Exploring Osaka, Japan – Photography + Travel Guide
Like Tokyo, Osaka is a travel hub in Japan. Many international airlines have flights directly to Osaka. The city is very central to major destinations that most travellers will visit in Japan. It is very close to Kyoto & Nara which can both be visited as day trips. Osaka is well known for its food scene, with many specialties to try out. You can visit the food halls at Osaka Station or try some of the street food around Dotonbori & Shinsekai. Osaka is also home to Universal Studios Japan.
We didn’t allocate enough time to Osaka as we used it as more of base to do day-trips to Himeji Castle, about a 30-min west of Osaka, and Nara, about a 50-min east of Osaka. Considering we visited Himeji Castle on our first day in Osaka, and we had already visited Hiroshima Castle, we did not visit Osaka Castle on this trip.
Planning & Getting Around
It’s easy to get to Osaka from the main cities in Japan such as Tokyo, Kyoto & Hiroshima using the very efficient rail network. Once in Osaka, we mostly walked however occasionally we used our IC transport card for getting around on the local transport. To find out which IC card is best for you, click here to read our comparison post.
If you want to visit Himeji Castle, Nara or Kyoto you will need a JR Pass, however, if you are basing yourself in Osaka and are not planning to visit Tokyo it may work out cheaper to purchase individual train tickets. Check out the Japan Rail Pass Calculator to see if its worth buying the JR Pass. The subway is very efficient in Osaka, similar to Tokyo, and should get you pretty close to most places you want to visit.
As mentioned above, we didn’t do a great deal in Osaka. We plan to revisit on another occasion and spend more time there and will update this post accordingly.
Camera & Lens
The Sony A7Rii with the Sony 24-105mm f4 was the main combination we used during our time in Osaka. We also carried the Sony 16-35mm f4, Laowa 15mm f2 & Samyang 12mm f2.8 Fisheye lens to cover us for any wide-angle requirements. The Sony 70-200 f4 lens was not used in Osaka and instead we relied on the APS-C crop mode setting in-camera should we need a longer focal length.
Once again, our bag of choice in Osaka was the Peak Design Everyday Sling 10L. With only a couple of lenses to carry each, it was the obvious choice. If we had been based here and spending more time in the area, we may have used our Vanguard Alta Rise 45 Camera Backpack and Lowepro Transit Backpack 350AW bags.
As always, we shared a carbon fibre tripod in Osaka as we knew that we would need it for the night shots around Dotonbori and other areas in the city. It straps easily to the bottom of our Peak Design Everyday Sling 10L bag.
No filters were used in Osaka. Other than our *URTH UV filters, which remain on our lenses at all times (except for nighttime shots). The *URTH CPL (polarizer) and NiSi ND Grads would have probably been useful if we had visited Osaka Castle during the day however, as mentioned above, we visited Himeji Castle instead.
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Probably the most visited night time location in Osaka. Dōtonbori is located along the Dōtonbori canal from Dōtonboribashi Bridge to Nipponbashi Bridge in the Namba district. Most visitors flock here to see the Glico Man, a billboard for confectionery company Glico displaying the image of a runner crossing a finishing line which was originally installed in 1935. The Glico Man is lit up nightly. To visit Dōtonbori catch the subway to Osaka-Namba then it’s just a short walk.
You will need a tripod for any night time shots of the Glico Man although if it is a close-up shot of the billboard you may have sufficient light to handhold the camera. Even tripod-mounted you will need a higher ISO setting to get a faster shutter speed to freeze the movement of the Glico Man.
Umeda Sky Building
The Umeda Sky Building is not the tallest building in Osaka but is one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks. There are two 40-story towers that connect at their two uppermost stories, with bridges and an escalator. Although there are magnificent views of Osaka at night we found it more entertaining taking photos while riding the 2 sets of escalators (see photo above and another above Camera Gear).
Umeda Sky Building is about a 10-min walk from the JR Osaka Station. Entrance to the observation deck is 1500 yen however if you just want to ride the escalators up & down to get some arty shots then it’s free. We did both.
We visited Namba Parks (pictured above) as we had seen some great architecture shots online and thought it may be something different to photograph other than the usual landmarks. Now, while Namba Parks is just a shopping complex the architecture is quite amazing, so take your time walking around. There’s also a pretty cool rooftop garden area worth visiting. If you own an ultra-wide-angle or fisheye lens you will have a lot of fun here. Well worth the visit if you love architecture photography. To reach Namba Parks catch the subway to Osaka-Namba Station, it’s about a 10-min walk from there.
