May Marvels: Things to See and Do in Osaka This May

With the winds of winter firmly behind us, May is that sweet spot where Japan’s weather hits its proverbial “Goldilocks Zone”. Its not too cold, its not too hot, and we have a good six weeks or so before the haze of humidity that is the rainy season descends upon us.

This is when many people within Japan decide to take a little break. The “Golden Week” block of public holidays at the start of the month adds a further travel incentive. We’ll have more on that later.

These factors do mean that whilst May is an ideal time for you to visit Osaka, its also an ideal time for almost everyone in Japan. So, expect hotels to fill out fast, and prices to be at a premium. However, if you do manage to snag some accommodation during this busy, busy month then there’s no shortage of things to do and sights to see. So, come with me now as we run down the top ten things to do in and around Osaka in the month of May.

Osaka Comic Con: May 3rd to May 5th

The Batmobile on display at Osaka Comic Con 2023

Despite the huge impact of “geek culture” across Japan, comic cons are a relatively recent addition to the event calendar. Comic cons have a history in the US that goes right back to the 1970s. However, they didn’t officially make their way to Japan until 2016. In December of that year the first Tokyo Comic Con took place and was a tremendous success. Unfortunately, plans to expand the event to Osaka were delayed by the onset of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, However, the first annual Osaka Comic Con took place in 2023. Like its Tokyo counterpart, it has already become a highly anticipated event in every fanboy and fangirl’s calendar.

At time of writing the guest list for the 2024 event remains unconfirmed. However, previous guests included Stranger Things star Milly Bobby Brown, Pirates of the Caribbean and Lord of the Rings alumni Orlando Bloom, and Mads Mickelsen, from, among many other hits, Rogue One and Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.

Celebrity appearances and autograph opportunities aside, there’s plenty of other reasons to visit Osaka Comic Con too. The “Artists Alley” gives you the chance to meet and purchases personalized works from some of the biggest names in comic books, anime and manga.

The exhibition floor also showcases iconic pieces of memorabilia from films and TV past and present. Some previous exhibits include the original Batmobile from 1989’s Batman movie. KITT, the talking sports car from the TV series Knight Rider, and my personal favorite, an original, screen worn Christopher Reeve Superman costume.

Visitors can also get in on the superhero act, with prizes available for the best cosplayers.

Entry to Osaka Comic Con costs 6,900 yen per person for a 3 day pass. Alternatively, you can buy a one day pass for 3,100 yen. The event takes place at Intex Osaka, about 10 minutes on foot from Cosmosquare Station, on the Osaka Metro Chuo Line.

Food Sonic Kyobashi, first week of May

Displays from the 2023 Food Sonic Festival

This food festival in Osaka’s Kyobashi has been a firm fixture in the May calendar since 2015. Food Sonic, as the name suggests, blends the finest in local and international cuisine with an eclectic mix of live music. Much like the aforementioned comic con, the exact make up of the festival changes year by year. However, the delicious food and tremendous diversity of music and stage shows on offer remains consistent.

Imagine a music festival, but with far better catering options and a much more family friendly atmosphere. This is the kind of vibe you’ll get from Food Sonic.

The event is very reasonably priced too. Admission (with advanced booking) is just 400 yen per person. If you roll up on the day you’ll have to pay 500 yen. Unlike many other festivals of this type, the low entry fee doesn’t mean you’re going to get bilked from every angle once you’re inside. Food and drinks at the 30 or so stalls inside are very reasonably priced. Drink maker Suntory are a major sponsor of the event. As such many of their products are offered at discounted rates. As an example, at the 2023 event, they offered gin and tonic for just 200 yen. That’s less than half what you’ll pay in a typical bar in Osaka.

Food Sonic Kyobashi is located about 3 minutes on foot from the South exit of JR Kyobashi Station.

Takatsuki Jazz Street Festival, first week of May

Just one of the many groups of performers you can enjoy at the Takatsuki Jazz Street Festival

Perhaps you like your music a little more chilled out and laid back. If that’s the case, then you’ll probably enjoy the Takatsuki Jazz Street Festival. Since its inception in 1999, this festival has rapidly grown in popularity. It now regularly pulls in upwards of 100,000 visitors over its 3-day cycle. Held across the city of Takatsuki, the 2023 event encompassed over 800 bands performing at 70 venues across the city. The next Takatsuki Jazz Street Festival promises to be bigger still. And best of all, its completely free. Alongside the live music there is a host of food, drinks and other distractions also available throughout the festival. From humble beginnings, this event has organically grown to become one of Takatsuki’s best loved annual traditions.

The Jazz Street Festival takes place in the area between Takatsuki’s JR and Hankyu Line Stations.

Koinobori Festa 1000, May 5th

A small slice of the stunning Koinobori Festa 1000 display.

We stay in Takatsuki for our next event. If you’ve ever spent time in and around Osaka during Golden Week before, you’ve probably seen streams of large flags in the shape of fish. These are known as koinobori. They are an integral part of Children’s Day, an annual holiday that takes place on May 5th all across Japan. A typical koinobori display has maybe 5 or 6 of these elaborate, colorful banners. However, Koinobori Festa 1000 kicks things up by several gears.

As the name suggests, Koinobori Festa 1000 culminates in about 1000 of these stunning designs billowing in the wind for all to see. There’s also live music, sideshows and events ongoing throughout the day too. Additionally you can enjoy all manner of authentic street food from friendly stalls along the riverside too.

Koinobori Festa takes place in Akutagawa Sakurazutsumi Park, admission is free. The park is about 15 minutes on foot from JR Takatsuki Station.

