OSAKA is Japan’s third-largest city, after Tokyo and Yokohama. The city, imbued with the unique characteristics of the Kansai region, is known for its modern architecture, spirited nightlife and enticing street food.
Even though it’s one of Japan’s largest metropolitan areas, your visit to Osaka doesn’t have to break the bank – the city has a host of free attractions. If you have a “yen” to save money, this list is for you.
A prime spot for people watching, the Dotonbori area features all the shops, restaurants and neon signs you can handle. No visit to Osaka seems complete without taking a picture of Dotonbori’s famous Glico billboard.
But it’s not just advertisement- and people-watching you can partake in at Dotonbori; you can window shop along the Ebisubashi Shopping Arcade, a roofed shopping stretch selling reasonable kimonos, jewelry, cooking equipment, and fast food shops.
You could also visit the centuries-old Hozenji Temple which features a statue completely covered in moss. The moss continues to thrive with the water that worshipers often pour over it.
The Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum
This museum traces the history of instant ramen, which Japanese citizens once voted as their country’s greatest invention of the 20th century.
You’ll find a sprawling exhibit of instant noodles, the riveting tale behind the first cup of instant ramen ever created, an instant noodle “tunnel”, and a shed dedicated to the birth of chicken ramen.
The exhibits are free, but you can also pay 500 yen (USD$4.9) to make your own instant ramen and decorate the cup any way you like.
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Osaka Castle Park
Osaka Castle Park is a popular spot on weekends, with visitors crowding the park’s 105.6 hectares (261 acres). If you visit in the spring, you’ll see the park’s 1,200 plum trees and 600 cherry trees in full bloom.
Each tower overlooks a number of magnificent moats and stone walls, both which symbolize the solid defenses of the Tokugwa-built Osaka Castle.
It costs 600 yen (USD$5.8) to go inside Osaka Castle itself, but the park surrounding the castle is free. It’s
Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine
This is Osaka’s most famous Sumiyoshi shrine, and built in the third century, it’s one of the oldest and most prestigious shrines in all of Japan. To reach the main entrance, cross the red Sorihashi Bridge, which arcs rainbow-like over a pond.
The beautiful structure enshrines three gods that have long been worshiped for protecting the nation and the sea voyages, as well as promoting waka (31-syllable) poetry.
The shrine was first built to enshrine the guardian gods of seafarers and sailors, and there are hundreds of other Sumiyoshi shrine dedicated to these guardians.
Founded in 593, this is one of the oldest temples in Japan. You can visit the temple’s outer grounds free of charge; the main temple building, however, costs 300 yen (USD$2.9) to enter.
If you do make it into the inner precinct, the five-storied pagoda within the pebble-covered courtyard can be accessed and ascended. Also in the temple grounds is a treasure house that displays paintings, scriptures, and other valuable belongings of the temple.
Osaka Takoyaki Museum
Learn about the history of Osaka’s favorite snack, takoyaki, at this museum. A short walk from Universal Studios Japan, the museum serves octopus-filled dumplings from some of Osaka’s most popular takoyaki shops.
The museum includes exhibitions showing the history of the ingredients and utensils used to make takoyaki; a theme park; take-out menu and octopus-related souvenirs; and events and games.
There’s also a small shrine dedicated to the takoyaki maker who uses great agility and precision with a pair of chopsticks to make each dumpling plump, round and perfectly cooked.
Hattori Ryokuchi Park
This recreational park in the Kita-Osaka region features a horseback riding center, a bamboo forest, pine forests, a waterpark, barbecue areas, ponds, and flower gardens.
You can also pay 500 yen to visit the Open-Air Museum of Old Japanese Farm Houses, which has farmhouses from all over Japan moved from their original location and rebuilt in the park.
Another way you can save money in Osaka is by seeing it’s made. You need reservations to tour the mint, but not for the mint’s museum. The mint, along with nearby Osaka Castle Park, also ranks as one of one of Japan’s top cherry blossom spots.
The museum was set up in 1969 to exhibit precious coins and other precious material as a way to enlighten the public about the minting operation.
You’ll find valuable coins, a scale that the Japan Mint used when it was established, a Hepburn Japanese-English dictionary, and Japan’s oldest western-style gas lamp.
Osaka Tenmangu Shrine
Every July, this shrine hosts the Tenjin Matsuri, Osaka’s largest festival and one of Japan’s Three Great Festivals. The original shrine hall was built more than 1,000 years ago, but was destroyed by fire several times. The current main hall and entrance gate were built in 1845.
During the annual festival (usually held in late July), the shrine’s deity is paraded in a divine palanquin (mikoshi) through the city in a joyful land and river procession, accompanied by fireworks.
Just steps away from Tenmangu Shrine is the Tenjinbashi-suji Shopping Street, which claims to be the longest in Japan, stretching over two kilometers.
Enjoy an afternoon of hiking in this park, located 30 minutes from central Osaka. The trails follow a long gorge and end at the 33-meter (108-feet) high Mino Waterfall.
The park is particularly popular in the fall, when the changing colors set the trees ablaze. The best time to visit the park is November when the leaves turn a flaming amber. Minoh is also famous for its Momiji tempura, maple leaves fried in a sweet batter with sesame.
By Ken Hunter