Kansai from the Sky: An Osaka Observation Deck Guide

Osaka. What can be said about Osaka? 

Well, as far as being my absolute all time favourite place in Japan as it holds so many hidden treasures, it is also an incredible city that prides itself on gorgeous cuisine, the kind hearted, infamously easy-going Kansai people, and also, above all else quite literally... spectacular sky views. Today I will go through some of my favourite observation decks in this excellent epicentre of the Kansai region, and if you are thinking of seeing the city like this on a visit, these are absolutely essential and should be on your itinerary. My listings are in no particular order, so it's up to you to find your favourite when you experience them! Let's explore below!

1. Umeda Sky Building

Umeda Sky Building, at 173m tall offers stunning views of downtown Umeda and beyond to the mountains of greater Keihanshin, as well as offering beautiful views of the nearby bay area, Photo: Jay Bowler

Located in Umeda, north point of the JR Osaka Loop Line, the Umeda Sky Building (梅田スカイビル) stands glimmering in the sunlight of a beautiful Osaka day, thanks to it's magnificent mirrored exterior. This building is one of a kind in terms of appearance, combining two separate forty story high structures side by side, bridged together at the top, forming a full 360 atrium style sky deck when you reach it's tip by elevator. The sky deck is accessible via escalators that cross the circle hole in the middle of the building, offering phenomenal views even before you step outside on the deck. If you're a little wobbly when it comes to heights, the escalators may sway you a tad!

This was originally designed in 1988, and was supposed to be four towers in total! However, due to the burst of the Japanese 1980's economic bubble, the dream only allowed the construction of two towers. Standing at 173m tall, it was completed in 1993. Videos of it's construction can be seen in a theatre room on the atrium floor underneath the sky deck on the 35th floor, offering a very nostalgic viewpoint on how the building ideas and designs were conceived, as well as stunning vintage video clips of the construction itself. The bridging of the two towers on film is a marvel to behold in terms of modern construction, and is well worth checking out if you can spare a short while!

Before you get to the sky deck, there are bars offering a fantastic range of beers, craft ales and snacks, and there is also some Gachapon machines offering Umeda Sky Building souvenirs and the like. Plus, there is a LEGO scale model of the structure inside this area. As a huge fan of LEGO myself, I found myself marvelling at that before the city view itself. Inside this atrium interior on the walls are illustrations of historical structures dating back to the Middle Ages, giving us a look at famous towers and buildings still currently standing, or lost to the sands of time.

The top of the tower itself sports the 'Floating Garden Observatory' on the 39th floor, which more than lives up to it's namesake. Offering 360 degree panoramic views of Osaka below, it is truly breathtaking. I personally visited this sky deck in the daytime, which was still a stunning experience, but my fellow friends in Osaka recommend the nighttime, especially at twilight to see the business district in Umeda slowly start to turn on it's night lights. Either way, it's a marvellous building in terms of it's exterior, superior city views and vibe. To finish, at the base of the building is a complex that offers beautiful scenery and urban gardens, that combined in contrast to the mammoth complex lurking above you, gives a futuristic yet calming edge to the often bustling and highly metropolitan nature of the surrounding Umeda area.

The Umeda Sky Building is accessible via the JR Osaka Loop Line. Get off at JR Umeda Station (or Nishi-Umeda on the subway lines), and head to the Grand Front Osaka area, where you will see the tower above all of the rest in a wide open space away from everything else! There is an underground pathway that leads to the area where the building is located, allowing easy access.

Entry fee is ¥1000 for adults, but considerably less for seniors and junior visitors. 

Opening Hours:
10:00 to 22:30 (final entrance admission is 22:00)

2. Tsūtenkaku

Tsūtenkaku, the Tower to Heaven, reaching 103m, clocking it's height at a third of it's nearest giant neighbour, Abeno Harukas (300m - see below #4). Photo: Jay Bowler

Located in Shinsekai (literally meaning 'New World' in Japanese), the Tsūtenkaku tower (通天閣, Tower to Heaven) pierces the Shin Imamiya district with it's striking retro body and glowing neon lights which are seen in the nighttime from every corner of this southern part of Osaka city. It offers less spectacular views than the previously mentioned Umeda Sky Building, but it is the spirit of this tower and the place it stands in that is the talking point here.

Shinsekai is an electric district in in the middle of Osaka city just north of Shin Imamiya station, which was developed before the war and subsequently fell into years of neglect afterwards. What you see now though is a nostalgic viewpoint into old style Osaka. It does have a reputation if you read around, one of a seedy and dangerous nature, but that is more of a mirrored view on what Japan deems as safe in it's society, which is notoriously known for it's high levels of safety and low crime rate across the country as a whole. Nevertheless, in my time here personally, I never felt more excited or surprised by this area. It evokes so much nostalgia as mentioned above, for a place that I had never seen in decades previous, as it single handedly warps you into a time before now. The restaurants in the area serve all kinds of specialities including kushi-katsu, a culinary delight that is made up of several skewered foods on sticks, including beef, chicken, various vegetables and the like. There is a special Osaka sauce (that I have tried to discover the secret recipe for), which is communally used, so there is a big rule... ONLY DIP ONCE. Twice is a no-go. The sauce itself ignites the already flavoursome skewers, making it a snack to behold, especially combined with a nice cold nama birru or chu-hi beverage. Most restaurants are open 24 hours in this district, but it is only when the neon facades of the establishments and the tower itself light up, when theses places truly roar with voices of the locals inside them.

