Japan: Osaka

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Blurb

I wish this was my first holiday but I would be lying. Japan was actually my dream holiday! My brother went when he was 23 and ever since he returned from his trip there, I have always wanted to go. There is a 9 year age gap between us.

I thought I would start with Japan as we have recently returned from a round trip from West Japan to Central Japan. We hope to return soon, as it is an amazing place, has out of this world ramen and the most polite people I have ever met.

Room

So there were a few different options when we were considering staying in Japan and in this case, Osaka. I will break it down:

  1. Hotel
  2. Hostel
  3. Ryokan
  4. Capsule
  5. Airbnb

Hotel

You can’t go wrong with a hotel but of course that depends on your budget. Japan’s hotels are a bit more pricey and Osaka was no different. You are more likely to have daily maintenance and service on call at a hotel but in my opinion, this is not the best option if you want to immerse yourself in Japanese culture.

Hostel

What more can I say, a hostel is a budget stay and you may be able to meet alot of people and even make some friends. If you are travelling alone with friends then this may be a better option for you. Personally, travelling as a couple, we wanted a personal space!

Ryokan

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Example of a Ryokan – Hotel Ayado

Now if money really is no issue, then this is the best contender in my opinion. A traditional japanese experience. This type of stay usually starts from £300 per person and do not be alarmed if it is more! However, the price includes the stay, breakfast and dinner usually – which consists of a full japanese board. I believe some ryokans will provide a tea service also. Unfortunately, we did not sample this option on this occasion but I would recommend going to a reputable one even if it is pricey.

Capsule

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Futuristic Capsule Hotel (Osaka Cabana)

A capsule hotel is a strange concept and something which you could imagine from the film “The Matrix” or “Fifth Element”. The cost is fairly cheap and what you get is a small container room. It is almost like a hostel as you share a block of capsules with other people but you get your own capsule to sleep in. If you are travelling as a family or couple then they will split you into female and male areas (usually different floors) but it is not uncommon to find male or female only capsule hotels. There are some capsule hotels which will accomodate couples.

Airbnb

This is the option we ended up taking as it gave us our personal space, it was cheap and cheerful, we could cook breakfast ourselves and save some money doing this and choose where we wanted to stay (area-wise). However, although one of the perks one airbnb is that you can choose the area and the budget, you do get what you pay for. So if you go for airbnb, then look at the reviews before going. Fortunately, Bev did all the research for the airbnbs and they were all pretty decent.

A good trait of the Japanese airbnbs are that the owners are very good at communicating and happy to help. It was very common of them to send us pdf or emails detailing how to reach their accomodation from a subway station or the airport.

 

Getting Around

We flew into Osaka Kansai airport, which I was informed is actually an airport they built on water. The alternative is Itami airport which is slightly closer to the center and more North.

Naturally I stayed up during the 18 hour flight binging on all you can watch movies while Bev used me as her pillow. So when we arrived, we were bit apprehensive on reaching our airbnb.

The service desks at Kansai airport were very helpful and the signposts to the subway are easy to follow.

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As you can see above, the subway map is extensive and when me and Bev looked at it, I think we died a little bit inside. However, if you are lost or don’t know which subway to get off at, ask at the desk (even if you mention the subway or area – they will understand even if their english isn’t great). The way the system works is similar to London, however it is more common to just look at the cost of the station and put the yen in rather than paying for the station location.

Fortunately, my cousin and her husband went to Japan earlier in the year and gave us their Pasmo cards – these are like London oyster cards and can be used in pretty much all the major cities – there are alternatives such as IC or Suica cards – definitely invest in these as it saved us alot of time and hassle.

An alternative would be to invest in daily subway cards but then you would have to be going to alot of locations in one day to ensure you’re rinsed it of all its value!

 

Sites

These are some of the sites you can sample in Osaka, we did not exhaust all the sites but we did the main attractions. Unfortunately for Bev, I am one of those people who wants to see it all and I would carry her on my back to see everything if possible.

We spent 2.5 days in Osaka and saw most of the attractions, however if you wanted to stay a week in Osaka then you can comfortably see it all at your own pace and not annoy your partner or friends!

  1. Dotonburi
  2. Umeda Sky Building – Kuchu Teichen
  3. Instant Noodle Museum
  4. Osaka Aquarium
  5. Universal Studios
  6. Osaka Castle
  7. Shitennoji castle
  8. Kuromon Market
  9. Shinsekai
  10. Namba Shrine

Dotonburi

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Famous Glico sign

This is a famous area in Osaka, you can browse day or night but pictures look much better during the night if you need to post it onto social media. When we arrived, we walked through Dotonburi looking for food and there is plenty.

When you walk through, it has the feeling that you expect when you’ve researched Japan online and from what you see in the media; bright lights and bustling crowds. This is a definite place to visit and especially if you want to have a casual exploration of the area. It is also located to the Namba markets which is literally next door, the complexes seem to merge into one.

Dotonbori is one of those places you can visit more than once like the Night Bazaar in Chiang Mai. Everytime you go, there is a shop you did not notice and a new place you want to eat at. Highly recommended.

Umeda Sky Building

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Umeda Sky Building

A landmark site in Osaka which boasts a city view. If you are wondering if you need to book a ticket, then the answer is no. I researched for days and found no answer. You can turn up and pay for a ticket for 1000 yen and is open everyday from 10am-10.30pm. I would recommend going after lunch if during daytime and before dinner if going in the evening. The reason being, we went after lunch and found it to be fairly quiet and if going before dinner, you may be able to sample food from the famous dog street which is nearby (takimi koji).

