Your Alternative Osaka Travel Guide

If you’re looking for an alternative Osaka travel guide, you’ve just landed on the right page. Japan expert, La Carmina, shares her best tips and advice for exploring the more underground side of Osaka.

Only three hours from Tokyo by bullet train, Osaka is a turbo-charged setting for a long weekend getaway. Although it’s worth seeing historic landmarks such as Osaka Castle, travelers shouldn’t miss out on exploring the underground culture for an alternative perspective of the city. For instance, Osaka is home to a gritty and raucous music scene that’s matched only by its drinking holes — where the staff has feathered and dyed hair, the speakers blast Def Leppard, and the walls are decorated with grinning skulls.

I’ve been writing about Japan and visiting Osaka for well over a decade on my La Carmina travel blog. Here are some of my favorite subculture hangouts in the city, which I hope you’ll get to check out on your next trip.

See also: A day in Osaka, Japan

Japan travel expert - La Carmina
La Carmina, Japan travel and fashion blogger of LaCarmina.com

Osaka shopping guide

Let’s start off this alternative Osaka travel guide with a few vintage, indie and unique shopping spots in Osaka.

Shinsaibashi

Shinsaibashi’s Shopping Arcade is a bustling treasure hunt: look for indie and vintage boutiques, such as Dangerous Nude, amidst the mass retailers. Nearby Amerikamura is the cultural equivalent of Tokyo’s Harajuku, with Goths, punks and rockers hanging out in Triangle Park (here’s a map of the best stores). Poke your head through the beaded curtains for cyber fashion, tarot cards and 1980s toys.

Osaka travel guide recommending a Satanic-themed 666 clothing shop in the Shinsaibashi district of Osaka.
A Satanic-themed 666 clothing shop in the Shinsaibashi district of Osaka. Image by La Carmina Blog.

EST Center

A stone’s throw from Umeda Station, EST is a young women’s “shopping town with dream and excitement.” The boutiques lure you in with frantic J-pop music and the chic outfits seen in Cutie and ViVi magazines. If the hundred-plus indie and alternative shops aren’t enough, across the street is Hep Five, a shopping and entertainment megalopolis with a red Ferris wheel.

Osaka travel guide recommending Pokemon Center, Osaka. Photo by La Carmina
Pokemon Center, Osaka. Image by La Carmina Blog.

Sightseeing in Osaka

Here are a few more unique sights to visit in Osaka.

Pokemon Center

Believe it or not, the Pokemon Center is one of the top tourist attractions in all of Japan. The gargantuan Umeda, Osaka store is stocked with every character imaginable. Children in Pikachu hats will remind you that the brand’s motto is “gotta catch em all,” so bring your wallet.

Kaiyukan Aquarium

Kaiyukan is one of the largest aquariums in the world and a family favorite. Young Osaka resident Takumi Tanaka reminisces on his childhood visits. “It’s always fun to see the penguins and dolphins playing, but my favorite thing to do is visit the Floating Jellyfish tanks. It’s so relaxing to watch the intertwining tendrils,” he says. “Also I love to watch the staff feed the sea otters, who play like children.”

Osaka Castle

Tanaka also encourages first-timers to visit the historic Osaka Castle, especially during the cherry blossom season. “There are always festivals and gatherings in the beautiful park, and little stalls that sell traditional foods like takoyaki. It’s fun to just sit on the benches and watch people go by,” says Tanaka.

Related tour: Guided Walking Tour around Osaka Castle

Alternative Osaka travel guide
Fu-Ki pours a devilish drink at hard rock Bar Midian, Osaka. Image by La Carmina Blog.

Bars and Nightlife in Osaka

What’s an Osaka travel guide without a list of the best bars and nightlife?

Related tour: Osaka: Nightlife Experience

Bar Midian

Fans of Visual Kei/J-rockers Blood were heartbroken when the group disbanded. But like a Goth Elvis, vocalist Fu-ki is alive and ominously wielding an ice pick behind the counter of his Bar Midian.