Now to the main attraction itself! Tsūtenkaku holds it's ground firmly in the centre of Shinsekai, offering a beacon of light to those lost around the Tennoji area on a dark night. The walk up to the tower offers incredible scents from passing restaurants, the loud chatter and laughter of slightly-inebriated Osaka locals frequenting bars along the narrow streets, and the evocative sounds of jazz music, that quietly chimes from the street's loudspeakers. 

The tower itself is a reimagining of it's former self. The former was built in 1912, modelling Paris and influenced massively by the Tower Eiffel. During WWII, the previous incarnation of Tsūtenkaku was scrapped and replaced with the structure you currently see, in 1956. It stands at 103m tall, nearly a third of it's tallest neighbour in Tennoji, Abeno Harukas (see below #4), with a observation deck at 93m tall, and a newly opened sky deck as of 2015 at the tip of the tower itself, which offers unobstructed 360 degree views of Osaka. It doesn't have nearly as the stunning heights of a few of it's siblings on this list, but it is still worth checking out, mainly because of the nostalgic, wistful beauty it evokes as a place in general. 

Shinsekai is accessible via a short walk from Shin Imamiya station on the JR loop line, Dobutsuen-Mae subway station on the Midosuji/Sakaisuji subway lines, and Ebisucho station on the Sakaisuji line. All are a short walk away from Shinsekai, the district itself having four separate entrances, to the north, east, south and west, visible by it's name on a giant yellow logo! 

Entry fee is ¥700 yen ( with an additional ¥500 yen optional for the 360 degree open sky deck)

Opening Hours: 9:00 to 21:00.
Open sky deck hours operate from 10:00 to 18:00. 

3. Osaka Castle (Osakajo)

Osaka Castle, originally built in 1583 but reconstructed many times, most notably in 1928, and again in 1995. The castle was in use between the years of 1583 and 1868. Photo: Jay Bowler

Located in the centre point of Osaka Business Park surrounded by towering corporate skyscrapers, lies one of the most pristine, romantic buildings in Japan. Osaka Castle (大坂城 ) isn't quite a tower as such, but with eight floors showcasing it's history of creation, artefacts of it's time and stories of the Azuchi Momoyama period, all flashing by before unveiling a 360 degree panoramic terrace, the castle offers so much more than just a beautiful view of central Osaka, it offers a glorious cultural insight into Kansai and Japan itself.

Accessible via a walk in through the castle entrance, and a new glass elevator on the outside of the base, Osakajo treats you to seven floors of history, through paintings, live theatre showings, artefacts and models, which showcases the full story of Osakajo and interesting accounts of past Japanese feudal tales and key moments. The armour exhibit is a particular favourite of mine, purely because right in front of you are these hugely impressive (and sometimes frightening) suits that were worn by warriors of that era. It is a spectacle to see the donated items up close and personal, as if you were actually facing one of these men on the battlefield. Each item or article is aptly described on a card next to it. Some of the items are legitimately real, passed down through the ages, antiquities including scrolls, swords, and general realia of the time of the castle's construction.

The views from the top of Osaka Castle are breathtaking, to say it is only at the top of an eight story structure. In terms of it's height, it is also elevated by several fortifications and walls, surrounded by a moat, which is accessible by a number of wooden bridges. When you are at the top, a 360 degree terrace awaits, with a pure scope of Osaka below. You can see pretty much most of the city from this open air deck, from Tennoji to the south, to Namba and Umeda in the north. Some of the views are obstructed by various commercial buildings in the surrounding business park district, but they are stunning skyscrapers nonetheless, and it forms a nice contrast between the traditional nature of Osakajo's grounds, and the towering corporate mirrored glass buildings next to it all. I luckily have been to this fabulous place twice now, and each time it gets better! For any first time visitor to Osaka, this is essential.

The nearest JR station to Osaka Castle is Osaka-jo-koen Station (JR Loop line), which takes around ten minutes from Osaka station. There is also a quicker approach to the castle itself from the nearby Tanimachi subway station on the Tanimachi/Chuo subway lines. Either way, once you're in the area, you cannot miss it! Especially passing it on the train during sunset hours, it is truly a sight to behold!

Entry fee is ¥600 for adults.