My favourite part of the building was the long escalator, leading up to the observatory – a very interesting view as you can slowly see the city as you go up. Another place to note is at the entrance, the floating garden which is a very well kept greenery/large hedge which is beautiful.

Instant Noodle Museum

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This was one of my favourite visits, I love visiting museums. This was located out of central Osaka (Ikeda). It is open everyday 9.30am-4pm but closed on a Tuesday. There is no entrance fee but they kindly ask you to purchase a cup noodle which is only 300 yen.

After buying the cup noodle (upstairs) you then can design your cup noodle and choose a flavouring and toppings by walking up to the counter and watch as your creation gets processed – really fun.

There were plenty of kids and you can even learn about the process of making a cup noodle but I think you have to book this prior. After this, you can take your cup noodle home. There is also a exhibition hall which describes the history of instant noodles and the founder Momofuku Ando.

However, the exhibition is very short and I would spend maximum an hour here before moving on, consider looking for other activities to do elsewhere – after this we decided to sample some ramen.

Kuromon Market

A local market and is very similar to asian markets you may have explored if you travel to Asia alot. If you have time then it is nice to walk down the market, I believe it is mainly a food market, so you can grab some quick food as you walk down. We tried some giant prawns which was delicately grilled and sprinkled with an umami seasoning.

Osaka Aquarium and Universal Studios

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The aquarium was nice and next to Universal Studios if you want to lump both activities together. Universal Studios is pricey and we decided to not to go this occasion. The aquarium is open 10am-8pm everyday, you can consider the Kaiyu card or Kansai thru pass which offers discount on this and also transport included, a standard entrance fee is 2300 yen but if you get a card you can claim some benefits from it.

Osaka Castle

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Osaka Caslte in all its glory!

A must see site, the castle is beautiful and looks typical of a japanese style castle surrounded by a large moat and large castle walls. A truly spectacular site in the hot sun and has a beautiful garden grounds. I would definitely leave about 2 hours for exploring the castle as it has a historical account of the castle and the different families which ruled Japan.

I would recommend seeing it and if you can go during the Cherry Blossom season (May season). Entrance fee is 600 yen and the tower is closed December 28 – January 1st and Nishinomaru garden is closed Mondays.

Tennoji Temple

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An old style buddhist temple where the grounds are free to enter but if you want to go into Gokuraku-jodo garden then this costs 300 yen to enter. It is open 8:30 – 16:00 daily but noted on its website that may close for the first ten days of every month. Also the treasure house costs 500 yen to enter and is open during the same hours.

An interesting site if you want to see some of Osaka’s culture from the past. Recommended? Yes of course.

Namba Shrine

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The demon of the shrine

This is a shrine located quite centrally, it is free to enter and is quite a a sight. However apart from taking a nice picture there is no temple to enter or activity to do at the shrine. So if you are on a tight schedule, you might wanna give this a miss but if you have time to spare then go see it, don’t think I have seen other shrines like it.

Eating!

Bev has good taste in food and made a list of some top listed places to go eat when we were travelling in Japan. Osaka did not disappoint with the food it offered and I will never forget the first night we arrived, queueing in the rain outside Ichiran in Dotonburi, my only regret is that I did not have two bowls of ramen. Please, don’t make the same mistake, the first bowl of ramen/sushi/yakitori  you have, order more! It will never taste as good as the first time!

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Simmered chashu on the side.
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Ichiran Tonkotsu. Best ramen I have tasted

We sampled some more ramen in Ikeda at Ippudo. I have the classic ramen (Shiromaru) and Bev had a spicier version (Ippudo Karaka). There are different types of ramen you can sample shio (salt), tonkotsu (pork bone), shoyu (clear broth) and miso – from across Japan.

We then tried a curryhouse chain called CoCo Ichibanya, not a bad meal but I prefer ramen. If you are craving japanese curry then this was decent.

We went to a local restaurant which was top rated for its okonomiyaki, a japanese version of a savoury pancake. It is a mixture of eggs and flour, mixed in with other ingredients and meat such as pork can be added, along with octopus pieces. It is then cooked to crisp perfection and a okonomiyaki sauce is smeared over and seaweed powder + japanese mayo is added. If you go to okonomiyaki chitose then go early as it was popular and will close if it is full. I also got some takoyaki (similar mixture to okonomiyaki with octopus pieces) on the way home, just to keep my belly warm.

We also ventured down Dotonburi to find some fried pork cutlet, the meal was very good and was washed down with a cold premium malts beer.

Top Tips

  1. Visit Japan guide website and make a list of what you want to see in Osaka and double check the opening times
  2. Consider a subway day pass/ Kansai Thru pass or Kaiyu card if you’re looking to save cost – we did not get the Kansai Thru pass as we were not sure if it would run out before we left for Kobe. It is good value for money and definitely consider if you are travelling around Osaka/Kobe/Kyoto.
  3. If you are trying to do a round trip of Japan, I would recommend spending 2.5 to 3 days in Osaka. We had an extra day at the end where we stuffed our faces but in hindsight, would have been nice to go to Universal studios.
  4. If you are flying to/from Kansai airport or any airport then I would recommend placing suitcases in the lockers the night before or early morning so you do not have to shift it around on your last day (if you have a later flight). You will thank me later!

 

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