February Frolics: Things to do In Osaka in February

February is something of a difficult month for many of us. Christmas is a fading memory, whilst the harshest of winter’s cold seems to bite its hardest. Thankfully, Osaka has no shortage of distractions for visitors and residents alike at this often gloomy time of year.

To help you decide where and how to spend your time in Osaka this February, we have once again complied a top ten list for your consideration. So, without further delay, here is our rundown of the top ten things to do in Osaka in February.

Osaka Auto Messe: 2nd or 3rd week of February

Just one of the many customized cars on show at Osaka Auto Messe.

Anyone who has ever played any of Sony’s Gran Turismo video game series will know just how much Japanese love their sports cars. Within this sphere these is also an ever-expanding sub-culture focused around car customization. So, it seems appropriate that, in 1997 (ironically also the year that the first Gran Turismo game launched), Osaka Auto Messe took place for the first time.

Unlike the much bigger, and more expensive, Tokyo Motor Show, this is a car show with a difference. The emphasis is on customization and personalization of cars, rather than the vehicles themselves. This may seem like something of a niche subject matter to the uninitiated. You couldn’t be more wrong though. Osaka Auto Messe routinely pulls in hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Some are indeed crazy about cars, and looking for the latest spoiler or new set of tires for their GTO. Most people though, just want to wonder through this automotive wonderland and soak up the sights, sounds and general atmosphere. The show takes place at INTEX Osaka, the International Exhibition Center based in Osaka City’s Suminoe Ward. Entry costs 2,700 yen.

The Osaka Marathon: Sometime in Late February

The Osaka Marathon draws thousands of runners, of all ages and ability levels, every year.

If you fancy giving yourself the most demanding of physical tests during your time in Osaka, then why not take a shot at the Osaka Marathon. Every year, towards the end of February, the city center comes to standstill for one day as runners from all over the World descend upon Kansai to face the ultimate endurance challenge.

Booking.com

The run begins at The Osaka Prefectural Government Head Office and ends in Osaka Castle Park. Along the course, you’ll run past most of the city’s best known sites, such as Dotombori, Tsutenkaku and of course Osaka Castle itself. In terms of the running course, Osaka is a relatively flat city. So, barring a couple of uphill surges towards the end, it’s a fairly straightforward run for seasoned marathon runners.

You’ll probably need some prior running experience before you enter though. There is a strict time limit of 7 hours to complete the course. Also, entry is quite expensive. If you’re in Japan already, it costs 17,200 yen. In the case of runners coming from outside Japan, this increases to 19,200 yen.

Of course, if all that running seems like too much, you can go along on the day and cheer the runners on from the sidelines for free. There is also the Osaka Marathon Expo, an event designed to encourage greater participation in sports and fitness activities. The Expo runs over the same weekend as the marathon.

As I said before, the exact date changes from year to year, but is always on a weekend. Check local press closer to the time for exact dates. The entry period for domestic runners runs from August to September. In the case of international entrants, the entry period is from October to November.

Dojima Yakushido Setsubun Omizukumi Festival: February 3rd

Participants in the 2020 Setsubun festival at Dojima Yakushido.

Setsubun is a popular annual festival practiced across Japan. In much the same way as “Groundhog Day” in the US commemorates the end of winter, Setsubun serves a similar purpose in Japan. The festival’s main premise involves throwing soy beans as a means of warding off “Oni” or evil spirits.

However, in the case of the Dojima Yakushido Setsubun Omizukuni Festival, things happen a little differently.

Instead of throwing beans, this time around festival goers throw incense sticks onto a fire. The symbolism is the same however. It’s all about driving away bad spirits and ensuring good fortune for the year ahead.

The event runs from 3pm until 8pm on February 3rd. Admission is free. Dojima Yakushido Shrine is about 10 minutes’ walk from Nishi Umeda Station, on the Yotsubashi Subway Line.

Osaka Drive-Through Illuminations: Until February 25th

Promotional imagery for the 2024 Osaka Illuminations.

The winter freeze in Osaka bites especially hard in February. Thankfully, for those of you looking to escape the cold, here’s an event you can enjoy from the comfort of your car.

In a first of its kind for Japan, Sakai City’s Municipal Soccer Stadium plays host to an annual light show, which you drive through in your own vehicle. The 6000 yen admission fee may seem a little steep, but bear in mind that this is the cost for a car, with up to 5 passengers. The event runs from Mid November until February 25th each year. The show has a different theme for each annual iteration. The theme for 2024 is “Hawaii”. Advance booking is required. You can find more information and book your tickets here. Please also note that if you decide to visit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day (the busiest times of year) then the price per car increases to 8000 yen.

Osaka Castle Illuminations: Until February 25th

Ultraman on display at Osaka Castle Illuminations.

In conjunction with the aforementioned drive-through illuminations in Sakai City, Osaka Castle is also getting in on the act. The castle keep has its own winter illumination festival running throughout the winter months. In a classic case of modern aesthetics meeting historic stature, the centuries old castle and its surrounding walls are lit up in neon lights. Visitors can also enjoy various musical and theatrical performances. If you’re lucky you might even meet a superhero. The legendary Japanese hero Ultraman has been known to show up from time to time at Osaka Castle during this festival. After all, a site of such cultural and historic significance is a prime target for all those alien Kaiju monsters!

