Explore the Hidden Side Streets and Eateries of Osaka
Osaka is a wonderful city; full of seemingly endless things to fascinate the foodie, the nerd, the history buff, and the culture-seeker. I’ve never experienced a vibe quite like the one I did in Osaka. With so many things to do in Osaka, it’s almost easy to get overwhelmed. But being a short hop from both Kyoto and Nara makes Osaka one of our favourite cities for being based in Japan. It’s such a convenient hub to explore other parts of the country too. Check out this itinerary for Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara for some great ideas.
Cycling is a major part of life in Osaka, more so than I’ve seen in any other Japanese city, and we were very excited to get stuck into this unique and essential aspect of Osaka culture by taking a city and food tour combined. Getting to know Osaka is a dream you’ll get to know a number of exciting neighbourhoods on this tour.
Tip: If you’re travelling around Japan, don’t forget your JR Pass. Trains are expensive!
A Different Kind of Tour
Tours can sometimes be the bane of the traveller. They’re a dying breed in many ways. With the internet and a hundred different published travel guides, we can plan our own holidays and explore new places without the aid of a tour guide. However, perhaps knowing that they are a dying breed, Cycle Osaka have chosen to evolve and keep up with the times. They succeeded at this and have produced the single most fun guided tour I have ever experienced while on holiday. We opted for their food tour, but other options include: a half day cycle tour, a full day tour, and a bay tour.
Each one is unique and will take you around different and off-the-beaten-track areas of Osaka.
Why did we choose the Cycle Osaka Tour?
Osaka is a stunning city, not overwhelming in its size like Tokyo, but with endless amounts of sights, shops, and restaurants to explore nonetheless. It’s certainly not possible to see everything in three days, which is how long we had.
And so, before the Cycle Osaka tour, we satisfied our nerd tastes by visiting Nipponbashi Denden Town (Osaka’s answer to Tokyo’s Akihabara), and thoroughly explored downtown Namba. And, of course, we spent time in the vibrant district of Dotonbori, which is also a hub for trying some of Osaka’s must-eat dishes.
But the problem lies in the food. Osaka is famous for its delicacies (most famously takoyaki and kushikatsu), and much of this food originated in the Shinsekai area (a hundred-year-old square kilometre which surrounds Osaka’s iconic Tsutenkaku Tower).
It’s impossible to try all of the food on a budget, and within a short space of time. That is unless a handful of guys have set up a special food tour, on which you cycle around the Shinsekai area and other surrounding parts, sampling all of the great foods available.
These food stops include:
- Street Oden
- Korean market
- Chijimi pancakes
- Flame grilled wagyu
- Fresh sushi
If all of that sounds overwhelming for two or so hours, it isn’t. Ben makes sure that you sample enough that you can really appreciate it, but not so much that your appetite is spoiled.
Worried about riding a bike?
One small apprehension I had when we booked was that neither of us had actually ridden a bicycle in at least four years, and thought we’d struggle on the route. But Osaka is a bike-friendly city, where cycling is encouraged, and the route you take is incredibly smooth, easy, and fun.
In fact, since Japan is known for its costly subway travel, most residents of Osaka and Kyoto opt for getting around by bicycle, a convenience not really afforded to residents of Tokyo.
Is it just food?
Not at all. As you cycle, you’ll make a quick stop at Osaka’s Shittennoji Temple (Japan’s oldest Buddhist temple, famous for never having closed its gates in 1400 years) and you’ll have a chance to chat with the locals who frequent the food places you stop at. I had a chance to practice my Japanese with some hilarious old men while sampling the oden.
We even chatted a little Korean with the long-time Korean residents of Osaka who set up their food market and have ingeniously combined traditional Korean foods (such as kimchi and tteokbokki) with Japanese cooking styles in order to produce some of the most delicious meats and vegetables I’ve ever tasted.
How was the tour guide?
Ben was a fantastic host, throwing out facts about both Osaka and its food history by the armful. The beauty of the tour was that it carries none of the awkwardness and wooden problems that come with typical city tours.
Thanks to how the itinerary is designed, the food places which have been selected, the cycling aspect (rather than a car or bus), and the guide’s charming approach, the whole tour felt far more like a few hours spent with your mate who just wants to show you his city. And that is exactly how a tour should be. I can’t recommend this Cycle Osaka tour highly enough. Visit their website and view their many tours here.
If you liked this review and love cycle tours, then how about doing the same in Taipei?
Will predominantly writes about the books of Books and Bao, examining the literature of a place and how the authors have used the art of storytelling to reflect the world and the culture around them.