Today I left fun fun Fukuoka for Osaka. The shinkansen ride took about 2:45, and I got there right at 1:45 p.m.
The way the shinkansen works is that it runs on special tracks designed for high-speed rail. This means that not every station is equipped to handle these trains. So Instead of going to Osaka Station, the shinkansen stops at Shin-Osaka (Shin means ‘new’ in Japanese, by the way. You’ll see a lot of shins in Japan.)
On arrival, I went through my now usual drill whenever I get to a new city in Japan. I get off the train, get out of the way, take my bearings for a few seconds, then start hunting down the information booth, and raid it for maps and pamphlets. I find it’s the most efficient way to find the big sights in a town. I’ll cross-check with guidebook opinions, but I’ll go with the pamphlet’s directions, because Lonely Planet Japan’s directions suck.
The maps of Osaka at the station are great, and they’re free.
Free is good.
The next thing I do when I get to a new town is figure out how I’m going to get to the hotel.
Precisely, how am I going to get out of the station? Most major stations, and even minor ones, have at least 2 and as many as 40 exits.
So the exit you pick can become important, because if you choose poorly, you can wind up all turned around and lost. Find the station map, make sure which way North is pointing, then proceed to the exit you need.
Shin-Osaka is connected to the subway lines, so it’s not too bad. Follow the subway signs.
It’s kind of far away from my hotel, so I decided to just take subways instead of a cab to the hotel. It might have saved me some time to take a cab, but it’s risky to take cabs in big cities over long distances. Japanese traffic can be horrible, and I didn’t want to risk it.
I got off the subway at Namba station, and promptly got lost. No big surprise there. Prepare to get lost in Japan. It’s just hard to find things sometimes, and it’s oftentimes disorienting. This is why you got the map at the station, anyway. I should have brought a compass. It would have saved me a lot of time.
A nice security guard pointed out the way to go, and I followed it for a bit, then thought I could improve upon it, and got lost again. But this time I knew which way North was, so I figured it out on my own. It took a while, but I found my hotel. It’s the Business Hotel Nissei, and it’s 5,250 yen a night. Dirt cheap, the way I like it. It comes with all the usual amenities, except for Internet.
Ah, well. I’ll survive 2 days without Internet.
I dumped my stuff in the room, which is the tiniest yet– I have to go out into the hallway to change my mind– and made my battle plan. I know I can’t see everything in a city, and if I did, I’d wear myself out and not enjoy it. So I picked today’s and tomorrow’s highlights.
Today I was going to go to Osaka Castle, The Umeda Sky Building Floating Garden Observatory, and wander around Kita Osaka. (Kita is Japanese for North. Another handy word to learn.)
Osaka is broken into 4 districts. Kita (North), Chuo (middle), Minami (South), and the harbor. My goal today was to knock out some sights in Kita and Chuo, and then hit the harbor and Minami on Saturday.
Osaka Castle is in Chuo, and it’s very scenic. There’s a lot of hiking involved. I managed to get there just as the sun was starting to set, so I think I got some good shots of the castle. I love the “golden time,” when the sun gets low and the light gets really nice and reddish-orange.
Photos! Outer gate:
Now some photos of the castle exterior:
Clouds loom overhead:
It looks like someone is climbing outside the guardrail???
Golden light hitting the front of the castle:
I climbed up to the top of the castle, and enjoyed the observation deck. The views from the deck are superb. You can see all of downtown Osaka, and with the late afternoon sun, it was all very beautiful.
Great shot of the castle grounds from the top:
And the Osaka Skyline:
Look, another Ferris wheel!
I went down and took a few pictures of the front of the castle again, bathed in the sunset:
On my way out of the castle area, some nice shots:
I went back down and started walking through the castle park on my way back to the hotel, when I saw a band office. That gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling.
The fountain in the park was pretty.
I walked a little further and saw some of the city’s homeless population setting up tents for the night in the park.
