Wallet Friendly Wanderlust: 3 Days in Osaka for under $150
So you want to go to Osaka, the second largest metropolitan area in Japan, but you're on a budget...
This guide will help you maximize your time in Osaka without breaking the bank. A few notes before we get started:
1) This budget assumes that you are comfortable walking for stretches up to 20-25 minutes. If not (or in the case of inclimate weather), you will incur additional transportation costs.
2) This budget assumes that $150 will buy you about JPY15,000.
3) We start each day budgeting 500 yen for breakfast. You can get this at a coffee shop or (my preferred choice) convenience stores.
4) This budget sets aside 1,550 yen for public transport for the three days you're in Osaka. You likely won't need that much--especially if you have a rail pass--but better safe than sorry!
5) The budget does not include accommodation. Odigo is home to a wide range of travelers with varying needs, so I'm not going to assume that someone is a college kid willing to sleep in a comic book cafe or someone traveling with a family in need of space to spread out. I do, however, offer some recommendations at the bottom of this article.
6) The budget offers prices for a single adult traveler. As a general rule, pricing for children will be cheaper at all facilities.
Okay, now that we got that out of the way, let's get started...
Day 1: Osaka's Heart
Dotonbori Area Cost: Free (but save 500 yen for a snack)
This itinerary starts you off in Dotonbori, the most iconic area of Osaka. It is often seen as a symbol of Osaka and is loaded with shops, restaurants, and entertainment facilities. The Dotonbori area actually dates all the way back to 1600s when, during the Edo period, a local merchant saw an opportunity to swell the commerce in this area of the city--good call on his part.
To me, Dotonbori is the place in Japan that most reminds me of what inspired Ridley Scott for Blade Runner, and you can still catch that urban, neon vibe today. The area is worth spending an entire day. Not only are there plenty of things to do and see, but you really need to see it in both the daylight and at night. Best part of it--it's free to experience this symbolic heart of Osaka!
Glico Man – get a picture Cost: Free
Of the entire Dotonbori area, the Glico man is probably most iconic site to see. Glico is the company known for so many of Japan's famous products including Pocky, Pretz, and Calpis (or Calpico), among others. The logo for Glico is the Olympic runner, and this image has adorned Dotonbori for decades. He recently got an LED upgrade, making it more vibrant than ever at night. Of course, pics in the morning are easier with lower grade camera equipment, but if you have cameras equipped for night shooting, the Glico man is a must-visit photo spot.
Lunch: Ichiran Ramen
Cost: Set aside 1000 yen
There are literally hundreds of lunch options in the area in and around Dotonbori, but my favorite option for a quick and inexpensive lunch is Ichiran ramen. It is one of the more popular ramen spots in the area for its prime location and delicious food.
Osaka is a modern city and feels even more urban than Tokyo in most places. As such, it is good to buy yourself some respite from the hustle and bustle from time-to-time. The best place to do that near Dotonbori is Hozen-ji, a temple that has been around since that original enterprising merchant decided to make Dotonbori the commerical hub of Osaka. One of the cool things about Hozen-ji is that it puts a unique spin on traditions. Wheras you might see coins being tossed into offering boxes in other temples throughout Japan, here, you make your wish/prayer and then splash water over the stone effigies. For that reason, the statue there is now covered in a healthy layer of green moss.
Dinner: Street food around Dotonbori
Cost: Set aside 750 yen
Whereas Tokyo is known for simple, refined cuisine, Osaka is famous for its hearty offerings, usually with a lot of different flavors and ingredients mixed together. Much of this type of food got its start as street food in the immediate postwar era, when resource shortages meant people had to get creative with their meals to make the most of it. Osaka is the birthplace of Okonomiyaki and Takoyaki, and so either of those make fantastic street food options for you in Dotonbori for dinner! In the end, it makes for a cheap and easy dinner that is both fun and memorable!
Day 1 Total: 2,750 yen
Day 2: Old and New
Cost: 600 yen
Osaka castle may be a 20th century reconstruction of the original, but it still remains one of the most iconic and historically important. From a historical standpoint, Osaka castle was pivotal in Toyotomi Hideyoshi's bid to unify Japan in the late 1500s. From a cultural standpoint, it serves as one of Osaka's ties to its past. As mentioned earlier, Osaka has an even more modern, urban feel to it than Tokyo, so the contrast with this relic of the past is even more stark. It also makes it an incredibly photogenic location. More than that, you can enter the castle for their museum of artifacts and the story behind this important castle.
Osaka Castle Park
After checking out the castle, it is worth it to meander through the castle park. Depending on when you go, there may be special events taking place, and there is almost always something in season to check out (cherry blossom viewing is very popular here). Take in as much nature as you can, because you're going to be swinging right back into the urban jungle after this!
