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Family Travel Guide in Osaka: Top Ten Attractions for Kids

Jane is a part-time ESL teacher in rural Japan and a full-time mom to one girl. She is tri-lingual and has lived in Japan for over 20 years.

Osaka Castle, symbol of Osaka

Osaka Castle, symbol of Osaka

A Family Vacation in Osaka

Families on vacation traveling to the Kansai area often (and quite understandably) skip Osaka in favor of Kyoto and Nara. However, Osaka has a number of child-friendly spots and attractions that shouldn't be overlooked. Below is my personal list of the top ten tourist spots in Osaka for families with small children. Again, as common sense dictates, be sure to check the ticket prices and opening hours prior to visiting as they tend to change over time.

Top Ten Attractions in Osaka for Families

1) The Osaka Castle – No trip to Osaka is complete without a stop at the Osaka Castle. The castle, founded some 400 years ago by Hideyoshi Tomotomi, regarded as the second "great unifier" of political factions in Japan, is one of the most famous castles in Japan. Some people may find the castle lacking in authenticity, however, because due to warfare and fires, no original stone from the castle remains -- the present castle is completely newly reconstructed. The inside of the castle is basically a modern museum where weapons, armors, and folklife items and artifacts from those days are on display. There is a viewing spot on the 8th floor. Fortunately, there are some centuries-old sites within the castle grounds that sort of make up for the "modern" castle. These include the gunpowder storehouse, a few turrets and gates, a well, and a treasure house where gold and silver were stored, and are assigned Important Cultural Assets by the government. There are also a few mystery spots surrounding the castle area such as a blocked secret passage whose purpose is still unknown and mysterious stonework with no known function.

2) Universal Studios Japan – This one is a given. Universal Studios Japan, like the original in Florida, is a theme park with rides, attractions and performances based on world-famous movies, animations and comic series. Attractions include, for example, 3D action rides through New York City in Spiderman, a boat ride through the jungle where dinosaurs freely roam, trying to escape from a T-Rex on a rampage in Jurassic Park, and water-sliding down a twisting tube on a rubber raft. Here, you can also meet familiar and well-loved characters such as Snoopy, Elmo and his friends from Sesame Street, Popeye, and this being Japan, Hello Kitty (Kitty-chan), a delight for small children and adults alike.

3) Kids Plaza Osaka – An interactive children's museum designed with the "hands-on learning" approach. The third floor is designated as the "let's create" floor where children can do things such as operate computer programs to control robots' movements or make animations. The fourth floor is the "let's play" floor. As the name suggests, this floor is equipped with various play equipment, a library, a "kids' street" with child-size stores and props for pretend play and a kitchen where children can participate in cooking. The top floor is the "let's try" floor where there are a workshop and a hall for special events, and various science and social science exhibits for children to experiment for themselves.

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4) Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan (and its surrounding area) – Kaiyukan is one of the largest public aquariums in the world with themes focusing on "Ring of Fire" (Pan Pacific Volcanic Zone) and "Ring of Life" (Pan Pacific Life Zone). Some of the popular fishes and marine mammals on display include the whale shark, the ocean sunfish, the Pacific whitesided dolphin, and the harbor seal. There are over 30,000 sea animals from some 580 different species here from 13 different zones: Japanese forests, the Inland Sea of Japan at Seto, Japan Sea, Great Barrier Reef, Tasman Sea, Cook Strait, Antarctica, Chilean Shore Reef Region, Ecuadorian Tropical Rainforest, Panama Bay, Monterrey Bay, Kelp Forest and Aleutian Islands. Also worthy of mention is the various amusement spots near the aquarium, which include a gigantic Ferris wheel that offers a spectacular panoramic view of Osaka Bay and its vicinity, and the cruise ship "Santa Maria", reproduced to be twice the size of the original sailing ship, that offers both day and night cruises.

5) Tennoji Zoo – You can't go wrong with a trip to the zoo as animals are always a big hit with small children. Tennoji zoo aims to keep its animals close to their natural habitats as much as possible. Some 1,500 animals from over 300 different species make their homes here. Some popular animals include koalas, lesser pandas and the kiwi bird, said to be the only of its kind in Japan. Another unusual thing about this zoo is the hippopotamus house where visitors can view hippos' underwater behavior.

6) Expo park (Banpaku Kinen Koen) – This park was built in 1970 after the Osaka World Expo. Here, you will find a number of cultural, sports and amusement facilities such as the National Museum of Ethnology where cultures from all major geographical areas of the world are on permanent exhibition, a putter golf course for children and adults alike, a wonderful Japanese garden where landscaping styles from four Japanese historical periods are represented: the Heian period (8th to 11th centuries), the Kamakura and Muromachi periods (12th to 16th centuries), the Edo period (17th to 19th centuries) and the modern period (20th century). What's more, there are also two tea houses where visitors can go in and take tea.

7) Big Bang Child Center (Jidoukan) – Founded on the principle of "play", this public child center caters more to local children with workshops, performances and events. However, it also houses a sort of a children's museum with hands-on exhibits, sports a 53-meter high jungle gym along with 17 other climbing play equipment, and has an excellent collection of old toys from different eras such as figures and figurines from the Showa period, Menko (traditional card games) from the Bakufu to early Meiji period (the 1800s), tin toys, vintage dolls and dresses, and other rare traditional toys.

8) Nissin Instant Ramen Noodles museum If the West's greatest invention is sliced bread, then maybe one can say that Japan's greatest is instant ramen cup noodles. Aside from the usual exhibits on how the cup ramen came to be, there is a corner where you can design your own noodle cup and choose your own soup flavor and topping for a one-of-a-kind cup noodle. On the second floor, you can also learn how to make noodles from scratch. The tasting room offers a variety of noodles to sample, including flavors that are limited to only certain geographical areas.

9) Hattori Ryokuchi – An enormous compound 33 times the size of a baseball field which consists of over 10 lakes and ponds, bamboo and pine woods, a track and field course, a horse riding center, a botanical garden, an outdoor museum of traditional Japanese houses, a children's playground and a water park. The lakes and ponds are homes to various water birds. The traditional thatched roof houses are reproduced from the famous styles of the homes in Gifu and Iwate prefectures and the Tatsumi islands. The water park is called "Waterland" where children can enjoy splashing around in a wave pool, flowing pool or sliding down water slides.

10) Umeda Joypolis – This is an indoor amusement park with separate zones for arcade games, rides and family-centered games. Some of the familiar favorites include a haunted house (experienced through audio), hang gliding, and a 3D adventure ride.

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