Name: Hansel Weihs
Attractions: No matter where you are staying in Osaka, the top-notch trains ensure that you are never far away from any of the major attractions in Osaka. If it’s a nice sunny day – hard to come by during Japan’s rainy season – you should check out the Expo ’70 Commemorative Park right off of the Bampaku-kinen-kouen stop on the Osaka Monorail. With a perimeter of about 3 miles (which makes for a good jogging path), it has many beautiful gardens and several museums, including the National Museum of Ethnology. If you’re looking to do some shopping or spend the night out, you should definitely head downtown on the trains to Umeda. There are tons of big malls, shopping arcades, and plenty of other miscellaneous attractions there. Perhaps one of the most famous areas you have to see downtown is Doutombori. It features countless restaurants and shopping arcades, and it was really fun to spend the night out with a few of my friends just looking around. If you’re looking for some more cultural or historical sights, one in particular I recommend checking out is Osaka Castle. The moat and grounds alone are stunning, and for a small fee you can even go into the museum in the castle itself.
Food: Osaka is known for its great food, and it’s really hard to say where to start. If I had to narrow it down to a few dishes that you absolutely have to try, I would recommend takoyaki – soft, battered octopus balls with several spices and and sauces on top – and okonomiyaki – pretty much a battered cabbage pancake with many other things mixed in it, whatever you like. I can tell you that I had takoyaki maybe three or four times during my stay whenever I would go out with my friends. If you have time to check out some other foods, definitely have some sushi – that’s a must if you’re in Japan – and while it might be a bit more pricey, try to get sukiyaki at least once. Sukiyaki is kind of like hot pot if you’re familiar with that, and you add many meats and vegetables to a saucy broth shared among a few people. You can use raw egg as a dip for your cooked veggies and meats, although that is completely optional.
Housing: When I stayed in Osaka, I got campus housing at Osaka University. Depending on where you would stay on campus, the prices would range from 10,000-30,000 yen per night, which was about $10-$30 per night. I was able to get such arrangements because I was performing research on campus under a faculty advisor. I do not know about how to arrange housing outside of campus.
Local Celebrations: During the summer, there are several celebrations that take place, both in Osaka and in nearby Kyoto. Although I unfortunately did not have the chance to attend any, you could definitely tell there was something big happening in the city. For example, on the day of Osaka’s summer festival – one of the biggest festivals in all of Japan – everywhere you looked you could find people dressed in traditional Japanese clothing. For this celebration, they hold a huge parade on the streets starting from one of the temples and at night they hold a huge parade of boats on the river, where the attendants on the boats represent gods. There is also a lively fireworks show, which I didn’t get to see, but could definitely hear from where I was.
Miscellaneous: The people in Japan are my favorite thing about the country. They are always very courteous, and even though you might feel a little distant at first because of the high degree of formality and respect, they are wonderful company. At least once a week my lab group, including my professor, and I would go out, sometimes with a few drinks. We went downtown together to go bowling and we even went to a few restaurants, every time enjoying ourselves, sharing stories, and just having a good time in general. Also, there’s one thing you definitely cannot go without checking out, and that’s the konbinis. Konbinis are small convenience stores, including 7-eleven, Lawson Mart, and Family Mart, and they offer just about whatever you need. Open 24 hours, I have gone to them countless times, whether it was to pick up some school supplies I realized I needed or to get a tasty snack. They even have little box lunches called bentou, although I wouldn’t recommend eating too many of these because they are relatively unhealthy.
Transportation & Travel: Osaka’s transportation system is very well-developed, to the point where you do not need a car to efficiently get anywhere around the city. The first trains typically run from around 5am, and the last trains stop at around midnight, so if you are going out, plan your day a little carefully to accommodate the train timetables. Because of its proximity, I was able to go to Kyoto three times, and usually for under $15 for the round trip from where I was staying. Although I never got a chance to do so, you can also visit Nara – famous for its many Buddhist shrines and its park crowded with deer that’ll actually bow to you for food – and Kobe, both via the trains. If you want to make a visit to somewhere like Tokyo, unless you take the bullet trains, which can cost you at least about $200 for the round trip, it will take you a while to get there, so I would save it for a trip of at least three to four days. In my experience, transportation within the cities of Osaka and Kyoto was very efficient, punctual, clean, and relatively cheap.