Osaka doesn’t immediately unfold its history in the same way its neighbor Kyoto does. Nevertheless, the city houses some unique cultural museums which will take you on a journey through the fascinating story behind Japan’s third-largest city. Here’s a round-up of the five best Osaka museums, from ramen to whisky and beyond.
Osaka is perhaps Japan’s most fun, eclectic, and exciting city. It has a wonderful bar scene, is less crowded yet arguably more eccentric than Tokyo, and it has some of the very best museums in Japan. Osaka is often thought of as Tokyo’s more fun and vibrant little brother. Its people are more relaxed, more funny, and more carefree.
In Osaka you can find all the otaku delights that Tokyo has, as well as all the temples and traditions, the iconic modern towers, and the beautiful parks. But you’ll also find Japan’s best food and bar scenes, as demonstrated by some of the Osaka museums you’re about to discover. So let’s dig into five of the very best Osaka museums.
This article also features on our sister site: Hidden Osaka.
The Very Best Osaka Museums
This is a quirky way to see Japan’s modernization into a period where homecooked meals fell by the wayside and the birth of japan’s convenience culture was born. The museum very much embraces and encourages creativity – it’s a place where ramen pots adorn the ceilings and walls of the ‘ramen tunnel’ and colorful and unusual flavors take you way beyond the super noodles of the West.
One of the highlights of the museum is the interactive exhibit delving into the life and work of Momofuku Ando. Ando developed the instant noodle in 1958 and unknowingly started a worldwide noodle revolution. Before leaving, you can enjoy one of the more famous aspects of the museum which is visiting the ‘My Cupnoodles Factory’ to create your own flavor of noodle with your own plastic cup design and branding.
As we’ve mentioned, Osaka is the foodie capital of Japan, and the Instant Ramen museum is not only one of the most unique Osaka museums, but also one that demonstrates the quirky and delightfully strange side of modern Japanese culture. And it celebrates just how cherished food and innovation are to the culture of Osaka.
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Osaka Museum of Housing and Living
Wandering Osaka’s side streets, you can find whispers of the Edo Japan that once was, traditional buildings stand tucked next to pachinko parlors and convenience stores. Although very little lingers of the Japan of the past in most major cities, here you can immerse yourself in Edo period Osaka.
You can explore traditional buildings of the Meiji, Showa, and Taisho periods within the model village before heading upstairs to explore the rest of the building. Upstairs, you’ll find quaint shops, a museum, and several interactive exhibits. You can even combine a trip to the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living with a kimono rental (available on site) to get those special pictures in front of the traditional streetscape background.
If you want to truly see how Japanese architecture, living traditions, and lifestyles have changed, evolved, and been maintained throughout the eras of Japanese history, this most delightfully unique of Osaka museums will certainly entertain and enlighten.
Osaka City Museum of Fine Art
Combine a visit to Tennoji Park with viewing over 8000 works of Japanese and Chinese art at one of the most famous art galleries in the country. The garden and house the museum is set in were donated by the Sumitomo’s, a famous local family, and it’s worth going simply to these this beautiful piece of architecture.
This vast selection of East Asian art spread is over five floors and features everything from calligraphy to sculptures. It’s a vibrant collection showcasing the best of traditional art in Asia. They also host various special exhibits throughout the year.
Of all the Osaka museums, the Osaka City Museum of Fine Art is perhaps the most precious. It celebrates and puts in pride of place the incredible range and spectacle of Japanese art, celebrating it at one of the most stunning and captivating Osaka museums.
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Suntory Yamazaki Distillery
No trip to Osaka would be complete without a visit to the renowned Suntory Distillery, the oldest whisky distillery in Japan, founded in 1923 by Shinjiro Torii. There are two ways to explore the distillery: either at your own pace where you can access the museum, shop and tasting counter or by taking a guided tour. The tour is worth the cost as you’ll see the inner workings of the brewery and some of the older areas of the factory.
The kegs themselves are huge and and a real highlight of the tour. A member of staff will also teach visitors about the heritage of whiskey in Japan and this brewery in particular. While in the distiller, paying a visit to the whiskey library where you can see over 7,000 whiskey bottles is a must. Set at the foot of Mount Tennozan and provides a scenic backdrop for this fascinating visit.
Whisky is an integral part of Japanese society and modern Japanese history. At this most curious of Osaka museums, you’ll see why. As you discover the frantic and eccentric world of the Osaka bar scene for yourself, this Osaka museum is something to also explore during your visit in order to fully appreciate the love and affection that Japan has for its whisky.
Osaka Science Museum
There are a lot of science museums around the world, but what makes this Osaka museum special is that it is dedicated specifically to the themes of ‘space’ and ‘energy’. The building itself is enormous, and it stands out just enough as a space-age looking thing that sets it apart from its neighbours.
A lot of the exhibits in Osaka Science Museum are interactive, with a view to educating, fascinating, and opening the minds of both children and adults (though children are certainly the primary focus here). It’s a great place for families to bring their kids for this very reason.
Osaka Science Museum is separated into four floors and a basement, and these floors boast a planetarium, displays which celebrate and educate visitors about the scientific history of space (both its exploration and discoveries), and so much more. In fact, there’s enough at the Osaka Science Museum to justify more than one visit, and even though it’s dedicated more to kids, adults will certainly feel like kids when visiting.
This Western-style brick building, constructed during the Meiji era, was originally a factory before becoming the Japanese Mint and later a museum. This intriguing space is where you can see the history of Japanese coins and the development of modern coin making techniques in action. Over three floors you’ll see examples of Japanese and Chinese coins through the years, original equipment, and a floor of rare special edition coins like the Star Wars editions.
The museum shop is a fascinating stop where you can buy reproductions of unique coins, perfect if you want a unique souvenir. The Mint Museum becomes a particularly hot attraction in the Spring when it transforms into a prime spot for cherry blossom viewing as the garden bursts into a wash of pink.
Of all the Osaka museums, this is one that brings to life some truly intriguing and entertaining history concerning a topic that you might, at first, not be so excited to dive into. But Osaka has a way of surprising and entertaining us in the most unusual of ways.
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Jess is the creator and editor of Books and Bao. She's passionate about the world, its literature, food, culture, and people. She enjoys sharing her travel tips with others and capturing those perfect moments.