The Osaka area is the second largest metropolitan area in Japan after Tokyo, historically a merchant city, it has sometimes been called the the nations kitchen (Tenka no daitokoro), its inhabitants are pretty adept at making money, and good at spending it as well. You will notice that it is somewhat cheaper than Tokyo in general. Its people are also known for being somewhat lively (or rude as the Tokyoites call them). The city has a host of attractions including ancient shrines and castles, amusement parks and a lively restaurant and nightlife scene. It is also an excellent place to stop by on your way to Kyoto, Japan´s ancient capital.
There are a few ways to get to Osaka, it has the Kanzai international airport for those who don’t want to stop in Tokyo. International flights to Osaka do however tend to be slightly more expensive than to Tokyo. From Tokyo the fastest way is to take the Shinkansen which should land you in Osaka in about 2 hours or so. Tickets from Tokyo or Shinjuku station to Shin-Osaka are about 13.000-15.000 Yen. If you are on a tight budget the highway bus from Shinjuku station will get your there for around 5000 Yen. Tickets can be purchased at vending machines in convenience stores (often in Japanese only) and at bus terminals. Its actually also possible to take a ferry to and from Osaka to Busan in Korea and Shanghai in China for the very adventurous.
Just like in Tokyo there is always something happening in Osaka, from live gigs to festivals and other cultural activities, check out this site http://www.osaka-info.jp/en/ for seeing what is on during your stay.
Osaka castle is probably the first place most people visit when coming to the city, a beautiful white towering building constructed by the 16th century warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi, it played an important role in the unification of Japan after more than 100 years of civil war. The castle sits in the center of the city on a lawn park about 60.000 square meters in size. With skyscrapers to its back it perfectly illustrating the contrast of modernity and tradition Japan is so known for. If you have time to visit it during the cherry blossom season in the spring you will see the park crowded with cherry blossoms and even more crowded with people on Hanami (flower viewing) which serves as an excellent excuse in Japan to party a bit. To get there you take the Tanimachi subway line or the Chuo Subway line to Tanimachi 4-chrome Station. Fee is 200 Yen which rises to 500 Yen during the Hanami season.
For those with a taste for a little more history the Shitennoji Buddhist temple is a must see, one of Japan oldest temple is was constructed by the semi-legendary Prince Shotoku in 593. It is also the first temple built by the state. It also has a beautiful traditional Japanese garden. The Shitennoji-mae-Yuhigaoka Station on the Tanimachi subway line is the closest station to the temple, entrance is free to the garden but getting into the temple will cost you 300 Yen.
The Sumiyoshi Taisha Shinto Shrine is also well worth a visit, being constructed over a 1000 years ago it is one of Japan´s older shrines. It might not be as grand as Osaka castle or the Shitennoji but it definitely has it´s charm. The Sumiyoshi is located a few steps away from the Sumiyoshi Taisha Station on the Nankai main line.
Yet another attraction, which could be described as Osaka´s version of Noh is Bunraku. Bunraku is traditional Japanese puppet theater, in premodern times it catered to the tastes of merchants which tended to live in Osaka. The National Bunraku Theater in Osaka is one of the few places left today where you can see this interesting and very Japanese art from. English programs are available, performanes are held in January, April, from june to August and in November. The theater is located near Nankai Namba station. Tickets can be bought online.
Finally if you cant get enough of history The Osaka Museum of History is a must see location, it chronicles the history of the city from pre historic times to modern day. The museum is only a walking distance away from Osaka castle, entrance fee is 600 Yen.
If theme and amusement parks are what you are looking for the Osaka hosts the famous Universal Studios. It was the first of is kind to open in Asia (there is another one in Singapore and others are under construction around Asia). It has a Jurrassic Park, a Harry Potter section as well as Terminator and Back to the Future sections to name but a few. To get there take the JR Yumesaki line to the Universal City Station. Tickets are from around 5000 Yen for children and 7000 Yen for adults.
Osaka Aquarium is another popular stop, it has 15 tanks with marine life, including dolphins, sharks and whales. Visitors start on the top floor of the aquarium and slowly make their way down to the main tank on the bottom floor. It is located at the Osakako Station on the Chuo subway line. Tickets are at 2300 Yen.
Whereas Tokyo has Shinjuku Osaka has Minami (or Namba), one of two main centers of the city. Just taking a walk and seeing the Neon light signs is fun enough, it also the location of the citys best resturants and bars. Clubs can also be found there. For an excellent dinner you should head right down there. Just hop on the train and exit at Nanba station. Yet another area worth looking at for eating and shopping is the Shinseikai (new world) which actually dates from before the war. The Shinseikai reminds one of old Japan with its crammed small stores. We especially recommend trying out the Kushikatsu a special deep fried dish of Osaka consisting of everything from chicken to beef to vegetables which you can get at many street corners in the Shinseikai.
And should you get tired of the urbane Osaka then there is a beautiful natural park just outside the city. Called the Minoo park, it has waterfalls, traditional buildings and beautiful scenery. It is a popular escape for city folks wanting to get away from it all for a while and well worth a look for any traveller. To get there from From Umeda station in Osaka you take the Hankyu Takarazuka Line from Hankyu Umeda Station to Ishibashi Sation and then transfer to the Hankyu Minoo Line to Minoo Station.
When you are done with Osaka you should head out for Kyoto, Japan´s ancient capital which could very well keep you busy for weeks.