Conquering Osaka on a budget
Here's the one lifehack any budget traveller needs to know before visiting Osaka: there's a concession pass that gets you almost unlimited travel across their entire subway network, and free entry to 30 of Osaka's most iconic attractions. It's perfect for Singaporean budget travellers, given the flight itself can already take up a huge proportion of our budget.
The Osaka Amazing Pass* only has 1 and 2-day variants, belying Osaka's reputation as a transit city. When we visited for 8 days, we grabbed a couple of 2-day passes each from Klook, picking them up as soon as we touched down at Kansai International Airport, starting our journey by keeping our budget as low as possible yet with maximum fun.
*The Osaka Amazing Pass costs ¥2,300 (~S$29; 1-day pass) or ¥3,000 (~S$37.50; 2-day pass), and if you have that, all you'll have to pay for is food and accommodation, and you can survive in Osaka without much else.
1. Get a local guide to show you Osaka's best spots for free
That's me on the right, talking to our super friendly local guide, Taka!
One of Japan's best kept secrets is that they have goodwill guides all over the country. Goodwill guides are Japanese locals who volunteer to bring foreigners around - either because they're looking for interesting experiences or want to pick up foreign languages.
We were surprised when our guide, Taka, told us that most of his guests were from South America. You'd expect Singaporeans to be kiasu and look up a goodwill guide every time they visit Japan!
Each club has different rules, but a few are common: you won't have to pay for their services, although you'll usually have to pay for their transportation and meals. There are clubs like Visit Kansai though, that offer novice guides who will bear all costs themselves.
Here are some Goodwill Guide clubs that operate in Osaka:
Note: you'll need to give at least 2 weeks in advance for most goodwill guides as they're doing it out of their free time.
2. The cheapest thirst quenchers in Osaka
Keep a look out for vending machines that sell drinks for ¥100 (~$1.20) each. Short of Osaka's drinkable tap water, these are the cheapest drinks you'll consistently find all around Osaka.
There will be many vending machines with drinks going for ¥120-150, but keep walking and soon you'll hit one of these yellow ones. Plus, they dispense both cold and hot drinks!
3. Go temple hopping for all the scenic views you'll never see in SG
A quick perusal of any travel website will reveal that as one of Japan's cultural capitals, Osaka’s temples and shrines are unmissable. One of the head temples of Zen Buddhism in the world is here, a sign of how steeped in history Osaka is.
A. Nanbayasaka Shrine
You wouldn't forget this shrine if you walked past it. The lion-shaped ema-den is 12 meters high, 11 meters wide, and 10 meters deep, and is a reminder of Japan's history of Shintoism, before Buddhism entered its shores.
Address: 〒556-0016 2-9-19 Motomachi, Naniwa-ku, Osaka City
B. Hozenji Temple
A believer "watering" the Fudo Myo-o statue
Hozenji Temple is 5 minutes away from Dotonburi, making it one of the most accessible temples to any tourist. A legend endures here of how Hozenji Shrine and its surroundings were destroyed during WW2, with the only survivor being a Fudo Myo-o (a Buddhist spirit that represents discipline and firm moral character) statue.
Today, believers "water" the green statue daily, keeping it mossy, in the hopes that their wishes get answered.
Address: 1-2-16 Nanba, Chuo Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 542-0076, Japan
4. Get all the FREE food samples at Takashimaya
Cheapo Singaporean lifehack: whenever there's a major festival, Singapore's Takashimaya atrium will have food stalls with free samples of everything festive - from mooncakes during mooncake festival to bak kwa during CNY.
Takashimaya in Japan's a little different. Located near Namba Station, they serve bite-sized snacks all year round, from cheese to confectionary and seafood. When you're there, keep an eye out for spatulas or toothpicks. If you see them, wait for them to be offered, or just be thick skinned and ask!
5. Hike up a picturesque mountain and find a 33-meter tall waterfall
30 minutes away from the city centre of Umeda is one of Osaka's most gorgeous sights. Minoo Waterfall is a 33-meter tall wonder nestled up a mountain near Hankyu-Minoo Station.
The path up the mountain is 2.4km long, but there are loads of Insta-worthy sights along the way:
There are also many spots along the way for you to rest your feet. Not that it's incredibly tiring though - there were senior citizens taking strolls, easily outpacing us while we were taking OOTDs.
And when you're done with your trek, keep an eye out for a hut with a mineral water footbath, free for all to use!
6. Play ¥50 (~$0.63) arcade games to live out your childhood fantasies
A few minutes away from Umeda Station is this hidden arcade that's gotten pretty popular due to its super cheap games. There are over 100 machines across 3 floors at Monte 50, and their games range from super old school like Power Smash 3 (Virtua Tennis 3) and King of Fighters 98 to the newest games like Tekken 7.
Each of their games cost only ¥50, and you can see their full list of games and floor map before deciding if you want to head down. Unfortunately the place can get a little smokey as smoking is allowed, so if you're smoke-averse you might want to skip this.
7. Meet rising J-pop starlets and experience Americanised Japanese culture
Not sure who he is, but the guy sitting down in the cap was described as a rising pop star by his fangirls when we asked.
Like how there are mini communities like Little India and Lucky Plaza in Singapore, there are enclaves of different nationalities in Osaka as well. One of the most popular is Amerikamura, just a few streets down from Shinsaibashi, Osaka's main food district. Here, there's a strong Cineleisure vibe, where the youth hang out with their friends.
