City view in Umeda with vibrant store signs
My first official welcome to Osaka, Japan was in the lively city of Umeda. Umeda is not only a hub for public transportation, but it is the home to many restaurants, shops, salons, arcades and anything you could possibly think of needing. Umeda is a non-avoidable destination and city delight in Osaka!
The first few times I went to Umeda, only a 15-minute train ride from my local JR – Kishibe train station, I felt extremely overwhelmed. There are underground malls, buildings with restaurants on the 18th floor using a random elevator off the street, and what seemed like infinite directions to walk in. Even the New Yorker in me was intimidated. It wasn’t until my first solo-trip to Umeda station (Osaka-station), about one week after my arrival, that I began to understand the intricacies of Umeda. This solo-trip felt like a rite of passage in becoming a local Osaka resident, learning my own ins and outs, reading off menus of restaurants I want to try in the future, and getting lost in the aisles of Don Quijote.
Night view of Dotonbori sign
Once you get Umeda under your belt, the next stop in becoming a local in Osaka is exploring Dotonbori. Although a little more downtown in Osaka, it is still only about a 30-minute train ride from my other local train station, the Hankyu-Shojaku station. Dotonbori is like the Times Square of food, restaurants are accompanied by amazing giant signs and figures to show what they have to offer. Here at the Shinsaibashi-Suji Shopping Street you will find endless shops and an urge to spend all the money you have. You can also find fun Japanese photo booths that change your entire appearance, but give you the ability to add all the edits and decorations you want afterward.
Japanese photo booth in Dotonbori changes your appearance but allows you to make cute edits to the image
Expo ‘70 Commemorative Park
After exploring the extensive city life in Osaka, I craved nature and open space. So I made my way to Bampaku-kinen-koen to see the Expo ‘70 Commemorative Park. It was only a 30-minute train ride away from my house! I was utterly amazed not only by the Tower of Sun (which was frighteningly beautiful) but also by the Japanese gardens, mountain views, the trees, and my favorite, the National Museum of Ethnography. Even in the winter, some trees had beautiful flowers in bloom and it snowed on and off like I was in a movie.
Tower of the Sun in Expo ’70 Commemorative Park with CET Correspondent Isabelle and fellow CET/Osaka Gakuin students
Mountain and park view from the Expo ’70 Commemorative Park
The National Museum of Ethnology was perhaps one of the best museums I have visited in my life, showcasing the beauties of cultures all around the world. It made me reflect deeply on how culture, tradition, rituals, music, food and more bring people together. I believe anyone visiting Osaka should make their way to this museum and appreciate the arts and cultures of life. I plan to go back to Expo ‘70 when the plum trees begin to bloom in March!
Fascinating feature of a huge vase and geometrically satisfying steps inside the National Museum of Ethnology
Lastly, I believe the best way to commemorate your indoctrination as an Osaka resident is to dip your toes in a local onsen. Especially on a cold day, Osaka locals often go to onsens to relax and rejuvenate their bodies in a public hot spring. There are many onsens close by the CET housing sites including the Mangetsu-onsen by the Hankyu-Kamishinjo station. I felt renewed after soaking in the onsen and I can’t wait to go back again.
The exterior of Mangetsu-onsen on a cold winter night
I found these four destinations, Umeda, Dontonbori, Expo ‘70 Commemorative Park and onsens, to be an amazing icebreaker in my journey to becoming a local in Osaka. I can’t wait to share what else Osaka and Japan has to offer.