20 Non-Touristy Things to do in Osaka, Japan | Solo Female Travel
Osaka is vibrant but laidback, modern yet steeped in history. Known as the Kitchen of Japan and rightly so, food reigns supreme in Osaka. Japan’s second-largest city, Osaka, is filled with so many things to see, and due to that, it feels like a maze.
But when I was first planning my trip to Japan, many travel-enthusiast friends told me to make Osaka my base and make day travels to nearby places while squishing in some attractions of Osaka. Thank god, I didn’t listen to them because Osaka has so much to offer. While watching sakura at the Osaka castle is an ethereal experience, there is much more to enjoy here.
During my trip here, I realised that the best way to enjoy Osaka was to get off the beaten path. So, if you want to enjoy Osaka like me, look no further as I have listed 20 non-touristy things to do in Osaka for you below.
1. Bunraku theatre
The best way to understand the culture of a country you are visiting is by immersing yourself in an experience. And what better way to do that than being a part of an experience that originated in the city’s golden age. Watching a puppet show at the Bunraku theatre should be on your list of things to experience in Osaka.
Bunraku is a classical Japanese puppet theatre, and while puppet shows are not rare to find around the world, very few have perfected it. In Bunraku, the story is communicated through rhythmic chantings and music, so you don’t have to know the language to appreciate the art. I got to know that this form of puppet theatre is called ningyo joruri in Japanese, which, when broken down, means the joruri is telling a story with traditional Japanese string instruments using a ningyo or a puppet.
The puppeteer is dressed in all black so that your attention is not diverted from the vibrantly dressed big puppets made of wood. It is the perfect way to start your Osaka experience. To get an insight into Osaka on your first solo travel here, read my blog on the Ultimate Osaka travel guide.
2. Coffee with the reptiles
Japan has no shortage of unusual cafes or even animal cafes for that matter. But while most of the cafes have adorable creatures adorning them, Reptile Cafe Rock Star is quite different.
As the name suggests, once you enter, you see the reptiles, arachnids, centipedes, bugs, and so on, so a disclaimer before you read any further, this place is not for the faint-hearted. I’m not too fond of anything that moves on its belly! It gives me the creeps, but since we have to overcome our fears in life, I decided this was that moment for me.
I love that the people who wait on you ease you out before you get to meet the inhabitants. If you are brave, you can ask the restaurant staff’s permission to hold the reptiles, but that wasn’t for me. I was happy to wave at them from the other side of the glass. Read more about weird cafes and more in my blog: 20 non-touristy things to do in Tokyo.
3. Owl forest
If reptiles are not your thing, you can always head out for the Owl Cafe experience. I have always been a fan of owls since I read the Harry Potter series as a kid, and if you are like me, then the Owl cafe in Osaka is a must-visit spot. You can enjoy watching owls on display, but customers here are encouraged to interact with them. Don’t worry. There are guidelines that you get to know, and you just follow them. For example, you can only pet them gently on their heads or back with the back of your hand.
But it’s not like you can spend the entire day with owls here. Each session lasts for about an hour before the next batch of visitors appears. So, make the most of the time you spend with these cuties and click plenty of pictures.
4. Namba Parks
Though called Namba Parks, it is a far cry from a green spot where you take a stroll. Osaka is well known for its food, and it is also home to some of the best places to shop in Japan, and Namba Parks is just that.
Located in the Minami district of Osaka, this is a huge multi-level shopping mall, and it is worth a look even if you don’t end up buying anything. A difficult task, I assure you. But you might be repelled because who wants to visit a shopping mall while on vacation. Well, Namba Parks is built to resemble a natural canyon with trees, flowers everywhere, giving you a feel of nature while you browse through the shops.
If you want to enjoy a charming, quaint, and yet historic slice of bohemia amidst bustling Osaka, Nakazakicho should be on your list of things to visit in Osaka. Take a leisurely walk down the meandering roads and see the ramshackle wooden building, sit and sip a cup of coffee or a matcha tea here and you feel you are in a different era altogether. The air here exudes romance and colour, and as a solo female traveller, it will bring you a sense of calm.
Visit the vintage stores and quirky boutiques here and pick up something hand-made to carry back home.
6. Hozenji Yokocho alley
It is no secret that Osaka is a food haven, and if you are a foodie, you must visit the Hozenji Yokocho Alley, which is just a small alleyway behind the Hozenji temple in Osaka. The wide stone cobbled street gives you an old Osaka feel of the bygone days. The alley is dotted with cafes and restaurants that serve authentic Japanese food.
