Japan has seen a boom in tourism in the last few years, and I know it’s certainly on our travel radar. Most people visit Kyoto or Tokyo, but overlook Osaka. Caleb from Kids Travel Japan tells us why Japan’s second largest city should be on your radar. Read on to see his family’s favorite things to do in Osaka with kids.
Osaka is all too often overlooked by families looking to experience a family adventure in Japan. Families either yearn for the excitement and unrestrained energy of Tokyo or the more serene atmosphere of Kyoto. Osaka, as a matter of fact, is a city that’s smack dab in the middle of the two aforementioned cities when it comes to discovering both urban exhilaration and tranquility. Osaka, being the second most populous city in Japan, offers the thrill of a megacity while not being overwhelming. In Osaka, if your family tires of the concrete jungle, a 30 minute train ride from the city’s heart will whisk you away to scenery overwhelming with greenery and towering trees.
The following 5 places to visit in Osaka will definitely be a hit with you and your children and illustrate that Osaka can stand out among your family adventures in Japan.
Best Things to Do in Osaka with Kids
Expo City & Expo Park
If you and the kids are in search of a one stop shop for awesome family entertainment where the locals flock to, make sure to put Expo City (エキスポシティ) in your crosshairs. This massive shopping & entertainment complex features the largest Ferris wheel in all Japan, an IMAX movie theater, a large shopping mall with over 300 shops and restaurants, a unique indoor zoo with emphasis on hippos, penguins and sea life, a mini outdoor amusement zone, and a kids sports activity center that gracefully blends together games and fun technology.
In addition to the thrill of Expo City, you’ll find the colossal Expo Park (万博記念公園) 5 minutes away. This is the site of the Japan World Exposition in 1970. Within the park, your family will discover gardens, koi ponds, paddleboat rides, wide lawns for picnicking, museums, lush greenery, and in springtime, thousands of cherry trees in full bloom. Don’t be surprised if your children gravitate towards the multiple large scale outdoor play zones throughout the park.
Nearest Station: 5 minutes on foot from Banpaku Kinen Kouen station on the Osaka Monorail
Cup Noodles Museum
You can’t visit Japan without putting its iconic noodles in your belly. Japan’s most famous exported noodles are its instant Cup Noodles, (カップヌードルミュージアム 大阪池田), named Top Ramen in some countries, created by Nisshin Foods. This company has its roots in a quaint suburb of Osaka and an entire museum is dedicated to these delicious and convenient noodles. Here, your family will learn all there is to know about instant noodles including the history, how they are made, and what different flavors are sold across the globe. There’s even a dining hall where you can purchase and enjoy a multitude of different flavored Cup Noodles.
The real charm about the museum though is that inside, you’ll find two unique areas where you and your children will be able to have hands-on fun with noodles. The first area is My Cup Noodles Factory. Here, your family can customize your very own Cup Noodles by choosing from a variety of ingredients on a menu. You then color and design your cup before handing it and your customized order to a noodle chef. Your one-of-a-kind noodles will then be prepared before your eyes and packaged to eat at a later time.
The second and star of this entire experience is Chicken Ramen Factory. It is here where you’ll spend 90 minutes making noodles completely by hand with the guidance of noodle chefs. Both you and your children will be kneading, spreading, and seasoning your very own fresh noodles. Lastly, you can customize your packaging with colored markers and leave with your handmade noodles. This activity is sure to motivate you and your children to become Japanese food aficionados.
However, this make-your-own-noodles-by-hand experience is by reservation only. Reservations can be made on the official website but the interface is only in Japanese. Because of this, many international tourist families miss out on this amazing family fun experience. If your family has trouble making your reservation in Japanese, feel free to reach out to us at Kids Travel Japan and we’ll set up a reservation for your family for a small fee.
Reservations can be made 3 months in advance and due to popularity, I suggest both getting in your reservation well ahead of time and arriving early to beat the waves of school children that visit throughout the day.
Nearest Station: 5 minutes on foot from Ikeda station on the Takarazuka line of Hankyu Railway
SpaWorld & its Surrounding Neighborhood
Japanese are known for their healthy and cleanly lifestyles. One of their most basic hygienic customs is first showering and then soaking in hot baths. There are innumerable natural hot springs found throughout Japan but these are tough to find in the big cities. So the Japanese developed the next best thing, artificial hot springs in public bath houses called sentou.
The most popular public bath house in Osaka is found at SpaWorld (スパワールド). This jumbo relaxation complex has multiple floors either containing hotel rooms, restaurants, an arcade for the kids, gift shops, a gym, nap rooms, or artificial hot springs.