I headed back to the hotel to rest a bit, because I had just walked about 3 miles on an empty stomach, and I was out of gas. I got back around 6, slept until 7:30, grabbed a quick shower and headed to The Umeda Sky Building Floating Garden Observatory, which is in Kita Osaka by Osaka Station. The area is called Umeda.
The Sky Building is two office towers joined in the middle up high by a big 4-5 story sqaure, so the building kind of looks like a boxy Arc d’ Triumphe. It’s a bit of hassle to get to the observation area, but worth it. Only downside– I got there after 9 p.m., so everything but the deck was closed. That was kind of a bummer.
In Japan, if a store closes at 5 p.m., you better get your stuff by 4:45 p.m., because at 4:50 p.m., they’ve already got everything covered up. At 5 p.m., the metal shutters go down. So it doesn’t really close at 5 p.m. It closes about 15 minutes before that. That’s been my experience so far.
Either way, I was out of a chance at souvenirs. Even the restaurants had closed. Then again, I’ve never been a big fan of any eating establishments at the top of Tall Buildings or Towers, except for the late Windows on the World at the old World Trade Center in New York. That was an incredible restaurant.
In general, though, the food at the top of buildings whose claim to fame is their tallness isn’t so hot. The Space Needle comes immediately to mind for some reason.
To get to the observation deck, you climb 3 flights of stairs, take a glass elevator for 32 stories, then go up a 4-story glass enclosed escalator (kind of like a habitrail tube), then you climb 2 more flights of stairs, and you’re there.
At night, Osaka is gorgeous. The views from the observation deck took my breath away. Totally worth it. I tried to take some pictures, but they probably didn’t do any justice.
Had to crop this one a bit:
It’s worth a trip there, if you’re in the area.
Music to My Stomach
By now it’s 9:30 p.m., and I’m weak in the knees with hunger. I’ve been walking all day on not enough food, and I need calories badly. But I don’t want more department store or conbini food. I want real Japanese food. Real Osaka food.
I started hunting, and I finally found a place that serves okonomiyaki. It’s a little tiny restaurant called Melody that has 4 tables and a bar. And it’s almost as big as my hotel room. So it’s a tight fit.
Everyone says okonomiyaki is “a Japanese pancake.” It is not. It is similar in that it’s made from batter and cooked on a griddle, but that’s all. Okonomiyaki is made with a batter with veggies chopped up in it, then you add toppings. The toppings are where it gets fun. I ordered mine “modern,” which means that you cover it with yakisoba (grillled soba noodles in sauce). Then I added shrimp, mayo (which is standard), bonito (dried fish) flakes, and a sweet sauce.
It was so incredibly good. Ah, man. I’m ruined. I don’t know how I’m going to get an okonomiyaki fix in the U.S. now. Let alone, a good one.
Stomach filled, I headed back to the hotel, and made a quick stop at a conbini on the wayto get some supplies for later. (Okay, snacks.) All of this walking consumes a lot of carbs.
I like to believe that, anyway.
Tomorrow I’ll try to visit the Aquarium at the harbor, maybe Universal Studios Japan if I feel like it, or the ukiyoe museum in Minami, and Dotomburi for dinner in Minami. Reality will probably dictate that I dump USJ, but I’ll try to see some of it. I do want to see the ukiyoe place. Ukiyoe is an old style of depicting nature and people. It was popular in the early-mid 19th century.
Random Stuff: you can get license plates where the letters/numbers in the tag light up at night. Way cool.
Everything closes at 8, 9, or 10. Main sights close at 4, 4:30, 5, or 5:30. They have a quick trigger finger on closing stuff. Seriously quick.
Hotels are stingy with power outlets. Bring a power splitter if you can.
Shopping arcades are awesome, and there are lots of shopping arcades in Osaka. I could really dig living here.
The other big Osaka specialty is takoyaki, which are little fried dough balls with octopus inside. I’m going to try to find some to snack on.