Osaka’s third major downtown hub, Tennoji, is rapidly transforming from a seedy retro wasteland into a happening urban center. The soaring new Abeno Harukas tower is only one of the many interesting sights here.
Four stops south of Namba (Minami), the district of Tennoji used to be synonymous with everything backwards and unfashionable. The heart of the district was the old-school entertainment quarter called Shinsekai (“New World”), which was anything but new. Topped by the retro Tsutenkaku tower, Shinsekai was the place where people went to reminisce about what Japan was like before it got rich.
Now, a new tower has risen over the area – the soaring 300-meter-tall Abeno Harukas tower – and Tennoji is suddenly enjoying a renaissance. There are heaps of new shops and restaurants in the area, and some of the areas old attractions have gotten a facelift. You can spend an enjoyable day here enjoying the view from Abeno Harukas, checking out the park and zoo and even taking a stroll through Shinsekai to get a taste of pre-war Japan.
Things to See and Do in Tennoji and Abeno
- Abeno Harukas (skyscraper, observation deck)
Rising 300 meters above Kintetsu Abenobashi Station, the new Abeno Harukas building is the tallest building in Osaka. The top three floors of the building (floors 58, 59 and 60) form the Harukas 300 observatory. They offer a fantastic view over the city of Osaka and nearby parts of Kobe, the Inland Sea and Wakayama. The view from here is particularly beautiful in the evening. On the 16th floor, you’ll find the Abeno Harukas Museum, which is worth visiting only if the special exhibit on at the time of your visit features something you’re interested in. On floors 12, 13 and 14, you’ll find Harukas Dining, which is a great collection of restaurants and one of the best places to eat in the Tennoji area.
- Shinsekai (retro entertainment district)
When it was first built in 1912, Shinsekai (“New World” in Japanese) was designed to symbolize Japan’s entry into the modern world. With influences from New York and Paris, the area was a hugely popular tourist draw in the pre-war years. As time passed, however, the area failed to keep up with modern times and it slowly morphed into a forgotten backwater, populated by dodgy characters. Eventually, the retro feel of the area became a new sort of attraction, and people visited the area to reminisce about what Japan was like “in the old days.” These days, the area is slowly being modernized, but it still feels funky and offbeat. It’s filled with cheap and greasy restaurants, primitive pachinko parlors and cheap bars. It’s fun to stroll around and there are a few quite decent restaurants scattered about. It is easily paired with a visit to the adjoining Tennoji-koen Park.
- Tennoji-koen Park (park)
This sprawling park northwest of Tennoji Station is a surprisingly pleasant oasis of green and open space in the middle of a crowded city. There’s a Buddhist temple, a pond, an art museum and a zoo (see following), but the best fun here is just wandering aimlessly and checking out the parade of Osaka characters who inhabit the park. The local homeless will sometimes set up karaoke systems here and perform nostalgic numbers for passers-by.
- Tennoji Zoo (zoo)
Known as Tennoji Dobutsuen in Japanese, this zoo might not be up to international standards, but it’s not bad and it’s worth a visit, particularly for those traveling with children. There’s a good variety of animals on display, including lions, tigers, red pandas, penguins and rhinos.
- Shitenno-ji Temple (Buddhist temple)
A bit northeast of JR Tennoji Station and very close to Shitennoji-mae Yuhigaoka Station on the Tanimachi subway line, this Buddhist temple is one of the oldest in Japan, dating to AD 593. Unfortunately, all of the buildings are recent concrete reconstructions. Still, it’s a pleasant place to explore and to soak up the spiritual vibes of the place.
Places to Eat in Tennoji and Abeno
There are plenty of places to eat in and around the station. If you want a lot of choices, head to the Harukas Dining restaurant floors on the 12th, 13th and 14th floors of the Abeno Harukas complex, above Kintetsu Harukas Station. Other choices are listed below:
- Yamachan (takoyaki; budget)
Near Kintetsu Abenobashi Station (and Abeno Harukas), this is perhaps Osaka’s most famous yaki-yaki joint and certainly the only tako-yaki joint ever to be listed in a Michelin guide. The battered octopus balls here are as good as you’ll find anywhere. Just be sure to let them cool before eating or you’ll suffer the usual burnt mouth.
- Kushikatsu Daruma (kushikatsu; budget to moderate)
Near the base of Tsutenkaku tower in Shinsekai, this popular restaurant serves the local specialty, kushikatsu, which are various meats, veggies and fish deep fried on wooden skewers. They’re absolutely delicious and this is a great place to try them. Look for the large black and white sign.
- Tengu (kushikatsu, izakaya; budget to moderate)
This Shinsekai izakaya specializes in kushikatsu (described above). It’s another great place to try this greasy Tennoji specialty. Look for the demon with the long red nose above the doorway (that’s a Tengu).
Places to Stay in Tennoji and Abeno
Budget Hotels in Tennoji and Abeno
- Bali Tower Hotel Tennoji
This unusual Bali-themed hotel a short walk north of JR Tennoji Station is one of the better budget hotel values in the city. The rooms are clean, stylish and well kept and the management tries really hard to please. Recommended!
- Super Hotel Osaka Tennoji
Located between Tennoji-koen Park and Shitenno-ji Temple, this efficient business hotel offers clean, compact rooms at very reasonable rates. It’s a great location for exploring the Tennoji area.
- Hotel Mikado Osaka
With rates comparable to a youth hostel or guesthouse, this simple business hotel not far from JR Tennoji Station offers some of the cheapest hotel rooms in town. Considering the price, the rooms aren’t bad at all. For those on a tight budget who want a private room, this place is recommended.
- APA Hotel Tennoji Ekimae
If you don’t mind tiny rooms, this business hotel near JR Tennoji Station is a reasonable choice. It’s perfectly acceptable for a night or two in Osaka.
Mid-Range Hotels in Tennoji and Abeno
- Tennoji Miyako Hotel
Right at JR Tennoji Station, this good-value hotel offers relatively spacious rooms, efficient service and an incredibly convenient location. It’s convenient if coming from Kansai Airport on the Haruka Airport Express.
Luxury Hotels in Tennoji and Abeno
- Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel
Located on the top floors of the soaring Abeno Harukas tower, this hotel offers some of the most eye-popping views of any hotel in Japan. And, it’s not just the views: It’s a great hotel all around, with some terrific on-site facilities and a staff that tries really hard to please. You can sometimes find rates online that put this almost in the mid-budget category, making it a very good deal indeed. Highly recommended!
Shopping in Tennoji and Abeno
- Kintetsu Department Store Abeno Main Store (department store)
The main branch of the famous Kintetsu Department Store, this vast shopping emporium is a destination in its own right. It’s right above Kintetsu Abenobashi Station and close to JR Tennoji Station. The Japanese and Western sweets shops on the 1st floor of the department store are especially interesting.
Where Are These Places Located?See these places on the Inside Osaka Google map:
- Open the Osaka map
- You will see the list of places on the left hand side. (Click the 3-line icon in the top left corner if not). Scroll down or use the map search (the magnifying glass icon) to find the place you want.
- Click the name of the place in the list. Its location pin will be highlighted on the map.
- Map pins are color coded - BLUE: Hotels / Ryokan / Guesthouses | VIOLET: Ryokan | PINK: Places to Eat | GREEN: Shops | YELLOW: Things to See and Do
- If you're using the map on your phone, open the map and then search for the name of the place. The map will then zoom in on its location.
Osaka Vacation Checklist
- For all the essentials in a brief overview, see my First Time In Osaka guide
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