Our visit to Osaka we split in two parts. Firstly, we chose to spend a day there on our way from Kyoto to Hiroshima, and, secondly, we planned to stay in Osaka in the end of our JR Pass trip before returning to Tokyo. When planning our trip, I tried to avoid long train rides. Although traveling by Shinkansen is much fun, spending the whole vacation day on the road within a country does not feel right. Since the furtherest stop of our journey was in Kumamoto on the island of Kyushu, the return trip to Tokyo would have taken long, so I decided that adding a breaking point somewhere on Osaka would be nice.
Getting from Kyoto to Osaka takes a little bit more than one our. Having arrived to the Shin-Osaka station, we left our luggage in the lockers at the station and went to the famous Osaka Castle accidentally passing by a small open-air bonsai trade fair.
Visiting Osaka Castle and its surroundings
The castle is located in a huge park in the Chuo Ward of Osaka, the nearest station is Osaka-jo-koen on the JR Loop Line.
Inside the castle park we first visited Hokoku Shrine honouring Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the ruler of Japan who built the original Osaka Castle in 1583. People come to visit this temple to wish for good luck and success in their careers, because Hideyoshi achieved his high rank starting as an ordinary peasant.
The castle park is also known for its hanami, or cherry blossom viewing, spots. We were lucky to come to Japan during the peak season.
The present version of the castle was built as it is now in the end of 19th century in place of the original construction. As many old wooden buildings, it burned down several times, being struck by a lightning, defeated by enemies, and bombed during the World War II. The exterior of the castle resembles its present appearance, while the interior is modern. Nowadays the castle functions as a museum, exhibiting numerous artefacts revealing the history of the Osaka Castle. Even if you are not a big museum fan, I would still recommend to go inside. The view from the observation deck on top of the castle is totally worth it.
Okonimiyaki is a Japanese dish, which is especially popular in Kansai and Hiroshima areas. It can be described as something in-between pizza and pancake. Traditionally in the restaurants it’s being fried in front of you on a heated broad flat metal surface on a table — or you fry it yourself if you know how. The typical ingredients are cabbage, green onion, pork, octopus, squid, shrimp, vegetables and bonito flakes, all covered with batter. Although it’s a rather heavy dish, it is definitely worth trying it, because the whole experience is quite fun.
Exploring the Dotonbori area
Dotonbori area is probably the most famous tourist spot in the city. Being full of restaurants, bars and shops with grotesque signboards and bright neon lights, it has a very unique vibe.
Many of the landmarks in the area have become iconic. Among them are:
- the ‘Running man’ sign of Glico, being there since 1935;
- the mechanical crab Kani Doraku;
- the huge yellow Ferris wheel of the Don Quijote shop;
- the Konamon Museum, or museum of takoyaki, which is another popular dish in Osaka made with octopus’ meat;
- the dragons of the Kinryu Ramen stores;
and many other!
We had so much fun walking along the Dotonbori canal, crossing its bridges and recognising all the famous signboards previously seen on photographs in travel booklets and blogs.
We did not have much time for a Ferris wheel ride this time, but I guess I know what we will do next time in Osaka.
Having visited the Universal Studios theme parks in Florida before, we decided to skip the one in Osaka, however, I’ve heard that in the area outside the park, there is a Hard Rock Cafe. I already bought a pin in another Hard Rock Cafe in Osaka earlier and asked there, whether the pins are the same at the Universal Studios. I was told that they have different pins, but I guess something got lost in translation, because they turned out to be the same. Nevertheless, going there was fun. I was surprised how similar that area looked to what I saw in the US! Many shops and restaurants were just like those at the park in Florida.
This trip to the area nearby the Universal Studios was actually already during our second visit to Osaka. Having arrived to the city rather late, we didn’t have that much time left for any other activities, so we simply decided to finish the evening at a kaiten sushi place at some of the stations we were passing by on our way back to the hotel.
Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
On that day we had plans for the evening in Tokyo, which meant we had only half a day free in Osaka. We woke up early and went to see the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, which is known to be one of the largest public aquariums in the world. We were truly impressed by its size and the variety of exhibited species. There are several tanks corresponding to the regions of the Pacific Rim. In the biggest tank, representing the Pacific Ocean, one can see two whale sharks. I found especially interesting and unique the jellyfish area, where various kinds of jellyfish were presented in a truly mesmerising way.
Photos taken in March 2018