Opening Hours:
9:00 to 17:00

4. Abeno Harukas

Abeno Harukas. Height: 300m. Currently the tallest building* in Japan (*Tokyo Skytree - Tallest Structure at 634m). Photo: Jay Bowler

Located in the incredibly multi-faceted district of Tennoji lies the tallest building in Japan, Abeno Harukas. Some readers may pick fault with that statistic just mentioned, as the Tokyo Skytree is taller, but is labeled as a structure. As a building, Harukas towers above all. It truly marvels in it's now instantly recognisable block style exterior, and beats the second biggest building in Japan (the Yokohama Landmark tower) by only four meters, measuring in at a mammoth 300m tall exactly. The views from this building are my favourite in Osaka personally, and combined with a personal experience of mine when I visited this place for the first time, whenever I look at this building I have fond memories and things to say about it. So let's dive in, or should I say, let's press the elevator button to the top!

When you wander around Tennoji you are treated to many various attractions, including a luxury shopping complex (at 100,000 meters squared, subsequently making it the biggest department store in Japan), the Tennoji Zoo, and nearby Shinsekai which borders into the Shin Imamiya station area. However, the soul of the place, mentioned above in the Tsūtenkaku segment, allows you to explore and find many interesting spots, including some really nice off the beaten track coffee shops, as well as what seems like a few hundred kushi-katsu joints. This is the area for it after all! But the main attraction in Tennoji, which is seen from all areas of Osaka, even to the south near Wakayama and Kansai Airport (over thirty miles away), is the Abeno Harukas building. It's multi-block outside makes the building seem thicker and a lot smaller than what it is, as there is so much of it to take in as such, but once you reach the base of the building, it truly giants above all.

The name 'Abeno Harukas' comes from the Japanese word '晴るかす' (ha-ru-ka-su). It means literally 'to clear up' and 'to brighten'. Which makes sense, as some of the views from the top of this tower are some of the most clear, stunning sights you will see from a building in Japan. When you enter the building on it's second floor, you are then enabled to get tickets from the sixteenth floor, which still offers pretty beautiful perspectives of Osaka, especially at night time. Once you grab your entry tickets, it's time for the elevator, which in itself is a great experience also. Inside, it offers a beautiful LED light show, giving the impression that you are hurtling between and past stars in the sky. It builds you up as the elevator shoots you into the sky at a blistering speed. Something happened at this point which hasn't happened in my time yet here in Japan, and that thing was once the doors opened. Everybody in the lift gasped in pure wonderment at the view in front of them, which was Osaka City, sixty floors up into the sky. It does not disappoint. I was stood there, mouth open, aghast. What a sight. The top floor offers four sides of Osaka, and below on the north side, you can see the glimmering Shinsekai district, Dotonbori and Namba, and also Umeda which seems like miles away, dotted in flashing red lights. To the south, you can catch glimpses of Kansai Airport, the mountains of Wakayama, and to the near west, the bay area lays scattered beautifully, giving so much scope to this absolutely all-round, beautiful city.

Two floors below the main observation deck sports the same stunning perspectives of the city, but also has a restaurant and bar, allowing you to buy a SuperDry Asahi stout, or whatever your poison is, whilst taking in THAT view. I spent my time here with a friend, catching up and talking about our lives over a beer, and occasionally we would look to our side at the city below us, and being that high up into the sky, it doesn't quite sink in where you are. As my close friend said to me, "This is so relaxing, maybe after a stressful day at work, I'm just going to come up here to see this again." It truly has an affect on you, to the point where you feel on top of the world, or even unlimited, like the panoramic view itself.

Entry fee is ¥1500 for adults, but less for seniors and junior visitors. 

Opening Hours:
9:00 to 22:00 (with no closing days)

Other observation points in Osaka: 

Below is a list of other wonderful views in Osaka, wether they be amusement related, or even hotels! Check them out below!

  • Osaka Prefectural Government Sakishima Building - Located in the bay area of Osaka stands one of the cities tallest buildings. As well as being a 265m high government building situated on the edge of Osaka Bay, it has a free observatory at the top, presenting some of the most beautiful night views Osaka has to offer, especially of the bay area and beyond. I still haven't been here yet personally, but by hearing about it from friends and colleagues, it is next on my list when I visit Osaka next.

  • Rinku Gate Tower Building - This building is multi-purpose but is more notable for being an airport hotel for those just flying in, or out of Japan via Kansai Airport (KIX), which is one stop away on the JR line and the Hankyu line. Surrounding the complex is Rinku Park and Rinku Premium Outlets, offering a nice shopping experience, and also a ferris wheel amongst other small attractions and restaurants. The hotel views itself are subdued but nice. On a clear day you can see the glimmering lights of Osaka a few tens of miles away, but it is a wonderful place to rest your head, and have a beer by the window at night time before that flight home, watching aircraft graze the night sky.

  • Tempozan Ferris Wheel - Located in Osaka's bay area, this huge Ferris Wheel also forms a part of the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan complex, which is also in turn part of a two way discounted ticket to see both if you fancy it! From the top, you can see beautiful views of Osaka, as well as enjoying time with friends, family, or your lucky significant other!

So the next time you're in Osaka, consider one of these stunning places to get your viewing fix! Comment below if you know of any more places that I have missed, or if you agree on what I've written about places that you've been to! I would love to hear your thoughts!

Photos by Jay Bowler (2017).

Jay Bowler