The city where visitors are encouraged to ‘eat until they’re broke’


Let’s face it. Osaka lacks the mind-bending urban sprawl of Tokyo, where every turn opens up a world of adventure. It also lacks the historic temples, tree-covered hills and ancient history of Kyoto.

What it does have are two of the biggest attractions a visitor to Japan could wish for. The best food in the entire country. And the people, who are funky, fun and playful.

This is a place to come and eat, enjoy a local beer and soak up a city where everyday pleasures are expressed in a unique way.

Food is practically a religion in Osaka, which is now expecting global attention as it prepares to host Expo 2025Known as the cuisine of Japan, Dotonbori is the ideal place for foodies to start a journey through its many culinary delights.

The streets on either side of the Dotonbori Canal, between the Dōtonboribashi Bridge and the Nipponbashi Bridge, in the city’s Namba district are the place to spend an energetic afternoon. You’ll know you’re in the right place when you see restaurants decorated with giant, moving mechanical crabs and octopus models looming over your head, beckoning you to come in and eat.

Octopus is without a doubt the star ingredient here, the essential component of Osaka’s great gift to Japan: takoyaki. Dough balls filled with cubes of octopus, fried until piping hot, can be taken anywhere as a snack.

Takoyaki (octopus balls) are considered a must-eat street food in Osaka. - Craig Ferguson/LightRocket/Getty ImagesTakoyaki (octopus balls) are considered a must-eat street food in Osaka. - Craig Ferguson/LightRocket/Getty Images

Takoyaki (octopus balls) are considered a must-eat street food in Osaka. – Craig Ferguson/LightRocket/Getty Images

But as Junko Ogura, a CNN producer in Tokyo, says, these aren’t meant to be eaten all at once.

“It’s really hot,” she says. “Be careful. Not the whole thing!”

Of course, few tourists can resist this approach, even though it does leave them with a burnt mouth.

Takoyaki is just the beginning, though. As Junko explains, Osakans even have a saying for their food obsessions.


It basically means, “Eat in Osaka like you’re going bankrupt.”

This also applies to using chopsticks to remove succulent crab meat from its shell and feasting on super-fresh sushi, with the chefs working their magic and presenting the results directly to you.

In Sennichimae Doguyasuji – also known as the “kitchen shopping street” – you can buy the best Japanese knives and cookware, so you can continue to prepare your own dishes at home.

“You look healthy, I love you”

There is one dish, however, that you should set aside a pretty penny for. Something so juicy and delicious that it has become famous worldwide. Kobe beef. This delicacy is widely available in Dotonbori and all over Osaka, and its reputation precedes it.

This is meat raised to the most exacting standards, with prices to match. A kilo of Kobe grade 11 sirloin can cost $300 or more.

If you board a Shinkansen bullet train in the heart of Osaka, you can be in Kobe in half an hour. The cows are raised just outside the city under strict conditions. Anyone in Japan for less than seven days is not allowed to come into contact with them. To talk to a farmer involved in their care, CNN’s Junko has to call them via Zoom.

Dotonbori is known for its neon-lit billboards. - Metin Aktas/Anadolu/Getty ImagesDotonbori is known for its neon-lit billboards. - Metin Aktas/Anadolu/Getty Images

Dotonbori is known for its neon-lit billboards. – Metin Aktas/Anadolu/Getty Images

When asked how the cattle are treated compared to other cows, the farmer is very exuberant in his explanation.

“He touches them as much as he can, talks to them and says, ‘you look cute, you look healthy, I love you,’” says Junko, translating the farmer’s words.

If that seems strange, you can add the well-known fact that farmers massage and pet their cows. The farmer himself says that after three years of care, he is sad to see his animals go to the slaughterhouse, but happy in the knowledge that they bring happiness to those who eat them.

Juicy and with a melt-in-your-mouth texture, Kobe beef is perhaps the best in the world and is an essential part of any culinary experience in Osaka.

Let’s all go to the ball game

After all that eating, a little exercise is usually the order of the day. Like many parts of Japan, Osaka is obsessed with baseball. The sport has been a fixture in this part of the world since it was first introduced in 1872.

Today, baseball is played by all ages, from children in youth leagues to octogenarians playing a game of baseball on a summer afternoon.

But it’s as much about watching as it is about playing. The local team is the Hanshin Tigers, one of Japan’s most storied baseball franchises. The club began in 1936 and played briefly as the Osaka Tigers before returning to Hanshin, the city 20 minutes to the west, where they play at Koshien Stadium.

Long seen as underdogs, the Tigers won the 2023 Japan Series, breaking a 38-year curse dubbed “The Curse of the Colonel”, believed to have been caused by over-enthusiastic fans throwing a statue of KFC legend Colonel Sanders into the Dotonbori canal when they last won the title in 1985.

Fans attend every game, including Takada, a local man waiting in the stands for a match postponed due to rain, who outlines his priorities.

“Hanshin Tigers number one,” he says with a smile. “Hanshin Tigers. Then family. Then work or career.”

Takada says he cried when the Tigers won the 2023 pennant, hugging friends and crying so much that tears came out of his nose. Even the fact that today’s game was canceled can’t dampen his spirits.

A long week

If a love of non-stop action seems to be behind the cheerful and playful attitude of Osaka’s residents, then a moment of relaxation is close at hand in the city’s many beautiful onsens. These natural springs are part of a classical culture and require a whole new set of etiquette. Tattoos must be covered, as body art in Japan was historically seen as something only adorning yakuza gangsters. Participants must be naked and separated into men’s and women’s baths, ready for a wash and a long soak at the end of a busy workday.

Onsen are all about ‘naked friendship’, a place where everyone is equal, much like the sauna cultures of Finland and Estonia. The beautiful countryside around Osaka is full of them, but the baths in the city centre are also easy to find, making them an ideal place to relax and even meet some locals – albeit without clothes.

Osaka is, after all, a city of flavors and friendship. A place where you can eat like royalty and spend time with people who are obsessed with the best food and make sure everyone gets the best hospitality. This is reflected in the restaurants, stadiums and onsens. A place where you have to let loose and make peace with the fact that you might become “Kuidaore”.

Tokyo and Kyoto may be the cities known for having everything in Japan. But it is important to always make time for Osaka.

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