Though the place is opened both day and night, I think it looks even more spectacular in the evening with the alleyway is lit up by lamps and that soft lights give off a vintage vibe. I was also told that famous people frequent this alleyway, so unlike me, you might spot someone if you are aware of Japanese stars.
Also, check out the moss-covered Fudomyo Buddhist statue, which is extremely famous here.
7. Meoto Zenzai
Just beside the Hozenji temple, you will come across a sweet shop that is steeped in history called: Hozenji Meoto Zenzai. Originally a zenzai (kind of a red bean soup) shop, the shop is over 130 years old and was initially called Okuku. Try visiting early because there are only three tables in the shop and I had to wait a while before I could get seated.
The most famous dish here is definitely the Meoto Zenzai, two servings of red bean soup with rice cakes. I had heard about the dessert but little did I know that one serving of the dish came in two separate bowls. I got to know the story behind it when I asked an English-speaking gentleman I was sharing the table with. Apparently, meoto means a married couple, and it is considered good luck if you consume this as a couple. Well, as a female solo traveller, you can enjoy the dish with the person you should love the most- yourself. Also, please read my blog on the top 13 things to do alone in Japan.
8. Instant noodles Museum
As a solo female traveller, haven’t we all had instances where we have turned to the mighty ramen noodles when we have been travelling. So, it’s only perfect that we get to pay our tribute to our one true saviour: Momofuku Ando.
A few blocks away from Ikeda station, you learn about how the instant noodles came into being, and then you can make your noodles, choose your ingredients, and even design your cup. Visiting this museum should be on your list of things to do in Osaka.
Also, check out my blog on what to pack before your first solo trip to Japan.
You know young trendy boy bands and girl groups around the world. But you don’t know anything about bands if you haven’t heard and seen Obachaaan in Osaka.
The city is quite well known for its comedy, and Obachaaan perfectly blends the two and call themselves comic pop singers. There are about 47 of them aged mostly over 60! Yes, you read that right. Obachan in Japanese is an endearing term for an aunt, and it aptly fits these loud and brightly clothed women who sing popular K-pop songs and, wait for it, hands out candies. They do shows for free the last Sunday of every month in the basement of Tsutenkaku Tower, and no matter what, you have to try out this experience on your first solo trip to Osaka.
10. Geeking out over Anime
If you happen to love Anime, you should plan your visit around March when Denden Town’s streets in Nipponbashi are closed for the anime festival in Osaka. While not as grand as Tokyo’s Akihabara, you can enjoy the experience better at Nipponbashi because it is less crowded.
If you are here during the festival, you will find the street alive with music and people dressed as their favourite characters. You can also shop for a costume here, and you are welcome to join the participants and click pictures with them.
11. Red bridge and cat shrine at Sumiyoshi Taisha
The Sumiyoshi Shrine is a very well-known tourist attraction for anyone visiting Osaka. One of the most famous and oldest Buddhist shrines in the country, Sumiyoshi is architecturally breathtaking too.
But what I found to be even better than the shrine itself is the bright red bridge across a small stream of water called Sorihashi bridge. The perfect reflection that the bridge casts over the water is a perfect Instagram moment that you can capture.
After you are done strolling around the bridge, keep exploring the shrine grounds, and you will find a Cat shrine. Yes, a shrine dedicated to cats, which is considered extremely lucky in Japanese folklore. You can also collect cat figurines from here.
12. Cat and dog cafes
While we are on the subject of adorable furry creatures, the cat and dog cafes in Osaka should be on your list of must-visit spots in the city.
The Ragdoll cat cafe is one of the many cat cafes you find all over Japan, but that does not make them any less adorable. The prices here depend on how long you want to stay at the cafe. So, you pay by the hour, and it includes playing with the cats, a drink of your choice, and a treat for the cat. The cats are peaceful, and you can spend hours just lazing around and cuddling them. Now, isn’t that just purrrrfect?
Continuing your time with furry creatures, the Dog Tail cafe should be next on your list of places to visit while on your trip to Osaka. While cats have to be pampered, the dogs here will run at you all at once when you enter the cafe. You will be asked to sit at an area where you can sip your beverage and play with the plentiful dogs at the cafe. Play fetch, or give them belly rubs and see them licking your face in gratitude. It’s such a soothing and calming experience.
13. History lesson at the Human Rights Museum
They say to understand the present, take a step back in the past. And the Osaka Human Rights Museum, or Liberty Osaka as it was formerly called, is the place.
