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Osaka is the third largest city in Japan, with a population of over 2.5 million people in its greater metropolitan area. It is the central metropolis of the Kansai region and the largest of the Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto trio.
If Tokyo is Japan's capital, one might call Osaka its anti-capital. Whatever you call it, though, there are many opportunities for you to discover its true character.
Kansai International Airport (KIX) is the airport and has two railway connections to the city: JR West's Kansai Airport Lines and the private Nankai Electric Railway that offers service to Namba.
Most domestic flights arrive at Osaka International Airport, also known as Itami Airport (ITM). Itami is connected to the Osaka Monorail, but the monorail is expensive and traces an arc around the northern suburbs, so to get to the centre of the city you will need to transfer to a suburban Hankyu railway line.
As Osaka is a major city, there are many day and overnight buses which run between Osaka and other locations throughout Japan, which can be a cheaper alternative than shinkansen fares.
The run between Tokyo and the Kansai region is the busiest in Japan, and fierce competition between bus operators has resulted in better amenities and lower prices. Buses from Tokyo follow either the Tomei Expressway or the Chuo Expressway to Nagoya, then the Meishin Expressway to Osaka. Trips take approximately 8-9 hours depending on the route and stops.
Discount bus operator Willer Express runs daytime and overnight buses with a variety of seating options ranging from standard bus seats to luxurious shell seats. Bus journeys can be booked online in English, and Willer's Japan Bus Pass is valid on all of their routes with some exceptions.
Osaka International Ferry Terminal is located at Nankō in the Osaka Bay Area. There are no banks, post office, shops, or restaurants in the terminal. The nearest subway station is Cosmosquare Station, which is about a 15 minute walk from the terminal. A free shuttle bus is available at the station. Taxis are also available at the station.
The Osaka Subway here is Japan's second-most extensive subway network after Tokyo, which makes the underground the natural way to get around. The Midosuji Line is Osaka's main artery, linking up the massive train stations and shopping complexes of Shin-Osaka, Umeda, Shinsaibashi, Namba and Tennoji.
True to its name, the JR Osaka Loop Line (Kanjō-sen) runs in a loop around Osaka. It's not quite as convenient or heavily-used as Tokyo's Yamanote Line, but it stops in Umeda and Tennoji, and by Osaka Castle. Namba and Universal Studios Japan are connected to the Loop Line by short spurs.
What to see
Kamigata Ukiyoe Museum, A rather small museum in Nanba dedicated to ukiyoe, Japanese woodblock prints. The interior of the museum looks a bit like an adobe house. It may be most interesting to someone already familiar with the art, as the information inside mostly Japanese only.
Maritime Museum, 2-5-20, Nanko-kita, Suminoe-ku. This attraction closed March 2013. Built in the sea near the shore.
Osaka Museum of History, 1-32 Otemae 4-Chome Chuo-ku. An ideal place to learn all-abouts of Osaka's history.
Peace Osaka. A museum dedicated to the promotion of peace through displays of war. Because it is an Osaka museum, it features the effects of the bombings on Osaka in WWII.
Sumiyoshi Shrine. One of Japan's oldest Shinto shrines, with a history stretching back 1800 years. Its traditional architecture is unusual amongst Japan's shrines, and its park-like surroundings with the sacred bridge arching over a tranquil pond make it a restful break from the busy environment of Osaka. Free.