Big news: after three years, I finally took my daughter to Japan again. Our previous trip was back in 2019 when she was just two years old. We spent three days at Disneyland and DisneySea, before going to Ginza for the rest of our stay.

This trip to Osaka was the first time I traveled with her out of Taiwan since the pandemic. A lot has changed in the world, but the most significant difference for my back, my arms and my legs was this: no stroller. People, it was intense. We averaged 20,000 steps each day, and I carried her 18kg body when she got too tired to walk.

Where to Stay in Osaka

We stayed in Namba, right by the Dotonbori shopping area. I picked Namba because the airport express train from Kansai International Airport stops at Namba Station, and I didn’t want to think about transferring trains while pushing the rolling suitcase with one hand, and holding a little hand with the other.

If you’re into cool trains or just want to save a bit of time, I’d suggest getting reserved seat tickets for the Rapi:t service, which takes just 37 minutes to reach Namba Station. It costs a little more than the standard express train but looks premium as hell. I bought our tickets directly from an English and Mandarin-speaking staff member at the Airport Station. I also picked up a transit card to use during our stay.

The hotel I picked turned out to be an absolute gem. I can pretty much guarantee it will be a hit for kids of all ages, and adults who love games. The name is Mimaru Osaka Namba Station. Mimaru Hotels is a new chain of apartment-style hotels specially designed for families and groups. They have locations throughout Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto.

This Mimaru Osaka Namba Station branch, which opened in June 2022, has a gaming theme which they really take to the max. Not only can you rent more than 130 board games from the hotel to play in your room, Mimaru also worked with a game designer to create original games and riddles throughout the hotel.

For example, our room had a gold coin hunt. And it was not easy at all. On day two of our stay, we had only found four of the 20 gold coins hidden in the room. I had to consult the cheat sheet while my kid was in the bathtub to see where the rest were hidden.

Even without the games and other amenities (free coffee in the lobby, kitchenette in our room with medium sized fridge, stovetop and microwave, and 24-hour coin-operated laundry), the design of the room was amazing. It had two bunk beds and two single beds, and the bedroom was closed off from the living room and bathroom area.

Where to Eat in Osaka

It has to be said, most Japanese restaurants don’t give a crap about earning tourist dollars. On top of that, it’s not easy picking places that welcome kids. Pro tip: always assume no one in Japan speaks English, and they don’t care to speak English with you anyway. Pointing, nodding and waiting will get you seated and fed.

On super long days, my dinner hack is shopping on the gourmet floor of department stores (typically B1 level) and eating our meal back at the hotel. There are plenty of department stores in the Namba Station area. We bought fruit and dinner in the Takashimaya and kept it all in the fridge. There are also lots of restaurants in the Namba Parks shopping complex. Of course, you can choose from street eats along Dotonbori.

But, I get it, sometimes you want to eat in a restaurant and mix it with the locals. We ate at a few places that felt welcoming to us in the Dotonbori area:

Zauo Fishing Restaurant is a super family-friendly place. The tables are surrounded by water full of fish you can catch. (I caught one, by the way!) Fishing rods can be rented for 100 yen, and the price of eating the fish you catch is cheaper than if you order off the menu. It’s more fun too, of course. And if there’s a birthday in your group, they’ll sing happy birthday (the entire restaurant will sing along) and the staff will print out a photo of your group holding a massive promotional sign. Book a table online through Google Maps.

Another place I had bookmarked was the famed udon restaurant, Tsurutontan Soemoncho. Tsurutontan is a well-known brand (I’ve eaten plenty of times at their Union Square branch in NYC) but this Osaka location is the original store, which opened back in 1989. It has an authentic Japanese atmosphere.

When we went, there were lots of Japanese couples and single diners. They didn’t seem that happy to see a couple of non-Japanese diners, but we waited patiently for a table along with everyone else. My daughter loved the udon and I got to enjoy a beer, so it was a success in my books.

We stumbled upon the Benzaiten Daifuku stand in Dotonbori one morning. Their seasonal fruit daifuku are so juicy and indulgent. We tried the kiwifruit, pineapple, Japanese pear and muscat grape. Unboxing the packaging back at the hotel room was so fun. They include a string for each daifuku so you can cut them in half and see the fruit inside. Not going to lie, I could eat one of these every day and I deeply regret not buying one of each while we had the chance.

No trip to Osaka is complete without eating okonomiyaki and takoyaki. There are lots of street stalls along Dotonbori, but if you want to sit down where the locals eat, then Botejyu is a standoff-ish (haha) but popular restaurant. We watched the neighboring table to see how they ate their okonomiyaki. You can also book a table here through Google Maps.

A couple of places to get a casual takoyaki: Takoyaki Wanaka Sennichimae which had a long line at 9:30am, and 吉たこ produce by たこ焼きブ!, which serves the pre-theater crowd.

A couple of places I wanted to try but didn’t get to: Sakimoto Bakery (there’s a branch in Taipei but this is the original location), Kurogin Tuna Store for tuna don, Fukushige Horumon for yakiniku, and Hon Sekiguchi for sukiyaki.

What to Do with Kids

This part is easy. There are only so many things for kids to do in Osaka. If you haven’t been to the one in Yokohama, then you can tick off the CupNoodles Museum during the day. Osaka is the birthplace of CupNoodles ramen, and the inventor, Momofuku Ando, was actually born in Taiwan. It takes about an hour to get there from Namba Station. Making your own bespoke ramen is open to everyone and costs 500 yen per cup. But if you want to do the chicken ramen making class on the second floor, you’ll need to book ahead. (I don’t know how to do that on the website, if you figure it out let me know.)

Later in the evening, head to the teamLab Osaka exhibit in the Nagai Botanical Gardens. Buy tickets ahead of time because they do sell out. It’s a super chill, kid-friendly experience walking through the trees and gardens.

Save a couple of days for Universal Studios. Super Nintendo World is as incredible as it looks in photos, and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is amazing too. You should absolutely buy Express passes online so you don’t wait hours for the rides in Super Nintendo World, Minion Park and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Download the official app to keep track of wait times for all the rides and check the height restrictions. (Having a pocket wifi is necessary for this. There’s no free wifi in USJ.) You can buy tickets and Express passes on Klook or the official site.

A few neighborhood things to check out: if you’ll be in the Dotonbori area, then definitely make your way through the Sennichimae Doguyasuji Shopping Street, which has all the knife shops and kitchenware stalls. And if your kids are willing to go to temples, then Namba Yasaka Jinga is five minutes walk from Namba Parks and probably more exciting than other temples because, well, it looks so damn cool.

A few places I had bookmarked that we’ll have to get to next time: Kids Plaza Osaka (looks like a good option for rainy days) and the great-looking Ōgimachi Park playground which is across the street. Also Nakanoshima Children’s Book Forest, a children’s library designed by Tadao Ando. You need to make reservations ahead of time to get in.

Five days sounds like a short trip, but we packed a lot in. And my body was definitely breaking down by our last night. The good news is since Osaka is just a two hour flight from Taoyuan, I hope we’ll be back again soon.

By the way, I found the best source for the latest visa-free entry information was the website of the US Embassy in Japan.