exit. Note that the rapid train services do not stop at Sumiyoshi Taisha Station. For more information check out the Shrines website here. (in Japanese only)
Minoh Park is located just outside the urban sprawl of Osaka and is a beautiful escape from the metropolis that is the centre of Osaka. These majestic parklands are located in a forested valley, and truly shine in autumn when the whole valley turns into a watercolour painting of oranges as the leaves change.
The park offers hiking trails, and also the Minoh Waterfall that is the park's main attraction. At 33 meters tall, the waterfall sits on a rock face with tress all around, almost like the perfect painting stuck there. Be sure to keep your eye out for some beautiful temples along the trail to the waterfall, especially the Ryauanji Temple with its lovely lantern bridge entrance. The park is a perfect place to bring a convenience store lunch and enjoy the nature while relaxing.
To get to Minoh Park from Osaka, take the Hankyu Takarazuka Line from Umeda Station, and make your way to Minoo Station. The entrance to the park is just from the station.
Shinsekai is a quirky area of Osaka that is home to the mighty Tsutenkaku Tower. The area was established in 1903 to be an example of a "new world" and modeled after Paris for the northern half, and Coney Island in New York for the southern half. The lane-ways and streets are filled with colourful storefronts, lanterns, neon signs and more, it truly comes alive at night, and most eateries are conveniently open 24/7.
Down here you will also find one of Osaka's most well regarded delicacies "Kushikatsu", which is a dish of skewered and battered foods that are fried -- It's great bar food! The whole area is a photographer's dream, especially at night when it is all lit up.
Be forewarned however that Shinsekai is considered one of the more shady neighbourhoods in Osaka, so do not wander alone -- go with a large group and you should be fine.
To get to Shinsekai, jump on the JR Osaka Loop line and disembark at Shin-Imamiya Station.
Another must stop in Osaka that is right by Osaka Station is the Panasonic Center. Here you'll enter a showroom of sorts for all things Panasonic, where you can play with all the latest gadgets, as well as witness new technologies as they are being created.
Be sure to check out all floors, especially the new 2nd floor exhibition that is designed to let you get hands on and discover new lifestyle hints that will make your life better than yesterday.
Panasonic Center is open daily, from 10am-8pm. By Train make your way to JR Osaka station and its just a 2 minute walk, park of the Grand Front Osaka complex. For more information check out their website here.
Yep, it's the second shrine to make the list, so you know it's special. Tenmangu Shrine is one of the most important Shinto Shrines in Japan that is devoted to the deity of scholarship. The Shrine has a more neighbourhood feel, largely due to it being nestled in a residential area, so you will witness many locals coming to pay respects and pray as part of their daily routines. Just by the shrine, you will find a great undercover shopping street -- the longest in Japan, all filled with shops, souvenirs and places to get a cheap flavourful meal.
If you are willing to part with a few hundred yen there is also a great museum by the Shrine, the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living. Here you can get a look at how the streets and houses of Osaka were in the the Edo period of Japan. For a small fee, you can even borrow kimonos to get the perfect Edo period souvenir shot!
Tenmangu Shrine is open daily from 9am to 5pm. To get to the shrine you just need to get to either Minamimorimachi Station or JR Osaka Temmangu Station, and it's just a short walk from the stations.
If you're in Osaka at the end of July, this is a must see! The Tenjin Festival is one of the big three festivals in Japan, spanning over two days (July 24 and 25), with the big celebrations happening on the 25th. The festival is honoring the deity of Tenmangu Shrine, Sugawara Michizane, where they have a river parade with boats filled with performers, as well as a land parade as well! The river parade ends with a massive fireworks display that truly shows you what Japan is famous for!
The street parade takes place around the streets of the Tenamngu Shrine from 3:30pm to 10:00pm, and the river parade and fireworks are along the Okawa River between Temabashi and Hishobashi Bridges from 6:00pm to 9:00pm. Anywhere along the river beds here will offer spectacular views and some of the best fireworks you will ever see!
To get along the river for the river parade and fireworks viewing, you can get a train to Sakuranomiya Station and exit south down along the river and walk along to find your favourite spot, or alternatively take the train to Temabashi Station and wander up from the other end, this station is also close to Tenmangu Shrine.