Despite living in Japan for 15months this was our first week long Japanese road trip. With 4 distinct cities fairly close together and accessible by train western Japan seemed like an obvious choice for our Thanksgiving travel plan. We booked an Airbnb a year out in Kyoto (as the affordable ones tend to fill up fairly fast), but when Japan changed its laws regarding Airbnb we ended up switching to Osaka as our home base. Each of the cities: Kobe, Nara, Kyoto, and Osaka all offered something different and we feel will leave you with a good idea of what western Japan is like.
For ease of website navigation, we have divided the trip by city, click through to the other sections at the bottom of this page, or head to our Japan page to see the individual pages. Osaka, was the final city we visited, so make sure to click back to see how we filled our first 3 days in Kobe, our 4th day in Nara, and days 5 & 6 in Kyoto!
[ D A Y • 7 ] Osaka: Kaiyukan Osaka Aquarium, Tempozan Marketplace, Tsuruhasi Fugetsu, Legoland Discovery Center, Tempozan Ferris Wheel, Dotombori, Ebisu-bashi Bridge
First morning of the trip that we woke up in the city that we would spend the day exploring and goodness it was nice to have that extra time to just chill. Our Airbnb host had a nice assortment of Legos that the kids were content to play with while Dom and I sat back and enjoyed a cup of joe! Definitely not a travel necessity, BUT a good cup of coffee in the morning is always a nice treat while getting ready to head out the door, so on our roadtrips we usually pack an Aero Press and our favorite bag of beans because of it! It wasn’t long though before our mugs were empty and we were all itching to get out and explore (despite having stayed in Osaka the past several nights this was our first real opportunity to experience the city).
Post-breakfast we headed to the train station to purchase our “Osaka Amazing Passes.” Honestly, we are pretty skeptical when it comes to all-inclusive passes like these. Questions like: “What if we spend more than we save on the pass?” and “Is there fine print we’re missing?” have us going back and forth and back and forth on whether or not to pull the trigger. In typical fashion this held true for the Osaka Amazing Pass as well (that name cracks me up every time). So after hemming and hawing for a good bit we finally decided to just go for it. So what exactly is this magical pass you ask? Well, essentially it’s a pass that you can purchase either at the train station or on Klook that covers admission to many attractions as well as subway fare (so it does not include transport on the JR line). In the details section below we have outlined the cost of the pass, what attractions we chose that are included in the pass, a breakdown of our savings, as well as a few other tips for those trying to decide whether or not purchasing the Osaka Amazing Pass is worth it. Bottom line: Everything we did was NOT included in the pass, however, if you plan on doing any of the pricier attractions (ex: Legoland Discovery Center) and moving around the city using the subway system we think this pass is a great deal! Of course right after picking up our passes we made our way to the Osaka Bay Area to visit the whale sharks at Kaiyukan Aquarium.
It’s always a bit tough to justify purchasing a pass like this and then directly heading to somewhere that it cannot be used, but if you like aquatic life this stop cannot be missed! We started on the 8th floor of Kaiyukan and then slowly spiraled downwards experiencing tanks at various levels gaining different vantage points. If you’ve ventured to Okinawa, Japan and experienced Churaumi Aquarium we think you’ll find this aquarium nearly on the same level – impressive!! The kids loved the whale sharks and we chatted about how one day we may just be able to (ethically) swim with them in the Philippines. From here we made our way over to Tempozan Marketplace which is literally next door to the aquarium. This marketplace has a great selection of restaurants and shops and happens to also be home to Legoland Discovery Center Osaka! Osaka is known for okonomiyaki, so naturally we had to find a place to try it out. Okonomiyaki is a Japanese pancake whose name literally translates to “grilled as you like it.” Like most great things in life there are various versions, but most are made with eggs, shredded cabbage, flour, meat, and topped with some condiments When we purchased our Osaka Amazing Passes they came with a pamphlet full of coupons.
Tsuruhasi Fugetsu, a restaurant that specializes in okonomiyaki, had a coupon (and as a bonus it was right across from Legoland Discovery Center), so we opted to dine there for lunch. Pure deliciousness and an excellent choice. Bellies full, we walked across the corridor to Legoland Discovery Center for Miles to get his “build on.” We have been talking for a while about taking him to the Discovery Center in Tokyo, however, the price tag has always kept us at bay.
