Osaka Gay Travel
wolfyy’s Osaka gay guide to where to stay, things to do, gay bars, restaurants & the local gay scene.
The Gay Travel Experience: Osaka, Japan
The best way I can describe Osaka is an orderly labyrinth. Around every turn, there is another mall or bustling underground plaza. Every square inch of space is utilized for retail; the Japanese love to shop! All the retail makes the city feel so alive. Convenient, too!
Osaka’s gay scene is comprised mainly of locals. I did not encounter many gay westerners during my visit. Honestly though, this makes the city experience feel even more authentic.
I always felt safe and comfortable traveling through Japan as a gay guy. I never experienced any negative interactions concerning being gay. It also helps that the Japanese are so polite!
Although it is not common for anyone to show public affection in Japan, the casual kiss on the cheek or holding of hands didn’t turn any heads.
Gay Osaka: Hotels & Where to Stay
The most vibrant and busiest areas of Osaka are both north and south of the city center. Central Osaka is the city’s financial district, so fewer tourists concentrate here.
I stayed in an apartment rental in Kitahama, near the Yodoyabashi Metro stop. This is the northern end of the financial district. I chose this area for the easy transit access to both busy areas of Osaka.
In my opinion, the Osaka financial district offers the most value. Most of the cheaper apartment rentals were here. The streets are quiet at night, yet there are plenty of small restaurants and convenience stores nearby.
Everything you could want to experience in Osaka is here, except for gay bars. The Inside Osaka Map gives a good visual representation of the main districts of the city.
Importantly, I recommend staying within a reasonable walking distance to public transit. Osaka taxis can be quite expensive. Unless you’re planning to spend the equivalent of $500 USD (at a minimum) in taxi fare for a week of sightseeing, consider utilizing the metro.
Osaka Gay Travel Experiences
So, you’ve just arrived in Japan and probably have a bunch of pent-up energy. Head to an arcade or Karaoke bar to celebrate your first night in Osaka! They’re everywhere!
Playing in a video arcade is such a fun, classic Osaka experience. Arcades are everywhere! If you’re near Shinsaibashi, go to Namba Hills Arcade.
Best Places to Shop in Osaka
Shopping is the number one thing to do in Osaka! The entire city is flooded with markets and shopping malls. There is even more around you than what you may see.
In addition to the street markets and designer storefronts, there are underground shopping concourses and mall buildings with immense retail floor areas.
Mido-suji is the main thoroughfare that cuts through the entire city center. It stretches from Umeda (the area of the Osaka Main Station) to Namba (the area just south of Dotonbori).
Mido-suji is lined with all kinds of stores, restaurants, and coffee shops for miles. In both Umeda and Shinsaibashi, you’ll find the majority of the electrifying Osaka markets along this street.
Don’t forget to bring your passport with you while shopping in Osaka. Most stores offer tax-free goods if you have your documents. You’ll see “tax-free” shops everywhere, but major brands also offer the exemption.
Stores will ask you for your passport, so you don’t have to worry about figuring out what stores do it ahead of time.
Dotonbori: The Famous Spot for Photographs
Instagram-famous Dotonbori is just as beautiful in person as it looks online! Dotonbori is high on the list of most “instagrammable” places in Japan! I fell in love with this area.
The energy, the lights, the music, and the peaceful river dividing it all kept me coming back. I’d say it’s the number one place to see in Osaka.
Make time to see Dotonbori both during the day and at night. It is best to hang around the area before sunset. This way, you will be able to see the amazing backdrop of colors reveal themselves behind the glowing skyline of screens as the sun drops below the horizon.
After dinner, pass by again to see the glowing buildings light up the neighborhood.
Visit a Cat Café
I like this location because the cats seem more energetic and playful than those I’ve seen in other cafés. Sometimes the majority of cats in cat cafés are only interested in sleeping. Well, not here at Cat Tail!
Staff at Cat Café Cat Tail will help you engage with the cats. I really like and support this, so this establishment is high on my list of Osaka gay travel recommendations.
They provide you with special soft blankets that the cats are attracted to. Throw it over your lap and the cats come to snuggle! The total cost is 1300 Yen for an hour, inclusive of a beverage.
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In the heart of the city, Osaka Castle is an easy spot to visit for an hour or two. I recommend going during sunset to see the beautiful gold adornments glisten. You’ll find a lot of tourists here, but nothing absurd.
For example, the number of tourists at Osaka Castle was minimal compared to Kyoto’s Bamboo Forest during the same time of year.
The best part of visiting Osaka Castle is meandering the picturesque grounds. If you walk around the backside of the structure, there is a little trail where absolutely no tourists go. The view is great from here.
People tend to follow crowds, so if you look for opportunities while at tourist sites, there’s plenty to find that people don’t explore.
Landmark Square is a building next to Osaka castle that has a few restaurants and awesome gift shops. Without a doubt, the souvenir shops in this building were the cheapest I saw in all of Japan. I picked up some gifts for my family. Everything I got was made in Japan!