On the 4th and 6th floors, you’ll find the artificial hot springs and even saunas. The 4th floor has artificial hot springs with European themes while the 6th floor uses Asian themes. If you want to experience hot springs with a Finnish or Roman ambiance, head for the 4th floor but if you’re more into baths that transport you to Bali or remote Japan, make your way to the 6th floor. The floors are divided by gender and every month, the floors swap genders so don’t forget to check the homepage to see which floor you’ll be assigned to. Children of both genders up until age 8 or 9 can tag along with either parent.
Tourist families must bear in mind a few things though. In Japan, tattoos are associated with Japanese crime syndicates and many people even fear those who have tattoos because they often jump to conclusions. Because of this, SpaWorld requires that you conceal your tattoos and while they can offer temporary waterproof stickers that you can patch over your tattoos if you ask at the front desk, if the tattoos are overly large or too numerous, they retain the right to refuse customers.
Lastly, when using public baths in Japan, it’s customary to be nude. If you and your children have qualms about being completely unclothed in front of other SpaWorld patronizers, go directly to the top floor of SpaWorld and you’ll find both indoor and outdoor pools and jacuzzis, food vendors, and a water park with a variety of slides for all ages to enjoy.
SpaWorld is located in a neighborhood of Osaka called Shinsekai. This neighborhood has some of the best neon cityscapes you’ll find in Osaka. It’s also known across Japan for its delicious Osaka soul food. Be sure to try delicious takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and kushikatsu in the surrounding food stalls and restaurants.
From the top floor of SpaWorld, you’ll be able to enjoy the finest views of Shinsekai and its neon filled streets. Just a kilometer away, you’ll also see the towering Abeno Harukas, the tallest skyscraper in Japan. Enjoy these amazing views with your family from high up while lounging poolside and eating delicious Osaka food.
Nearest Station: 2 minutes on foot from Doubutsuen Mae station on the Midousuji line (red line) of Osaka Metro
Round 1 Stadium
Round 1 Stadium (ラウンドワンスタジアム 千日前店) is an entire building dedicated to family entertainment and sports. Each floor has something for everyone. On the basement floors and lower floors, you’ll find a massive arcade and an entire floor dedicated to crane machines. On the upper floors, you and your family can sing karaoke in your own private room while ordering from the restaurant menu, play darts, go bowling, ride mini-motorbikes, or play dozens of sports including miniature golf, volleyball, inline skating, and table tennis.
Watch the clock though because children up to age 16 accompanied by a parent or guardian are allowed to enter until 10:00pm.
Nearest Station: 5 minutes on foot from Namba station on the Midousuji line (red line) of Osaka Metro
Kaiyukan & its Surrounding Neighborhood
If you want to offer your children fun education, make a beeline for one of Japan’s most famous aquariums, Kaiyukan. Kaiyukan (海遊館) is a colossal structure that houses dozens of immense tanks that serve as homes for sea creatures from around the globe. Inside, there are entire sections and tanks that do a great job of recreating habitats full of sea life that come from specific regions of the world. Jellyfish, sea turtles, whale sharks, penguins, seals, your family will find all these beautiful and intriguing creatures and more. There’s even an area where you can pet placid sharks and other underwater critters.
The area surrounding Kaiyukan is just as fun. There’s a giant Ferris wheel where you can see beautiful views of the Osaka bay, and a large shopping mall containing unique gift shops and restaurants, an indoor petting zoo in case you couldn’t get your wildlife fix at Kaiyukan, an arcade, and a Lego Discovery Center. Lastly, you can take a cruise around the bay in a replica of the ship that Christopher Columbus once sailed. Your family will be able to create many wonderful memories at Kaiyukan and its surrounding mini city of family fun.
Nearest Station: 7 minutes on foot from Osakako station on the Chuo line (green line) of Osaka Metro
This list is by no means an exhaustive list of Osaka attractions and there are plenty more gems to discover in this amazing and vibrant city. An honorable mention goes to Kids Plaza Osaka, Universal Studios Japan, and Osaka Castle.
Kids Travel Japan specializes in bringing together both international tourist families and local Japanese families. They believe exploring Osaka while having fun together with a local Japanese family will enhance your travel experiences in Japan. If you are looking for things to do in Japan, you will want to visit their site.
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About the author: Caleb Parsons is a California native teaching English in Osaka, Japan and the founder of Kids Travel Japan, a program that creates cultural exchange events which bring together international families touring Japan and local Japanese families.