Tickets for the Osaka Castle Illuminations cost 1500 yen for adults and 800 yen for children under 13. You can also buy an express pass, allowing you to skip the queue at certain attractions for an additional 500 yen per person.

The Ichiya Kanjo (One Night) Festival: February 20th

The venue for the Ichiya Kanjo Festival, during quieter times.

The premise of this rather unique festival may seem somewhat dark, but actually it’s quite a joyful and memorable occasion to visit. The festival centers around the legend of the girls of Nozato Village (now part of Osaka City), who sacrificed themselves to save the village from disaster.

As the story goes, the village had a history of flooding and other natural disasters. In order to prevent this, each year a girl from the village would offer herself as a sacrifice to the gods. She was subsequently struck down with a sword. This selfless act, the villagers believed would keep the village safe for one more year. This continued for 7 years. However, it was only when a noble samurai warrior, who heard of the villagers’ plight came along that the trouble ended. He offered to take the young girl’s place as the annual sacrifice. He offered various food delicacies alongside his own head, as a sacrifice to appease the gods. After his heroic demise, the natural terrors plaguing the village ceased.

Nobody knows exactly when the festival started, but the earliest records of it date to 1702.

For a deeper dive on the history of this amazing festival, we have a full breakdown of the event here.

Festivities kick off at 2pm. Admission is free.

Plum Blossom Gardens: From Late January to End of February

Plum Blossoms around Osaka Castle

Cherry Blossoms may carry the crown as Osaka’s best known trees, however, plum blossoms also make for an enticing sight. February is traditionally the time when these blossoms reach full bloom, a full 2 months ahead of their more famous brethren. The Osaka Castle Park Plum Garden has the city’s largest collection of plum blossoms. The garden boasts 1,250 trees, encompassing 93 different varieties of blossom. As well as their distinctive pink/purple hue, plum blossoms are also known for their unique scent. Admission to the garden is free, so it represents a great way to chill out after  attending one of Osaka’s busier events.

Valentine’s Day at Osaka Kaiyukan: February 14th

The ever-popular Osaka Kaiyukan.

The sight of octopi, whale sharks and penguins may not exactly conjure up romantic imagery in most minds. However, for many Kansai couples, young and old, a Valentine’s Day date at the Osaka Kaiyukan, one of Japan’s largest aquariums, is something of a rite of passage. In recent times, the aquarium has leaned into this tradition, with special events and promotions centered around the most romantic day of the year.

In all honesty, there’s never a bad time to visit the Osaka Kaiyukan, but something about Valentine’s Day makes it particularly special.

I’ll admit to having a personal interest in this one. My wife and I went to the Kaiyukan on our first date in Osaka. So, it’s certainly given our relationship a shot of good fortune.

The Osaka Kaiyukan costs 2,700 yen per person for adults, 1,400 yen for kids aged 7 to 14, and 700 yen for younger kids. Infants aged 2 or under are free.

Tempozan Market Place and the Tempozan Giant Ferris Wheel: All Year Round

Of course, after looking at all those fish, you might be feeling a bit hungry. Well, Tempozan Market Place, the shopping center across from the aquarium has you covered. Its second floor hosts a wide range of restaurants and fast food stores. Whether it’s a hamburger, or some kushikatsu that you’re craving, they have it all. Couples can then round off a perfect date with a ride on the nearby Tempozan Giant Ferris Wheel, one of the tallest in all of Asia.

The Tempozan Ferris Wheel costs 800 yen per person. The ride takes around 15 minutes, with a maximum height of 112.5 meters.

Valentine’s Day Chocolates: Various Department Stores, February 1st to 14th

Kit Kat often bring out new chocolates in Japan every year specifically for Valentine’s Day.

One of Japan’s most enduring traditions of modern times is the giving of chocolate gifts on February 14th. However, in Japan the tradition works a little differently from elsewhere. In Japan, it is customary for women to give men chocolates on February 14th. Men are then expected to reciprocate on “White Day” which takes place in March.

Of course, never being slow to miss a commercial opportunity, Osaka’s numerous department stores host a variety of chocolate themed events over the fortnight or so running up to Valentine’s Day. For Those with a sweet tooth, this is a paradise. Osaka boasts some truly amazing chocolatiers. From past experience, I especially recommend the confectionery areas of Grand Front Osaka, in Umeda, and the Kintetsu Department Store, across the road from JR Tennoji Station. The chocolates can be a bit pricey. A typically box may run you 3 or 4000 yen. However, for chocolate lovers, they really are hard to beat. And if you’re a married man like me, then the bonus is, this time, your wife is picking up the bill.

Just don’t overdo it. Remember you’ll have to return the favor next month!

Visiting Osaka in February

As I mentioned in my previous commentary regarding January events in Osaka, this time of year is extremely cold, by Osaka’s usual, somewhat hot and humid standards. In fact, oft times, February is actually the coldest time of the year in the city. Snow is not an unusual occurrence and temperatures frequently drop below zero. Make sure you wrap up warm, particularly for outdoor, evening events.

Despite this, as you can see Osaka still has plenty to offer visitors in February. There is also an added benefit. February is one of the cheapest times of year to travel to Japan. It is when flights between Osaka and Europe/North America are at their cheapest. It’s also something of a lull period for hotels and restaurants too, as the number of domestic tourists nosedives before the resurgence that comes with May’s Golden Week holiday. For value, choice and convenience, February is a pretty good time to go to Osaka!

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