When we realized that the Lego Center in Osaka was included in the Amazing Pass we figured it was the perfect opportunity without breaking the bank to visit as both Dom’s and my admission were included. I think this experience was worth the 1,600yen we paid for Miles ticket, but had we paid any more than this I think we would have been disappointed as there really isn’t much (lots of areas to build creations and just a handful of rides). Great place for a rainy day or to spend an hour…or two, but make sure to cash in on all the discounts. After building trains, cars, and all sorts of things we loaded up into a cabin and enjoyed a 15-minute bird’s eye view from the Tempozan Ferris Wheel.
Again, this was included in the Amazing Pass, so we only paid for Miles to ride (Penny was free). I always really dig incorporating things like this into our days as we all tend to enjoy a fantastic view and the kids can be cray cray without disturbing others. With it being late-fall, the days were getting shorter making our typical sightseeing hours a bit abbreviated. We figured it was a bit of a gamble as we were tight on time, but we might as well attempt to see Nabayasaka Shrine and the Hozenji Yokocho in the Minami (“south”) District. Unfortunately a couple missed trains made that not possible this day (even after a year of living here mix ups still happen every now and then), so we decided to give it another day and check out these sites out the following day.
This wasn’t a huge blow as our Airbnb was located only 15min via train away from this area, however if you are trying to maximize every second it would make the most sense to visit these two shrines prior to strolling Dotombori as they are really close (just make sure to get there before 1700 if you want to explore!). Lights, street food, color, flashy signs, a humongous mechanical crab, music – the kids loved Dotombori, an area known for both dining + shopping! Many people told us they felt Osaka was just like Tokyo, but after today we are picking up a much different vibe and like Tokyo; we dig it!
- Purchasing at the train station: 2,500yen/Adult (1-Day); 3,300yen/Adult (2-Day)
Osaka Amazing Pass Tips:
- Consider buying a pass for your child if you plan on doing any of the bigger attractions like Lego Discovery Center. We were surprised how many places we had to pay for Miles (5 years old) as generally he is free for much of what we do on a daily basis in Japan. For our itinerary …
- Had we *not* purchased his Legoland Discovery Ticket online we would have saved 300yen had we bought him an Osaka Amazing Pass 1-Day and used it on this specific day as we would have spent: Legoland Discovery: 2,000yen + Ferris Wheel: 800yen = 2,800yen in entrance fees for him. 300 yen isn’t a huge savings as we don’t have to pay for train fare for him, but savings is savings!
- However we opted to buy Miles’ Legoland Discovery ticket online prior to our visit, so we came out ahead by 100yen by not purchasing the Osaka Amazing Pass 1-Day. Our spending: Legoland Discovery (online ticket): 1,600yen + the Ferris Wheel: 800yen = 2,400yen
- The Osaka Amazing Pass works on the Osaka Subway but not on JR lines. So, if you want to get the most out of your pass use the “subway only” option on Google Maps to make this easier to deduce what is included. See below for our rudimentary spreadsheet calculating our overall spending/savings with the pass.
- Hours: 1000 – 2000 (entrance until 1900), Closed: Seven irregular closing days per year (see official website above)
- Admission: 2300yen/Adult, 1,200yen/junior high and elementary school children, 600yen/preschool children (4yo and over), under 4yo are free (not included in the Osaka Amazing Pass and no discount is offered)
- Hours: 1100 – 2300
- Admission: Okonomiyaki ~800yen – 1,300yen/each (there are many other options on the menu as well, however, if okonomiyaki isn’t calling your name that day)
Tsuruhasi Fugetsu Tip:
When you purchase your Osaka Amazing Pass you’ll also get coupons. You can use the coupons at a slew of places. Tsuruhasi Fugetsu’s coupon advertised a free okonomiyaki in the pamphlet, but when we tried to redeem it the staff said it was only good for a free appetizer. So, our savings was a bit less than we had expected at only 302yen (edamame appetizer).
Legoland Discovery Center (right across from the restaurant):
- Info: https://osaka.legolanddiscoverycenter.jp/en/
- Hours: 1000 – 1900 or 2000
- Admission: Purchase tickets online to maximize savings! If you purchase tickets in person from 1000 – 1600 the cost will be 2,000yen/Child and 1,600yen if you purchase them after 1600. We bought Miles an online ticket (through the official website above) for 1,600yen since we were going to go before 1600 and we (the adults) were free with the “Osaka Amazing Pass” saving 4,600yen in entry fees.