Lunch: Convenience Store Bento
Cost: ~500 yen
Umeda Sky Building
Cost: 1000 yen
After taking in the feat of 16th century architectural design, take time to marvel at the incredible modern feat that is the Umeda Sky Building. The building is one of the most uniquely designed (and photogenic) buildings in all of Japan, and best of all, it offers an incredibly observation deck (the "Floating Garden Observatory") from which to enjoy the Osaka skyline.
Browse Don Quixote Umeda
Cost: Free (but save 1000 yen if you'd like something as a souvenir)
Just a stone's throw away from the Umeda Sky Building is the Don Quixote Umeda, which does its best to try to match the size and scale of the surrounding skyscrapers. It is definitely the biggest Don Quixote I've seen in Japan, and certainly gives you a cool place to get lost for a while to do some souvenir shopping. It's open 24 hours and offers tax free options to foreign patrons who show their passports at checkout.
Dinner: Don Q bento or Street Vendor fare
Cost: 500 yen
Since you're visiting Don Q anyway, it's worth checking out their food selection. The Umeda store has a large groceries section as well as delicious ready made foods--including sushi--and all at great prices.
Day 2 Total: 5,200 yen
Day 3: Lesser-known Treasures
Cost: 300 yen
Although part of the temple is undergoing renovation, the Shitenno-ji is a budget-friendly must-visit site in Osaka. Not only is it one of the oldest temples in Japan (built in the late 500s AD), it is the first Temple (remember, shrines have an older tradition in Japan) to be built under the direction of the imperial court. While the wider temple grounds are free to enter, the main portion of the temple has a nominal 300-yen fee for entry.
Cost: 600 yen
At the time it was first constructed in 1912, the Tsutenkaku was the tallest structure in East Asia. Meant to serve as a symbol of modernity (and Japan's place at the forefront of Asian powers), the Tsutenkaku serves as a humble reminder of Osaka's place as a leading representation of modern technology and architecture in Japan itself. For 600 yen, you can enter the tower, learn about the tower and other important aspects of Osaka's history and culture, and take a look at the surrounding skyline from the observation deck.
Lunch: Hamburger Steak at Bikkuri Donkey
Cost: ~1000 yen
While there are a number of eateries around the Tsutenkaku, a reliable and tasty option is Bikkuri Donkey. Hamburger steak has become a staple in the modern Japanese diet, and Bikkuri Donkey is one of the best chain locations to get a true Japanese-style hamburger steak. (It also won't break the bank!)
Cost: (3 hour pass during the week) 2400 yen
If you are traveling to Japan, you are bound to understand that Japan is famous for its onsen (hot springs). Spaworld embraces Japan's place as a world leader in public baths, but honors the fact that other places throughout the world have their own public bath cultures. Spaworld allows you to experience a traditional Japanese onsen, but then offers options modeled after public baths in Rome, Turkey, Greece, Spain, Italy, Finland, Indonesia, and Iran, among other styles. [Note: Spaworld offers half of the international bath options to each gender, swapping every month, so don't be surprised if one of the bath options you hoped to visit is reserved for the opposite sex when you visit. You can check their website for more details]
All in all, Spa world offers a unique and fun way to experience Japanese onsen, in part because you can compare it to similar experiences from around the world!
Cost: ~1500 yen
Kushikatsu is another one of those cuisine options that captures the essence of Kansai-style food. Simply put, Kushikatsu is deep fried, skewered meat and veggies--basically a Japanese style soul food to satisfy your appetite. There are a lot of kushikatsu restaurants in the area around Spaworld, and while it is a safe bet to set aside 1500 yen for a full and satisfying meal, just double check prices before going in as some are higher end than others.
Day 3 Total: 5,500 yen
Day 1 (Osaka's Heart): 2,750 yen Day 2 (Old and New): 5,200 yen
Day 3 (Lesser-known Treasures): 5,500 yen Transportation: 1,550 yen
3-DAY TOTAL: 15,000 yen
A few notes on accommodations:
- Price for accommodations in Osaka are relatively static throughout the year with the exception of Golden Week, New Year's, and any 3- or 4-day weekend. - Like other places in Japan, there are business hotels, minpaku (think Air BnB), and capsule hotels. Be sure to book early, and you can save money if you find a place that will offer half-board.
So there you have it...
...a way to maximize your trip to Osaka in $150 or less. Of course, there are many other things to see and do, but I have tried to offer an itinerary that captures all of the wonderful elements of this great city. So, as always, I will sign off by saying, "zehi," add Osaka to your list of places to see in Japan!
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