Exploring Osaka

After being reunited at Manila airport, we had a long day of travelling before arriving into Osaka, where we would be spending the first two nights of our trip to Japan. 

Even on the very efficient Japanese public transport it still took us around an hour to reach our hotel, and it was late by the time we had checked in. We were very hungry by this point, and were fortunate enough to find a late night ramen shop just around the corner, which gave us a delicious first taste of Japanese food.

We only had one full day in Osaka, and therefore had lots to see and do. This was made considerably easier by the 1 day Osaka Amazing passes that we purchased the following morning. The passes cost ¥2,700 (£19) each, and gave us unlimited rides on the Osaka metro system as well as free entrance to over 40 tourist attractions. 

We decided to start the day by exploring the area around Osaka Castle, which was reached with just a short metro journey from our hotel. Our visit to Japan was timed perfectly with the famous Cherry Blossom season, the blooming of Sakura trees which usually lasts no more than a week in a single location. We took a closer look with a visit Kema Sakuranomiya Park.

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We followed a footpath along the edge of the Okawa River, while admiring the beautiful colours of the Sakura trees that line both sides of the riverbank. The park was clearly very popular with the city’s residents, while there was also lots of other tourists admiring and taking photos of the Cherry blossom.

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After continuing our walk we arrived into the vast Osaka Castle Park. We wandered around the steep moat before crossing over a bridge and through the impressive stone walls to reach the castle. The original Osaka Castle has a long history dating back to 1583, however the current version was built in 1931, and is now considered one of Japan’s most recognisable landmarks.

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We entered into the castle and slowly climbed our way to the 8th floor which is home to an observation deck. It was worth the effort and we were met with panoramic views of the vast park below and the surrounding city. The rest of the floors are home to various exhibits, although with limited time we did not spend long looking through these. 

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Our walk continued to Nishinomaru Garden, which offered some more great views back to the castle. We found a row of food trucks and sampled some Takoyaki (octopus balls) which are a popular Japanese street food.

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After a quick break for some lunch at a nearby conveyor-belt sushi restaurant, we took the metro to the city’s Umeda district. The area is Osaka’s main transport hub and a popular shopping district, and we joined the large crowds wandering around the many shopping malls.

We found our way to the HEP FIVE mall, and after passing through six floors full of designer clothing we arrived at the top floor. This is the entrance to a large Ferris wheel which is attached to the top of the building. After queueing briefly, we entered into one of the gondolas and began our journey to the top.

It took around 15 minutes to complete a circuit of the wheel, with the highest point 106m above the ground. The views of the city from the top were spectacular, while there was even a speaker to allow us to play music from our phone as we travelled round.

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In the search for an even better view of the city, we continued to the Umeda Sky Building. The landmark building features two glass towers which are joined at the top by a round observation deck. 

Having timed our visit close to sunset, there was a large queue for the elevators  to the 170m high observation deck. However it was well worth the wait, and we were greeted at the top with spectacular views of the vast city. We wandered around the indoor observation deck before climbing to the roof, which gave us a closer look at the building’s fascinating architecture. 

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The temperature had begun to drop by this point, especially given we were on an exposed rooftop, however we persevered and waited for the light to fade and the city’s buildings began to light up. 

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We followed this with some delicious dinner at the nearby Okonomiyaki Kiji. After waiting for one of the few tables we enjoyed several okonomiyaki, which are Japanese savoury pancakes with various meat or fish fillings. 

After another short metro journey we arrived in the Dotonbori district where we spent the rest of the evening. The area is centred around the Dotonbori Canal, and one of the city’s most popular tourist destinations. We were greeted by an overwhelming display of flashing neon lights and signs, which could make Times Square seem understated. This included the famous Gilco Running Man, an advert for the candy company that was originally installed in 1935.

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We wandered around the busy shopping streets before deciding to finish the day with another cruise. The short tour took us along the canal, with a guide explaining more about the area and pointing out buildings of historical significance. Unfortunately his English was only slightly better than our Japanese, so the information was mostly lost in translation.

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The following morning started with coffees from the trendy Brooklyn Roasting Co, and after getting our caffeine fix we continued to the Kuromon Ichiba Market. One of the city’s largest, the market has been around for well over 100 years and offers a huge array of street food and fresh produce, as well as clothing and electrical items.

It was extremely busy, and as we pushed our way through the crowds we had plenty of time to view the various goods on offer. We managed to put together an usual breakfast of octopus fritters, gyoza and macha flavoured Kit Kats.

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We returned to the Dotonbori district, where we visited the Round One Stadium arcade. Although they have mostly disappeared in other countries, gaming arcades are still hugely popular in Japan. In fact, we were greeted by the strange sight of rows of smartly dressed businessmen getting their gaming fix while on their lunch break. We wandered through several floors of games, before trying our hand at car racing and on a dance mat. However we quickly discovered it is far more fun to watch the expert locals.

This concluded a brilliant trip to Osaka, and despite only having a short amount of time we managed to experience a great deal of what the city has to offer. It was an ideal introduction to Japan, and we were both excited for our next stop in the historic city of Kyoto.

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