Japan is a flipping cool country. Whether you’re here for the food, the scenery, the pop culture, or any number of other things, we all share a love of this place together. You’ll probably agree with me then when I say it’s sometimes a little too easy to spend a lot of money over here, even if you haven’t planned to.
If you’re on a strict budget, I feel you! So, I’ve put together a list of 7 cheap (or free!) things to do in and around Osaka. It’s time to make that last ¥10,000 stretch as far as it can!
1. Visit a Japanese Garden
When in doubt, visit a Japanese garden! It’s a failsafe plan when you’re running out of Yen, and a lot of gardens will even have an indoor area in case it rains. It’s worth doing a little bit of research to find one that’s closest to you and ideally one that isn’t too expensive or busy, but to be honest you can’t really go wrong with any that are cheap. Or most in Japan for that matter… But who knows, maybe I’m just easily pleased!
I recently wrote a blog post on what I consider to be the best garden in Osaka, so if you can’t be bothered to do your own research, let me do it for you! Or, if you’re based in America and can’t get over here just yet, I’ve got an article for you as well!
2. Visit Dontonburi
Dontonbori is perhaps one of the most recognizable areas of Osaka. That giant Ferris wheel stuck onto Don Quijote seems to be in more pictures than Mount Fuji, but at ¥600 for a 2-minute ride, it doesn’t make the cut for this list.
What does make the cut is wandering along the Dontonbori canal and looking at some of the craziest buildings and advertising you’ve likely ever seen. I’m not talking about the famous running Glico man, I’m talking about giant crabs, massive faces, and terrifyingly big food. Take a look!
If you’re trying to find a bit of that famous “Hyper” Japan, this is a great place to come. You can pop into any of the shops if it starts raining, and walking along the street is of course completely free. It’s long enough to easily take an hour or so to get around, and there are plenty more streets nearby to continue onto if you choose.
3. Explore Japanese Second-Hand Shops
I love second-hand browsing in Japan so much. Browsing is the keyword of course. There’s something so fun about wandering through decades of old stuff, especially when it’s from an entirely different country to the one you grew up in. My personal favorite, and probably that of everyone else who likes second-hand shopping in Japan are the ‘Off’ stores. Sound weird? If you read that article, I guarantee your days in Japan will be filled trawling through Hard Off Junk boxes trying to find some treasure!
All you have to do is type “off store” into google maps and it should bring up the closest ones to you. Failing that, type in “second-hand store” or “Recycle store” and you should find a wealth of places nearby that can satisfy your cultural curiosity without spending a penny! This wouldn’t be on the list of cheapest things to do in Osaka if you actually buy anything though, so be good and just look!
4. Visit Osaka Castle Grounds
Smack bang in the middle of Osaka is the Osaka castle. It’s huge, beautiful, and well worth the visit. With its convenient location, that shouldn’t be a problem! However, the one problem we do have is the price. ¥600 for adults, unless visiting a museum is going to be a memory you’ll hold onto for a lifetime, that’s too expensive to go on this list! That said, technically it’s actually very cheap but if anything costs money on this list, it better be spectacular.
However, one thing we absolutely can do is visit the gardens and surrounding area. The moat and accompanying walk will take you a pretty long time, and much to my surprise you can actually get right up to the castle before having to pay. Of course, if you’re there and you can spare ¥600 per person then go for it, but if not you’ll still have a fantastic time exploring around the edges.
5. Window Shop at Tenjinbashisuji
Other than second-hand goods, I’m not really one for shopping. That’s either because I don’t have too much money, or I’d prefer to be exploring. That said, walking the entire 2.6km long tenjinbashisuji is quite the experience. Plus, right at the end, you’ll find Dontonbori so it’s a great way to combine the two together. Window shopping is the cheapest way to go shopping in Osaka, that’s for sure!
Be warned, you’ll likely find a huge amount of people here no matter the day or season you’re traveling. You could go a little later or early, but you won’t gain much from it. In fact, it’s actually quite interesting to see an entire river of people funneled into one area.
6. Have Fun at the Shinsekai District
This was one of my favorite areas in Osaka, and I’m really glad I went at night. I mean, just look at those light sculptures… things… Ok, I don’t know what they are, but I’m pretty sure they look better at night than they do in the daytime.
This neighborhood is full of old-fashioned arcades, Japanese carnival games, and cheap places to eat. Sadly the main branch of Zuboraya which had the famous puffer fish hanging outside had to close down because of certain events… Very sad, I was hoping to see it, but even still Shinsekai is still very much worth the visit.
7. Bow to the deer in Nara park
Okay, it’s time for the biggest spend on this list… ¥600
Yep, I know I boohooed a few others at the same price, but this one is highly worth it if you’ve only visited Osaka and not yet ventured out. From central Osaka to Nara Kintetsu (the station you want to get off at) it takes around 45 minutes and costs about ¥600 depending on the trains you take.
At about $4.50, I promise this will be worth the money! I don’t really want to ruin all the surprises (or talk about it in too much detail here), but if you love animals, this one’s going to be a memory for life.
Last time we went over to Nara, we were going to get lunch at a cafe but as we were on a tight budget we instead opted for a single roasted sweet potato from a street vendor that cost a few hundred yen. It might sound odd, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!
If you want to feed the deer you’ll need ¥200 for deer snacks, but that’s not a requirement. They’ll get plenty close enough without them.
There will be a full-length article at some point about the absolute best ways to get the most out of your trip to Nara, but for now, you’ll have to go it alone!
8. Get Lost in the Back Streets of Osaka
If all else fails, and you really have no idea what to do with your time, just get lost! I genuinely mean it, just pick a direction and start walking. This works a little better downtown where it’s full of old streets with power line cables hanging overhead, but it can honestly work wherever you are.
I’m a big fan of doing this in every city I visit in Japan. Public transport is so frequent and well-integrated that it really doesn’t matter where I end up, I’ll always be able to get the train back. And with a ridiculous amount of vending machines, I’ll be able to eat and drink to my heart’s content!
Osaka is full of fun and exciting things to do, but sadly some of those do cost a bit of money. The 7 things I’ve listed here today are more than enough to keep you busy for a few days, and shouldn’t cost you an arm and a leg in the process!