Blue Birds Rooftop Terrace is a nice barbecue restaurant at the top of Landmark Square. I would only plan on trying this place during summer, though.
It looked nice, but they didn’t have any heat lanterns, so it was too cold to sit. Oddly enough, they were still open. I wasn’t sure why.
The Osaka Castle Museum is inside the castle itself. It costs 600 Yen to enter. I thought the miniature architectural models of the castle grounds were pretty cool. Overall, it wasn’t the most thrilling place to see. If you’re short on time, skip the museum.
The Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine is definitely the most peaceful place in Osaka. It’s my second favorite place in the city, Dotonbori being the first.
Wondering why I loved the Sumiyoshi Shrine so much? Well, aside from the beauty, I was probably one of only four or five tourists there!
At this wonderful and picturesque Osaka temple, you’ll be able to catch an authentic glimpse of locals paying respects.
Take some time away from your camera and observe how they do it. They give an offering, bow, clap twice, and bow again. Then, they move on to the next place of offering.
Sumiyoshi Taisha will be a half-day adventure for most. It’s far south of central Osaka, but definitely worth the trip. This is most likely why there were few tourists. It takes a bit of time to get there.
The shrine is also free to enter. You can get there by metro or tramway. Be careful if you take metro trains as you’ll need to take a local one. The shrine metro stop is a local stop. Semi-express trains will skip it.
Osaka Gay Nightlife
Osaka has many gay bars, all of which are in close proximity to one another. They are all located in the Doyamacho district, not too far from the Umeda area. You might consider Doyamacho to be the Osaka gay district, although it’s not officially classified as such.
Similar to what you’d find in Kyoto, most gay bars in Osaka are smaller and more intimate. They’re also usually located within a commercial building. They don’t have an entrance from the street.
When I checked out the gay area, I unfortunately found it to be pretty desolate. I didn’t see anyone going into or out of the bars. Perhaps I visited at a bad time. But since it felt a little strange, I didn’t stick around.
Osaka Gay Bars
Explosion gay bar is also well-known, but people have mixed experiences here. There may be a cover charge if you’re attending on the weekend.
Grand Slam is an Osaka gay club popular for its hospitable staff and fun, colorful interior. It is busiest on both Friday and Saturday nights. They are closed on Mondays.
Lastly, I walked past a place called Village, clearly a gay bar. the night I was there it seemed empty. It is right down the street from Frenz Frenzy, so you’ll surely pass it.
They don’t label themselves as a gay club on Google, but the signs outside were all rainbow! Let me know if you try this place. I’d love to know what it is like when busy.
Restaurants in Osaka
Recommending specific restaurants in Osaka is a bit challenging. First of all, most of them are not on Google Maps. Secondly, the majority of places to eat in Osaka are smaller, locally-owned places, often with names that are not in English.
These are the little restaurants and food stalls nestled into busy market streets. You should browse these places until you find one you think you’ll like.
Many of these delicious restaurants I am speaking of are in the Shinsaibashi neighborhood. When you’re walking down Mido-suji, read menus the restaurants that seem full of locals.
Try to avoid anything that is American-themed or Italian-themed. Why eat those cuisines when you have amazing sashimi all around?
Stop at Good Spoon in Imabashi if you’re craving some international cuisine. Their modern ambiance caters to both locals and tourists. They offer tapas, pizza as well as traditional Japanese food. It’s perfect for going alone or with a group. They also do takeout orders.
Osaka was toward the end of my Japan travels, and so I was craving something other than sushi and ramen a few nights. I opted for some Korean Bibimbap! While on my way back from Sumiyoshi Shrine, I stopped at Bibim’ in Albeno’s Q Mall.
Beard Papa is the go-to spot for dessert if you happen to be near one. Beard Papa is actually an international chain, but my first time having it was here in Osaka. They have locations in Namba, Shinsaibashi, and Umeda
Japanese Foods to Try
You have to try some Japanese Inari! I honestly got hooked on the ones they sell at Family Mart! They’re a cheap and delicious snack, especially if you’re hungry after all the restaurants close.
Takoyaki is the other must-have dish in Osaka and is traditional to the Kansai region. Takoyaki is a ball of fried wheat batter with a savory creamy center.
It’s traditionally served with bright-pink pickled ginger on the side. You can find these delightful pieces of goodness pretty much everywhere.
Osaka Gay Travel Tips
Using Luggage Lockers
I found the luggage lockers in the metro stations to be very useful! Most stations have at least one set of luggage storage lockers. The largest size locker (which fits more than two 30-liter backpacks) costs 700 Yen per day.
Put in some coins, grab the key and come back when you’re ready! Make sure not to leave bags too late. Once the station closes around midnight, you won’t be able to retrieve your things until the morning!