Craft Gyoza Fes, First Week of May

Gyoza, glorious gyoza

There are very few people I know who don’t love a bit of gyoza. These delicious little dumplings usually come stuffed with meat, vegetables and a more than generous helping of garlic.

However, if you’ve only sampled the supermarket variety, then you’re missing out on the truly authentic gyoza experience. Thankfully, for visitors to Osaka in May, Craft Gyoza Fes has you covered. This celebration of gyoza in all shapes, sizes and flavors takes places in Osaka Castle Park’s Sun Plaza (Taiyo no Hiroba).

The finest gyoza makers from all over Japan descend on Osaka during this festive feast. Among the highlights are wagyu beef-filled gyoza from Saga Prefecture, and mini-gyoza, that come all the way from Hakata, in Kyushu.

Entry to this event is free. Each stall has their own prices for their gyoza. However, all are competitively priced.

Yabusame Shinji, May 3rd

An archer lines up a shot at the Yabusame Shinji ritual.

Japanese horseback archery is one of the country’s oldest martial traditions. So, what better way to round off a trip to Kyoto than to see this amazing feat of strength, skill and accuracy up close?

The Yabusame Shinji ritual is one of the individual highlights of Kyoto’s Aoi Festival. More on that later.

Every year on May 3rd, at Shimogamo Shrine, the ritual takes place at 1pm. The mounted archers hail from the Ogasawara School This legendary training school for horseback archery has a lineage that goes back more than 8 centuries. Dressed in elaborate ceremonial robes, the riders gallop down the 500 meter track, cheered on by the crowd all the way. Along the route, they fire off arrows at three preset targets. Anyone who has ever tried archery will tell you how difficult it is. So, to do so whilst also bounding along a bumpy course on a horse takes an incredible degree of skill. This truly is a spectacle not to be missed.

Entry to Shimogamo Shrine is free. It’s about a 10 minute walk from Demachiyanagi Station on the Keihan Line.

Aoi Matsuri, May 15th (Main Parade)

Aoi Matsuri’s main parade.

As we mentioned already, Yabusame Shinji is just one small part of a much larger picture. The Aoi Festival is one of Kyoto’s “big three” festivals. The main parade sees hundreds of participants, dressed in full Heian era costume, parading down the streets. The attire is in tribute to the origins of the festival. Although formalized in the 8th century AD, some scholars believe it actually stems from pre-harvest rituals 2 or 3 centuries early than that.

The modern interpretation of the Aoi Matsuri sees the procession leave from Kyoto’s Imperial Palace, former seat of Japan’s Emperor. From here, the parade weaves its way through the nearby streets, ending with offerings and prayer rituals at Shimogamo Shrine.

This parade is unique in its make-up. It comprises two distinct groups. The first group is entirely male. They represent the Imperial messenger, noblemen and soldiers. Their role is to clear a safe path for the procession to come.

With their mission fulfilled, the second half of the parade can get underway. Here we see the Imperial princess, her ladies in waiting and priestesses. Of course, they too are decked out in stunning Heian Period attire.

This may not be Kyoto’s biggest festival, but many argue it is the most colorful.

You can gain access to the parade from Kitayama Station, on the Karasuma Subway Line. It takes about 15 minutes from the station to the parade site.

Heijyokyo Tempyo, May 3rd to 5th

Heijyokyo Tempyo participants in traditional dress.

Of course, history buffs will tell you that Kyoto isn’t the only part of Kansai that once served as Japan’s capital. There was a time, even before the days of the original Aoi Matsuri, when Nara served as Japan’s capital.

Today, this tradition is still honored every year, with a 3 day festival extravaganza. Centering around the historic Heijyo Palace, the Heijyokyo Tempyo sees a series of parades, battle reenactments, street performances, and a whole lot more. You can even join a nobleman’s banquet, if that’s your thing.

Personally, I’d rather enjoy some street food from the many fantastic local vendors around the area during these three days. Just grab some yakitori or takoyaki and stroll around as you soak up the atmosphere. Until someone finally invents a time machine, this may be the most authentic experience of Japan from 1500 years ago you’ll find anywhere.

Heijyo Palace is about 15 minutes walk from Yamato Saidaiji Station on the Kintetsu Nara Line.

Kobe Festival, Late May

Dancers at the Kobe Festival.

Kobe is known throughout the Kansai area for its vibrant and international atmosphere. Therefore, it is only appropriate that the city’s main festival also has its own, unique and multi-cultural vibe.

Towards the end of May each year, the Kobe Festival engulfs the entire area in a carnival atmosphere. Over the course of the two day festival, around 70 different music and dance groups take part in a series of performances. Most famous among these are the Copa Samba dancers. This isn’t quite the Rio Carnival, but it’s every bit as lively, exuberant, and (going by current crime statistics) a whole lot safer than a trip to Brazil.

Golden Week Celebrations April 29th to May 5th

Golden Week isn’t really an event in itself, rather it’s a series of public holidays that run close together. However, if you are planning to visit Osaka at this time then it will have a series of potential impacts on your holiday that you need to consider.

Firstly, as I mentioned at the beginning, hotels and restaurants will be more expensive than usual, some quite unreasonably so. However, if you plan carefully and book far enough in advance, you should be able to negate this. Staying outwith Osaka’s City limits will also bring your costs down a little too, provided you mind commuting into the city each day for your planned activities.

Also, try to leave a bit earlier than you normally would. Streets will be crowded, stations will be much busier than usual, and you may find yourself having to queue up frequently.

Again, planning is key here. Overall, the impact on your holiday won’t be too bad, so long as you are well prepared.

May offers a great climate, lots of activities and plenty of atmosphere. It’s a busy time for Osaka, but also, a highly rewarding time to visit.


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