The museum was established in 1985, explores social issues, and helps you understand Japan’s complex structure. You can learn about the minority groups in Japan and the discrimination and atrocities that they have had to face. A trip to this place should be on your itinerary because it will help you understand the beautiful country even better.
14. Become a Japanese samurai
Would your trip to Osaka even be complete without trying your hand at being a samurai? I think not.
Go for a full experience as a Japanese samurai where you can dress up as a samurai, and there are trainers who give you a lesson in wielding a sword like a samurai and so on. There are lessons available in English, so no need to fret. Learn the proper stance, how to retrieve the sword, and you can also be a part of a fight sequence complete with sound effects!
Don’t worry. Nothing is dangerous because plenty of safety measures are taken, and you will go back with some unique memories. To have an authentic samurai experience go all out.
15. Food tour at Dotonbori
No matter what you see in Osaka, nothing absolutely compares to the eating in this city. The local fare provides so much variety that it is a treat for your tongue. There are many food tours in Osaka, but I would suggest taking a tour of the delicacies in Osaka’s busiest area: Dotonbori, has to offer.
While there are many Michelin-star restaurants in the city, it is the street food that steals the show in Dotonbori. Try food like the kushikatsu, which is technically anything fried served on a stick, fried octopus balls, takoyaki, and Osaka’s speciality, the okonomiyaki. Read more about must-try food to try on your solo trip to Japan.
16. Make your own okonomiyaki
This giant savoury pancake is an Osaka classic and fills your appetite and heart. But why not take it a step further and have a chance at whipping up your okonomiyaki with whatever toppings your heart desires?
At Hatsuse restaurant in Dotonbori, you can do that. All you need is to purchase a package, and the pan is yours. Don’t expect yours to be anywhere close to what the professionals make, but it is undoubtedly one of the best experiences you will have in Osaka.
17. Higher heels, higher discount
While travelling to Japan, it is always advised to carry comfortable shoes as exploring places here requires walking. But if you happen to carry a pair of heels on your solo travel to Japan, you might be just in luck.
The MyPlace bar at Hilton in Osaka gives you a discount on some menu items and drink on Thursdays, depending on how tall your heels are! The minimum heel requirement is 2 inches, which gets you a 10% discount, and the rate of discount increases with the increasing height of your heels. My advice: Don’t go overboard. You will have to drag your drunk self back to your hotel on your own.
18. Learn to cook sushi at a local home
As a foodie, I always look forward to taking food tours and food classes in most cities I travel as a solo female traveller, and when you are in food heaven, this is an absolute must.
Washoku home cooking Machiko is a form of home cooking for visitors in Japan, giving you an authentic experience. The Machiko greets you at the door in a kimono and then takes you to the kitchen. Remember to take off your shoes as it is frowned upon. I signed up for a sushi-making class, but there are other options available too. Once I learned how to roll sushi, the Machiko proceeded to teach me how to plate it beautifully, and then we were set for a giant feast in a traditional Japanese way.
19. Shop till you drop at Tenjinbashi-Suji
One of the first shopping streets in Osaka, Tenjinbashi-Suji is the longest street in Japan dotted with shops. Spanning almost 2.6 kilometers, it takes nearly 40 minutes to cover it even if you walk straight without stopping. Yes, I checked it lol.
A far cry from the shops in the mall, here you can buy local fare from little boutiques and small shops. Just walking amidst the crowd here is an experience you must look forward to while visiting Osaka.
20. A day at Spa world
As a female solo traveller, we often find ourselves looking for some respite between a packed itinerary. So take a breather and recharge your batteries before travelling more by spending a day at the Spa world in Osaka.
A seven-storey building just south of Shinsekai, Spa world allows you to pamper yourself with baths and massages from all over the world. You will be spoilt for choice here, but I had heard from a friend who had taken the services earlier that a milk and honey bath in the Blue Grotto room is one you should not miss. And truly indeed, it leaves your skin soft, and it clears all the stress etched in your minds. The experience was befitting a queen, and so this should definitely be on your list.
Osaka has a sheer abundance of places to visit, and the best thing about this city is that it has something for everyone. Osaka is like the coolest cousin of Tokyo, and here, you cannot help but imbibe that laid-back trait of the people of this city. Osakans love to enjoy their life, and here you will be forced to do so too. Also, expect to be a few pounds heavier after you visit Osaka because you won’t be able to restrict yourself to the plethora of options served. Eat, drink, and enjoy the slice of beauty of Japan that is Osaka!
An introverted blogger who is looking to make unforgettable solo travel memories with one short life.