Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Japan Journals: Osaka

Good Day Everyone,

Japan is made up of almost 7,000 islands but approx. 97% of the land is comprised of the four largest islands. We visited the largest of these islands, Honshu. After arriving at Narita airport we caught the Narita Express train into Tokyo which took an hour. From Tokyo we caught the Hikari bullet train straight to Osaka, which took about another 3 hours. Traveling by bullet train was a great way to see Japan and you can read more about this in my bullet train blog post here.

Osaka is Japan’s third largest city by population, after Tokyo and Yokohama. During the day, Osaka is a mass of grey concrete buildings as far as the eye can see but at night it comes alive like no other of the cities we visited, with colourful neon flashing lights, amusement arcades and eateries all vying for our attention. Whilst not the most attractive of the four cities we visited, I had one of my most favourite days of our trip when we visited Osaka castle and the surrounding park.
Osaka Castle
If there could be one aspect of our trip that we could repeat, then for me, it would be our time in Osaka. I feel that we didn’t really do Osaka justice, partly because of the four days we stayed in Osaka we spent two of them in Kobe, and one was spent at Osaka castle. Consequently, we didn’t really see much else in Osaka. We did venture out during the evening once or twice but after a full day of sighting seeing my joints couldn’t take a late night. The other reason I would like to repeat our time in Osaka is because when we arrived I felt totally over whelmed, and a bit frustrated if I’m being honest, by the difficulties in getting around and understanding my new surroundings… I guess you could say I had a bit of a culture shock. Trying to get to the places we wanted to go to prove to be more difficult than I had anticipated. We obviously couldn’t read the street signs and there were hardly any tourist signs in English. Some of the train/subway stations were sooo large and complex than we often ended up going around in circles, despite getting directions from station staff. We found the transport system in Osaka the most difficult in our whole trip. I’m sure the fact that it was our first destination had a lot to do with this and going out in Osaka for the first time at night when everything is crazy busy and noisy probably didn’t help. Add to this that on our first night we were racing against the clock, trying to get to what we were expecting to be a store, before it closed, but it actually turned out to be a teeny tiny concession stand within the Takashimaya department store at Namba Parks… Oh the frustrations of that night!
Our hotel on the left

When it came to booking our hotels, we didn’t have that much choice as hotels were very busy due to the cherry blossom season. In Osaka we stayed at the Hotel New Otani which I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend. It is located by the river within a few minutes walk to Osaka castle and less than 5mins walk to the nearest train station, Osakajoken, making it a very convenient place. There are also convenience stores within a couple of minutes walk and a small mall with coffee shops and a few restaurants nearby. The staff were really friendly and helpful, and spoke enough English to help us with our queries. 
The river at night
We booked a twin room (there were no doubles left) and the room was surprisingly larger than we were expecting, for Japan. All three of the hotels that we stayed in during our trip provided ample complimentary toiletries as well pyjamas/night shirts and robes… that’s right pyjamas. There were also complimentary hot drinks, although these did not consist of coffee and English breakfast teas as we are accustomed to, but green and other fruit teas.
Complimentary pyjamas and slippers
View from our hotel room

One of the things that I loved about Japan were the heated toilet seats in our hotels. Now I know that sounds a bit weird but seriously Japan must have one of the most technological advanced toilet seats ever! There are multiple water spray action choices for washing, temperature control and some even have a deodoriser option! They were such a comfort when coming in from the chilly weather outside. Weather wise as it was spring time, we got some lovely sunny days where the temperature got up to around 25°C but some days were significantly chillier, as were the mornings and evenings. 

Food wise in Osaka, we ate at one of the hotel restaurants a couple of times as it had a very Italian inspired menu and so we were able to find suitable vege options. Most of the malls have eateries in the basements and we were surprised by the high number of restaurants serving Italian food such as caprese salads, pizzas and pasta in one form or another. There were also a lot of waffle/pancake places which were ideal for breakfast as none of our hotel reservations included breakfast.

We spent a very sunny warm day walking around the park surrounding Osaka castle, which was just across the river from our hotel. It was so lovely to see lots of people having picnics along the river banks underneath the cherry blossom trees. There was a part of the park that was sectioned off and this contained sooo many cherry blossom trees that my mind just went into instantaneous over drive with photographic opportunities, as my eyes tried to take in all the natural beauty before them… I literally squealed with delight! I was sooo happy to be there. There were many different types of cherry blossoms with various shades of red to pink to white to even hybrid ones that were half pink and half white… You'll find many more cherry blossom photos on my Instagram ;o)

The park was huge and there was no way that we were going to be able to make our way around it all! After a very long time amongst the cherry blossoms, we made our way towards the bridge that took us across the moat surrounding the castle, stopping of for a toffee apple along the way ;o). There were various food and drink stalls by the bridge including an ice cream stall with some interesting flavours like green tea and cherry blossom.
Quite randomly, as we walked up the incline towards the castle we came across an American guy called Justin, known as Soothsayer Electro Violin, who was playing such wonderful music that people, including us, just had to stop and listen. Justin speaks amazing Japanese too and we had a great time chatting with him.
Osaka castle was originally constructed in the 1580s-1590s but since then parts of it have been rebuilt and restored after damage in various wars and battles. However, the high stone walls surrounding the castle are the original from the 1620s. Once at the top of the incline, we took in the beauty of the castle from close up. We didn’t go inside as the queue was very long but we walked towards the edge of the grounds to take in great views of the park below and Osaka itself.

On one of our nights in Osaka we ventured out to find an Egyptian restaurant that we’d read about online but after getting increasingly lost and frustrated in the Umeda train station we gave up! Despite following signs for the red line, we just could not seem to find this train line that we needed to get. After asking for directions from strangers as well as the station staff and still not finding the red line we wandered out of the station and into the night outside for some mental calmness!
HEP Five ferris wheel
Once outside, two buildings/structures caught our eye. One was the Umeda Sky Building which I had really wanted to go to but couldn’t cope with the notion of battling the Osaka train system again. So we went towards the gigantic red ferris wheel which looked like it was walking distance from where we were. The ferris wheel was at HEP Five which is a shopping mall and entertainment centre in Umeda. The ferris wheel protrudes from the top of the HEP Five building. With a diameter of 75 meters, the highest point of the wheel is 106 meters above ground. This was a fantastic way of taking the weight of our feet and enjoying the sights of Osaka from above.
Osaka at night

I hope that should we ever visit Japan again then Osaka will be one of the cities that we go back to simply because there was so much that we just didn’t get time and/or have the energy to see, but I loved what we did see, bar the train system that is ;o)

Have you ever visited Osaka, or Japan for that matter? What was the highlight of your trip? What sights would you recommend?

Love Sheen xxx

Follow on Bloglovin