- Travel Topics
With comments in bold parenthesis by Dave
With only 1 day in Osaka and struck by jet lag, Dave and I started the day early around 8am. What also rushed us out the door of Gareth’s, our couchsurfer’s, apartment was that the place was stifling and after an unbearably hot nights’ sleep on mats laid across the kitchen floor I was itching for some fresh air (think Hell’s kitchen).
Once outside, with a heavy sigh and the pressure of my backpack digging into my shoulders I realized that this whole 2-year backpacking plan would be a lot harder than I anticipated, however, my excitement for exploring my first Japanese city overrode this.
One of the great things we’ve discovered about Japan is the convenience of lockers at train stations. If only visiting a city for a day just throw your bags into a locker and be on your way.
With the backpacks off our shoulders we were free to explore our first sight – Osaka Castle. This is the landmark fortress of the city and dates back to 1597 when Toyotami built the castle to outdo the Azuchi Castle (headquarters of Oda Nobunaga), though it fell to Tokugawa by 1615. Over the years the castle passed through different hands and withstood both fire and warfare. In 1997 the latest restoration was complete and the main tower stands tall and magnificent over Osaka. Though more of a museum than a castle, this sight is well worth an hour of your day and from the top you can see a panoramic view of the city. If time permits stroll through the surrounding grounds to admire the other structures and scenery.
When leaving the castle watch out for eager Japanese locals looking to interact with Westerners (I promise they don’t bite). As we walked through the gate a man on a bicycle rushed over to us with a grin from ear to ear, excited over spotting us. After multiple handshakes, have a good days, and a few photos he was on his way and we were flattered to be so warmly regarded (as well as checking our pockets for belongings).
From the castle, head over to Namba for lunch, either on the subway or by walking. To cut costs (the metro ride would have cost us 270 JPY each) we chose to walk, which took a little over an hour and took us through the business district in Osaka. In search of the “Big Step” department store, which Lonely Planet claims serves delicious Okonomiyaki, we weaved in and out of the little alley ways nearing Namba station. With our stomaches growling and no hope of finding the exact address due to the lack of street signs in Japan, I made the executive decision to just wander into a little soup shop (are you sure I didn’t make that decision?). After peering through the window and spotting a handful of Japanese I assumed it must not be a tourist trap.
The chef, who was the sole worker in the shop, spoke no english whatsoever. Add a menu completely in Japanese (no pictures) and you have two stumped travelers. The prices were recognizable so we decided to throw caution to the wind and select two reasonably priced, unknown, “dishes”. A 500 JPY and 400 JPY item could be lunch?
First item, dumplings – success!
Second item, an Asahi beer – failure…(I think Vicky ordered this one)
This gauranteed us a bowl of hot steaming ramen pork noodle soup!
We both agreed that the dumplings were the most tender ones we had ever tasted and continued to loudly slurp the soup until not a drop was left. A delicious first lunch in Japan and we walked out confident.
A block later we hit the famous Dotonbori street – packed with food establishments and more lights than the Vegas strip. A great budget lunch option. We went back later that night to sample the Takoyaki – an Osakan specialty, which you will see sold every 30 feet across the length of Dotonbori street.
Fueled with energy from lunch we continued our walking tour across Osaka and headed to the Shitenno-ji Temple – constructed in 583AD by Prince Shotuku and the oldest officially administered temple in all of Japan. Unfortunately, as is the case with many temples in Japan, this one was rebuilt recently — as recent as 1963 (downer). Due to some wrong turns we got lost and didn’t get to the temple until near closing time so we just walked around the grounds (double downer). The temple tower is impressive to say the least and well worth a visit. If time permits continue walking around the area as there are many other smaller temples and shrines close by.
As the day came to a close, we headed back to Namba station to take the Kinetsu train to Nara where we would meet our 2nd couchsurfer – a young Japanese photographer.
We had a great first day in Japan and would highly recommend everything we saw in Osaka. With only 1 day there we were not able to see everything but by walking around we got a great feel for the city and only regret missing out on the Kita District (Umeda area) and the red Ferris Wheel on the roof of the HEP FIVE building, which is supposed to make for quite a ride. As Japan’s 3rd largest city Osaka portrays a scene of modernity amid historically significant temples, castles and shrines.
Time: Open 9-5
Cost: 600 Yen (combination ticket available for Osaka Castle and Osaka History Museum)
Metro Stop: Osakajokoen Station on the JR West Osaka Loop Line or the Morinomiya on the Chuo (Green) line
Time: Open 9-430
Cost: 300 JPY, gardens 200 JPY
Metro Stop: Tennoji Station