There was a meet and greet session going on at Triangle Park in Amerikamura when we were there, although we didn't recognise the "stars". The language barrier didn't help, although I'd like to think that we met the Osakan Gentle Bones or Charlie Lim that day.
Edgy American streetwear shops
It's worth exploring the malls too, as we found one of Asia's largest collections of pinball machines in one of them. Spend a little time here and you might uncover other treasures within this dynamic "neighbourhood"!
8. Customise your own cup noodles at an instant noodle museum
If you're a fan of instant noodles, you can find their birthplace near Ikeda Station, an 18 minute train ride from Umeda. This isn't a boring old museum either - here, you can customise your own cup noodles for ¥300 at My Cup Noodles Factory, or get hands on and recreate the very first instant ramen ever, kneading the dough and cutting the noodles yourself at the Chicken Ramen Factory (reservations required).
9. Come face to face with alpacas at Satsukiyama Zoo
If you're already in the Ikeda area, there's a free petting zoo an 18 minute walk away from the train station. Satsukiyama Zoo has wallabies and alpacas, although the petting is limited to their smaller pets. You can even buy food pellets and feed them!
Tip: If you're finding your way there using Google Maps, you might be persuaded to take a bus. Don't! The path there from Ikeda station is 10/10 scenic and worth walking through.
10. Visit Osaka's grand symbol: Osaka Castle
If you don't have a picture with the Osaka Castle, have you really been to Osaka?
Osaka Castle is THE landmark to visit when in Osaka - not just because it’s used as a symbol on almost all of Osaka's "Visit Osaka" campaigns. No, the reason we know it's a must-visit is that it appears on almost every "things to do in Osaka" article you can find on Google.
There will be performances too - we were enthralled by a performer who did crazy tricks on the kendama - including playing with the longest kendama ever from atop a ladder - and football freestylers.
There will also be locals and tourists dressed in traditional garb, making for great photo opportunities!
Osaka Amazing Pass
As mentioned earlier, you can get the Osaka Amazing Pass (¥2,300/~S$29 for 1-day pass | ¥3,000/~S$37.50 for 2-day pass) to save loads on your trip. To put it into perspective, a full priced ticket to the Singapore Zoo costs $33, while the Amazing Pass gets you into far more places, and covers your train tickets there as well.
The following places are attractions that the Pass allowed us entry into for free!
11. Go on a ferris wheel above a shopping mall
For a mini version of the Singapore Flyer, visit the HEP Five ferris wheel, one of Umeda's most recognised attractions. The entrance of the HEP Five ferris wheel is on the 7th floor, and it's so big that as long as you're in the area, you'll have no issues finding it.
One round takes 15 minutes, and you can plug your music player into the provided speakers! At its peak, the cabin will be 106 meters above ground, granting a panoramic view of the surrounding city.
Usual price: ¥500
12. Go on the Tombori River Cruise and take a selfie with the Glico Man
That's how close you'll get to the iconic Glico Man! Source
For a change of pace, take a seat on the 20-minute Tombori River Cruise that sails parallel to the bustling Shinsaibashi Street. You can take a selfie with the instafamous Glico Man, and get to see how friendly the locals are. Most of the locals we waved to waved back super enthusiastically!
Usual price: ¥900
13. Visit the 170-meter tall "Floating Garden" at Umeda Sky Building
Entrance to Umeda Sky's Floating Garden normally costs ¥1000 (~$12.70), and it's a little overpriced. But if you've got an Amazing Pass, it's absolutely worth visiting. No, there's no garden here, but the view from up high is breathtaking.
The observatory is lit with UV light so your view isn't backlit. It also leads to cool photo-taking opportunities so wear a white shirt if you're coming after sunset!
There's also a mini lounge for you to rest your feet right below the observatory.
Usual price: ¥1000
How we made our trip to Osaka so much simpler
We originally planned our trip to Osaka specially to visit Universal Studios Japan, and ended up staying there for 8 days, exploring budget things to do. To ease our way into Osakan life, we partnered Klook to get our basic first world "amenities" the moment we touched down at Kansai International Airport.
Picking up our WiFi devices, Osaka Amazing Passes, and Train Tickets at the airport counter.
Klook's like an AirBnb for experiences, except instead of offering accommodation, they offer discounts for attractions and conveniences like WiFi devices and airport transfers. And the best thing about it is that they do everything in English, drastically reducing any miscommunication.
Here are a few things I really like about Klook:
- their dedicated app (iOS/Android) for bookings is intuitive and straightforward to use,
- they send tickets straight to your phone (so you get to skip queues),
- they regularly offer discount codes on Facebook,
- they send instant confirmation after you book your activity,
- they are incredibly responsive on Facebook private messages,
- their prices are clearly stated in SGD,
- and there are also no hidden costs, and the prices you see are all you'll have to pay - no sneaky booking fees or GST tagged on top of the listed price!
Fauzi and I with our Osaka Amazing Pass at the counter - no queueing required.
And here's us with our train transfer tickets direct to Namba station. Again, no queueing required.
Other services that Klook offers are discounted tickets to Universal Studios Japan (they're official partners!), airport transfers to and from your hotel, and the Hankyu 1 Day / 2 Day Tourist Pass that covers unlimited train travel in Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe! The Hankyu Tourist Pass, in particular, is 100% worth it if you're looking to travel to Kyoto and Kobe, where different experiences await.
This post was brought to you by Klook.