- Hours: 1000 – 2130
- Admission: 800yen (ages 3 and up). This attraction is included in the Osaka Amazing Pass, so Dom and I were free.
- Hours: Varies by location
[ D A Y • 8 ] Osaka: Nanbayasaka Shrine, Hozenji Temple, Osaka Castle, Osaka Tennoji Zoo, Umeda Sky Building
Since we had struck out making it to Nanbayasaka Shrine and Hozenji Temple the day before, we started the day with a do over. I mean, really, who doesn’t want to start off their day with a 12m high lion head? The current shrine is a post-war reconstruction as the buildings were burned down in the air raids in 1945. In addition to its appearance, it’s also well known for an annual tug-of-war ritual which is held the third Sunday every January. Japanese folklore states that Susano-no-Mikoto, the diety that is enshrined at Nanbayasaka injured a serpent god allowing the people to be free of difficult times. Consequently, the rope is made to resemble a serpent and is pulled in “a lucky” direction. From the shrine it’s not too far of a walk to Hozenji where we splashed the statue of Fudo Myoo which is covered in moss and splashed with water for good luck (we could always use a bit more of that round these parts).
Again if you have time these two stops would be best paired with your exploration of Dontonbori due to their location (that’s the last area we explored on day 7). Back on track we headed to Osaka Castle! When asked to imagine a castle, most people will think about Cinderella or European castles with Knights and Lords. However, Japan also has an incredible history of samurai, regional lords, and stunning architecture.
We ventured over to the Tennoji Zoo afterward, as it was included in the Amazing Pass as well and would give the kids a (much needed) opportunity to explore and run off some energy. It worked like a charm, and although some of the zoo was a little disappointing we did manage to have one of the more intimidating encounters with a lion that I imagine you could have outside a safari.
We stopped at the cutest little coffee shop, Spoons Cafe, before going through the zoo gates. Seriously, The. Cutest. Lots of fresh cut flowers & cozy blankets to bundle up with. Coffee in hand we explored the zoo with our little adventurers.
Lastly we headed up to see the city lights from high above at the Umeda Sky Building. The kids were a bit tapped out at this point, so our minutes were numbered. You probably guessed it already, bu this was also included in the pass allowing Dom and me to head in free of charge leaving us only to pay for Miles. We’ve visited our fare share of sky scrapers, but we thought the architecture was so unusual we needed to take the time to stop. There are a few spots once you reach the viewing deck to grab a beer or a small bite to eat, but yeah… the kids were not going for that this go around, so that picturesque idea got tabled pretty fast, but maybe next time? Upon exiting Umeda we found ourselves smack in the middle of a Christmas Market. The kids were beyond tired and very much nearing that delirious/hyper stage that we made this stop fairly quick before transferring back to our Airbnb. Another excellent day in the books!
- Hours: 0600 – 1700
- Admission: Free
- Hours: 0700 – 1700
- Admission: Free
- Hours: 0900 – 1700
- Admission: 600yen (free with the Osaka Amazing Pass)
- Hours: 1100 – 2100
- Admission: Free
- Hours: 0930 – 1700
- Admission: Adults 500yen, Junior/High School Students 200yen
- Hours: 0930 – 2230 (varies seasonally; admissions close 2200)
- Admission: 1,500yen/Adult, 700yen/Child (age 4 – 12yo). Admission is included in the Osaka Amazing Pass, so Dom and I were free.
[ D A Y • 9 ] Osaka: Children’s Museum → Zushi
We finished our last day in western Japan with a trip to Kids Plaza Osaka, a large children’s museum, with the goal of wearing our little ones out before the long car ride home. It’s known for being the first children’s museum in Japan dedicated to child education, and the entire place is divided into sections geared toward helping your kids learn through play.
You start at the top and work your way down through the different floors, with science at the top, daily living/activities in the middle, and the cafeteria/meeting spaces on the bottom floor. Needless to say, the kids absolutely LOVED it, and it ranked towards the top of our favorite museums here in Japan. With two tired little kiddos we piled into the car for the drive back home. We really felt like combining Osaka, Nara, Kobe, and Kyoto let us get a great feel for western Japan, and they certainly aren’t to be missed!
- Hours: 0930 – 1700
- Admission: 1,300yen/Adult, 800yen/Elementary and junior high students, 500yen/Pre-schoolers (3 and older), Free for children under 3
That concludes our four city western Japan road trip! Check out our other stops stops: Nara, Kyoto, and Kobe.