The Umeda dive is near-impossible to find, so I suggest studying these detailed directions on my La Carmina Blog. Midian’s decor is a heavy metal wet-dream: a dripping candle sits in a Dracula wine bottle; an axe rests in the umbrella stand. That night, we sat with tattooed rockers who headbanged to Black Sabbath videos and scandalized us with their boy-on-boy antics.

Drinks are 500 yen and have names such as Black Rose and Satan. Fu-ki mixes a strong cocktail and will gladly make you a special one, or pour you a Belgian Satan Beer. He’s also known to pick up the tab for newcomers, especially if you bond over music — so don’t forget to ask him about his Motley Crue cover band.

Bar Moonwalk

When metal and rock bands tour Osaka, they frequently stop by Moonwalk, a bar that pumps Marilyn Manson and Japanese glam metal to a young, heavily-pierced crowd.

My travel comrade and I had an instant crush on our eyeliner-smeared server Kouta, who plays bass in a new Visual Kei band. The fantasy faded a little when he went into the kitchen to cook our orders: tasty 315 yen plates of Korean fried rice and lotus pork cakes. There’s a 400 yen cover charge, but the drink menu — which has over 300 offerings for 200 yen each – more than makes up for it. Got a sweet tooth? Try the raspberry yogurt cocktail. More of a hardcore type? Go for the brandy ginger mixer. And don’t be surprised if the charming bartender brings over free shots.

Bar Rock Rock

Alice Cooper. Bad Religion. Motley Crue. Metallica. They are among the hundreds of famed faces who have raised hell at Rock Rock since the bar opened in 1995, leaving behind autographed photos and tales of destruction.

The atmosphere reminds me of a really chill jazz club, only with screamo vocals. The bar plays anything from punk to metal and has events throughout the year that bring in throngs of rock fans. These include special DJ nights such as Hell’s Bells (AC/DC), Emotion is Dead (emo) and the self-explanatory Loud & Heavy.

The menu is a typical selection of pizzas, pastas and salads (600-800 yen). The drinks are standards, plus a selection of fruity cocktails (500-800 yen). A little pricy, but worth it when they’re poured by celebrity bartender “Noxl Rose.”

Alternative bars in Osaka, Japan
Cute octopus balls, or takoyaki: an Osakan favorite food. Image by La Carmina Blog.

Food in Osaka

Take your tastebuds on an adventure.

See also: Japanese Pork Chop in Downtown Osaka

Okonomiyaki

Non-Japanese speakers, memorize the word “okonomiyaki.” It’s a tragedy if you leave without tasting the grilled savory pancake (usually with seafood, and topped with bonito flakes and brown sauce) that is Kansai’s soul food. Look for family restaurants such as Tengu, where recipes are passed down from several generations.

Takoyaki

Takoyaki — grilled octopus balls made from pouring batter into molds — are another Osaka specialty. Every major street has a stand where you can buy a dozen for 500 yen. Twists on the original include egg or melted cheese toppings, and takoyaki stuffed in a crepe. But nothing beats mom-and-pop shops, such as Tako House at Umeda station, where a shy grandma oversees the cooking.

Yuzu (citrus fruit)

Yuzu is a divine mating between a lemon and a tangerine. In Osaka, you’ll find the flavor in seemingly every type of dish: sorbet, sake, shochu. The fruit is rarely found fresh outside of Japan, so don’t hesitate to gorge on it at every meal.

Related tour: Eat Like a Local Street Food Tour

Alternative Osaka travel guide
A pentagram coaster from Gothic, fetish and occult themed Bar Idea in Kobe, Japan. Image by La Carmina Blog.

Day Trips from Osaka

If you want to escape from Osaka for a day, check out a few of these nearby places.

Kobe

Take a jaunt to Kobe to explore its outstanding parks, zoo, and harbor. For a walk on the dark side, visit Gothic / fetish / occult / Satanic Bar Idea. The friendly ladies behind the nail-spiked bar will chat with you and perform dark rituals, including shibari or rope bondage demonstrations.