Try shooting with an ultra-wide-angle lens or even a fisheye lens. If there are clouds and there’s enough space, consider using a tripod and a *URTH 10-stop ND filter to give the clouds some movement. A long exposure will also remove some of the people (the ones that are moving during the exposure) from your shot. The shot above has an extreme Dynamic Range between shadows and highlights so you may want to consider bracketing images and blending in post-processing if you want a similar shot.
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Himeji Castle is only about a 30-min train ride west of Osaka and is ideally located to visit as a day trip.
The original Himeji Castle dates back to 1333 and is regarded as the finest surviving example of prototypical Japanese castle architecture. Because of its brilliant white facade, the castle is frequently referred to as Hakuro-jō or Shirasagi-jō (“White Egret Castle” or “White Heron Castle”).
The castle gets extremely busy so we would recommend you try and get there very early. Also, we would highly recommend a visit to the nearby Koko-en Gardens (300 yen if not combined with Himeji Castle) where you can also enjoy a Tea Ceremony at “Souju-an” for an additional 500 yen.
Open from 9:00 to 17:00 (until 18:00 from late April through August). Entry is 1000 Yen for the castle only or 1040 Yen for both the castle and Koko-en Gardens. Admission ends one hour before closing.
To reach Himeji catch the JR Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka Station (keep in mind that you will need to get from Osaka Station to Shin-Osaka Station to catch the Shinkansen). The journey takes about 30-min. Otherwise, you could also take a Direct JR special rapid train from Osaka Station (one every 15-min) but this will take a little longer. Allow at least a 20-min walk from Himeji Station to the castle or alternatively catch a bus or taxi. You can also check out the official Himeji Castle website here.
Filters will definitely play a part in shooting Himeji Castle. We would suggest you arm yourself with a good quality *CPL (circular polarizer) and possibly some ND Graduated Filters to help balance the sky with the foreground. If there is an extreme Dynamic Range between shadows and highlights (sky) you may want to consider bracketing images and blending in post-processing with Photoshop, ON1, Luminar or similar applications. Try shooting with a wide-angle lens or move further away from the castle and use a 70-200 lens. If there are clouds consider using a tripod and a *URTH 10-stop ND filter to give the clouds some movement. A long exposure will also remove some of the people (the ones that are moving during the exposure) from your shot.
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Anybody that visits Japan for any length of time usually visits Nara, especially for first-time visitors to the country. There is a lot to see here and as it will undoubtedly be very busy we suggest you get there on the first train out of Osaka or alternatively plan to stay in Nara overnight. It is easily accessible from both Osaka and Kyoto. The temples, shrines, and palaces of Tōdai-ji, Saidai-ji, Kōfuku-ji, Kasuga Shrine, Gangō-ji, Yakushi-ji, Tōshōdai-ji, and the Heijō Palace, together with Kasugayama Primeval Forest, collectively form “Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara“, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. During the Nara period, the city was the capital of Japan, and the Emperor lived there before moving the capital to nearby Kyoto.
There are other places in Japan where tame deer roam freely, Miyajima Island is one, however, nowhere in Japan are there as many as Nara. Tame sika deer (also known as spotted deer or Japanese deer) roam through the town, especially in Nara Park. Snack vendors sell sika senbei (deer crackers) to visitors so they can feed the deers. Some deer have learned to bow in order to receive senbei from people.
While in Nara you may also want to try some Sake tasting. We hadn’t planned on doing this in Nara but the opportunity arose, so we did it. We visited the Harushika Sake Brewery and paid 500 yen per person to sample 5 different sake’s. In addition, you are presented with a small sake cup. We use the cups at home all the time, so it was 500 yen well spent.
JR Yamatoji rapid trains operate every hour between Osaka (JR Osaka Station) and Nara (JR Nara Station). The one-way trip takes 45 minutes and costs 800 yen. The JR Pass will cover the journey.
Once in Nara, you can purchase a 1-day “Nara Bus Pass” for 500 yen, which will provide you unlimited use of Nara Kotsu buses around Nara. It covers central Nara and the Toshodaiji/Yakushiji area. You can also purchase a 1-Day Pass Wide for 1000 yen that will also cover the Horyuji area and a 2-Day Pass for 1500 yen that additionally covers the Asuka area. You can purchase the passes at the bus ticket offices inside the JR Nara Station.
With such limited time in Osaka, we really have not explored this city to its full potential. Hopefully next time we will be able to spend some more time there.
JR Osaka Station
Shin Osaka Station
Umeda Sky Building
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