My first trip to Japan had been a long time coming - I had the chance two years ago but had to cancel my trip on account of work, and I didn't get to plan another trip until this year. I'm so happy I finally got to go, and I have to say that now I am officially hooked. I can't wait for another chance to visit! Even though we only spent a weekend in Osaka and Kyoto, it was enough to give me a taste of what Japan has to offer.
A lot of people say coming to Japan for the first time is a massive culture shock - everything is just so dynamic and different that it can be extremely disorienting, especially in Tokyo. I'm glad the first city I got to visit in Japan was Osaka, because it's not as crazy. In fact, I was surprised to find that it was actually a pretty chill city. People seemed relaxed and had a general casual chic about them. And the food! Oh my gosh, the food!
I've also been told that things in Osaka are cheaper than in Tokyo - but even then, compared to countries in Southeast Asia or even Korea, stuff in Japan are quite pricey.
But fear not - there is a way to manage the culture shock and the credit card shock on your first trip to Japan! Here are a few tips on how to experience Osaka like a local without breaking the bank.
1. Stay in the Dotonbori area.
It's a great home base for your first trip to Osaka because there's already lots to see and do in the area, and you can just walk around and explore without needing to navigate their subway system. Don't forget to also check out the neighboring areas of Amerikamura and Orange St. for a hipster, less tourist-y vibe.
As the area is popular among tourists, be sure to book your accommodations in Dotonbori ahead of time to get the best deals.
2. Eat great food at great prices.
Try takoyaki from the numerous stalls you will find in Dotonbori, or check out a restaurant that sells okonomiyaki. Visit the Kuromon Market for incredibly fresh seafood at reasonable prices, as well as other Japanese treats like Kobe beef or traditional sweets.
Finally, you cannot go to Osaka without visiting Endo Sushi. A set of five life-changing sushi pieces will only cost you a thousand Yen, which is a steal! The restaurant is located in a local seafood market, which means they're serving you incredibly fresh fish. Trust me, the long walk from the train station is so worth it. I regret not getting a second plate, and it's one of the main reasons I want to come back to Osaka.
A life-changing plate at Endo Sushi!
Skewered treats at Kuromon Market
3. Shop wisely!
Believe it or not, there are actually some great stores to get a good bargain in Japan. Visit Don Quixote or Daiso for trinkets and souvenirs at good prices. For clothing, check out Gu, the more affordable sister brand of Uniqlo (their self-service cashier counters blew me away) or Sense of Place by Urban Research.
Here's another tip: Royce Chocolate is way cheaper in Japan. The chocolate covered potato chips (which I absolutely love) were half the price at Kansai Airport compared to if you buy them in Vietnam or The Philippines. Lush products are also way more affordable, so be sure to stock on those bath bombs when you go!
4. Visit Kyoto for a day or two.
It's only a train ride away from Osaka but has a completely different feel, devoid of Osaka's urban vibe. Instead it provides a unique glimpse of traditional, historical Japan. Drop by the usual temples flocked by tourists but also consider booking an overnight stay in Arashiyama, an artist community, for a more serene, local feel.
The Iconic Trail at Fushimi Inara
You can rent a yukata or kimono for a day when you go around Kyoto
5. Drink and eat at an izakaya.
Once you're back in Osaka, drop by an izakaya, the Japanese version of a pub or watering hole. Order some yakitori while drinking sake or a whisky highball. Or both. You're on vacation. Enjoy!
I highly recommend going to Batten Yokato, a small izakaya we chanced upon between Amerikamura and Dotonbori (based on their website, they seem to have other branches too). The staff are friendly with foreigners, and they have an English menu with cute illustrations of the food. The prices are also pretty affordable, with yakitori sticks that cost as low as 90 Yen. But even at good prices, the food is amazing. The yakitori is seasoned simply but bursting with flavor, and grilled to perfection. You definitely get more than your money's worth here!
Gateway to yakitori awesomeness, great drinks, and a friendly local vibe
My kind of window shopping tbh
You can also check out Tayutayu Nambasennichimaeten if you want to go izakaya hopping.