Nara

Get away from the grit with a day trip to Nara, only an hour away by subway. The cultural capital dazzles with six Buddhist temples, a Shinto shrine and the Imperial Place. But the biggest thrill, for tourists of all ages, is petting the sacred deer that roam in Nara Park.

Related tour: From Kyoto or Osaka: Private Walking Tour through Nara

Kyoto

Kyoto is located north of Osaka, and home to thousands of well-preserved places of worship such as Kinkaku-ji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion). First built in the 14th century, the three-story gilded structure holds the Buddha’s ashes and is set in an exquisite garden with a mirror pond.

Related tour: From Osaka: Kyoto Top Highlights Day Trip

Japan travel expert, La Carmina
See more Japan travel tips on La Carmina’s social media @lacarmina and her award-winning travel blog.


Travel Around Barcelona

Look to the Future: Alternative Ways to Travel Around Barcelona

 

During these testing times on the back of the COVID-19 virus, many people have seen future travel plans be cancelled for the foreseeable future.

As frustrating as this is, we strongly believe that respecting the health measures in place all over the world should be observed by all. As well as this, that health is the most important thing for everyone right now.

However, we feel that one of the best ways to get through this is by thinking of exciting things to plan for when normality resumes. Therefore, we have looked to show you all the alternative ways you can travel around Barcelona. So that, when the day comes, you can get around Barcelona in a unique and fun way.

Barcelona is a city full of diverse people, traditions and… transport! It is normal in the city to be seen getting about on some truly unique modes of transport. Therefore, to give you the lowdown before your next visit to Barcelona, we have compromised a list of some of the…

Alternative ways to get around Barcelona

In this way, you will fit in like a true local as you cruise around the city centre!

Vespa Yego

Despite being from Italy, the Vespa has become a very popular way to get around Barcelona.

You will see many locals driving them to and from work as the majority of people working in Barcelona, live in apartments in and around the city. Therefore, having a vespa makes sense due to not taking up too much space for parking and having a relatively low upkeep. With the use of mobile payments through apps, some companies have teamed up with the Barcelona council to offer rentable vespas all over the city. Our favourite is YeGo, these are easily recognisable with their mint green colour! They are dotted about all over the city and you simply download the app and use that to unlock the vehicles. You need not worry about their charge (yes they are electric!), as they are charged up over night for you to use the next day. Their price is €0.25/minute.

Electric scooters

Another new trend are electric scooters!

These are big in Barcelona and nearby Valencia. They offer a very alternative way to get around Barcelona, as people access them in stores or online and rent them for an hourly rate. Most of these places will ask for a deposit before using, but their hourly rates are affordable and fair. Our favourite place to rent electric scooters in Barcelona is Lynx as they drop off the scooters at your accommodation in as little as 2 hours and you can keep them for days at a time! After having your fun, you can get them collected again. This is hassle free and gives you more time to explore the city! They cost €25 per day and €126 per week!

Bike

One mode of transport that has been around a little longer than those mentioned so far, is the bicycle!

These are found all over Barcelona and get locals from A to B. Our recommended bike rental if you are a local is to use is Bicing, an initiative set up by the Catalonia government as an initiative to get people out of cars and buses, to get around the city. If you are just in Barcelona on holiday, then you should use Born Bike. Here you can rent them from their office by Barceloneta Metro stop and pay for different hours, as well as for a couple of days!

Their prices are as follow and includes a map as well as a bike lock:

2 hours             6€
3 to 5 hours     10€
24 hours         15€
2 days             25€
Extra day          7€

Hop on hop off bus

Lastly, for those looking for a more relaxing way to get around the city centre of Barcelona, then there is the hop on hop off bus.

This is perfect when you have a limited amount of time in Barcelona as it goes via the monuments of the city centre at a leisurely pace for you to enjoy. A normal bus ticket costs €27 and allows you to, you guessed it, hop on and off any time of day! This way you can get around the city centre, seeing the sights from the Sagrada Familia to the Camp Nou!