The Best Place for Free Wi-fi
All of us need strong wi-fi. You can always count on Tully’s Coffee for a place to get a reliable connection in Osaka. Tully’s Coffee was my go-to coffee shop when I needed to do a bit of work. Not all Starbucks locations seemed to offer wi-fi.
Pronouncing "Osaka" Correctly
Culturally important, make sure you understand how to pronounce Osaka. Most English-speaking people pronounce it wrong! The stress is on the first syllable of the word: (OH-sah-kah).
I bet you’ll now be able to recognize the word when you hear the name of the city in Japanese public announcements!
Using ATM Machines in Osaka
Osaka airport ATM machines can be finicky with international cards. I had to try a few before I could get one to allow a withdrawal. For budget travelers, watch out for those ATMs that only allow withdrawals ibn multiples of 10,000 Yen.
In my opinion, it’s a bit ridiculous to have a minimum withdrawal of 10,000 Yen (roughly $100 USD)! If you encounter these ATMs, move on to the next one. You should be allowed to withdraw a minimum of 1000 Yen.
Even though Osaka is a major international city, a fair number of establishments only accept cash. It seemed to be a 50-50 split. I never really knew whether a restaurant was going to end up saying they were cash only.
Eventually, I started asking. In a few instances, my Visa card did not work. in those situations, I had to fork over my cash. 7-Elevens and Family Marts always have reliable ATMs that allow small withdrawals.
How to Use the Osaka Metro (It’s Not Easy!)
In my opinion, Osaka has the most complicated metro system of any city in Japan. I’m a New Yorker and even I had a hard time getting a few places. Since Uber and taxis in Osaka can be quite expensive, these Osaka metro tips will certainly come in handy!
Osaka Has Multiple Subway Systems
First of all, Osaka doesn’t have one unified metro system. There are multiple systems and they don’t always connect. This means that not every ticket machine sells the same types of tickets.
The main two entities are Osaka Metro and the JR Lines. Tickets for JR trains cannot be used for the Osaka Metro and vice versa. Everything is cash-only too, so take out cash before you go to the station.
To avoid issues, always buy the ticket you need at the machine closest to which train you’ll take. Additionally, there are specific tickets that are needed when you take the metro to the airport (Kansai, at least) because it is a special express train.
Transfer Tickets on the Osaka Metro
Next is the topic of transfer tickets. You may not always be able to buy a ticket to your final destination because your journey may involve a “transfer.”
Some machines allow you to buy these transfer tickets while others will not. When in doubt, just buy the ticket to the intermediate station where you will make your connection.
While on the platform, try to understand if you’re taking a local, express or semi-express train. I found myself flying way past my stop by once accidentally taking an express train.
Sometimes, there are two different lines that stop on the same platform. For instance, a JR line train and the Osaka Loop Line may share a platform at some stations. Verify the train by the electronic signs on the outside of the car.
If you’re planning on traveling to other cities in Japan, buying a JR Rail pass is the most cost-effective option as this allows travel across regional boundaries.
Does Osaka Have Uber?
Yes! Uber works wonderfully in Osaka. I primarily used Uber for short trips when it was a bit too chilly to walk.
Although Uber rides are plentiful in Osaka, I would not anticipate getting an Uber to or from the airport unless you are prepared to spend more than the equivalent of $100 USD for the trip.
Uber is also expensive in Osaka. The metro will be cheaper and likely faster as well.
Uber cars in Osaka will be the same as regular taxis. The taxi cabs just use Uber to match with riders. This is different than in Tokyo, where Uber cars are usually nicer.
Japan Gay Rights
Ancient Japanese society acknowledged homosexuality and it played a substantial role. There are various literary references to homosexuality and male same-sex sexual activity. As the Meiji era progressed, this initial tolerance of homosexuality diminished.
During this time, a different school of thought took hold. It lasted only about a decade until the Napoleonic Penal Code decriminalized homosexuality in 1880.
None of the religions practiced in Japan historically forbade or criminalized homosexuality, so re-criminalizing homosexuality was not an objective.
In modern Japanese society, there aren’t many granted rights or protections for LGBT people. Japan is actually the only G7 nation that does not recognize same-sex partnerships or civil unions.
In fact, same-sex marriage is banned in Japan! This issue has received a lot of attention recently, especially as the government has upheld that the ban is constitutional in June 2022.
However, this does not mean that there is any sort of strong overall opposition to gay people. Political parties express polarized opinions and differing opinions prevent the country from introducing laws to protect the LGBT population.
At the national level, Japan only has laws concerning the most basic LGBT principles. Japanese citizens are allowed to change their legal gender, although this comes with some harsh prerequisites. LGBT people are also allowed to serve in the military.
With a recent focus on LGBT rights in Japan, more protective laws have recently been introduced by individual cities or municipalities (prefectures). Laws can vary significantly throughout the nation, but slowly, progress is being made.
Osaka also leads the way in same-sex couple adoption. The city officially recognized a gay couple as foster parents back in 2017.