Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Japan: Osaka Day 3 - A Day in the City

So many things to see and do. So little time. What do you do when you only have a few days to spend in Osaka? You make the most out of it and visit the absolute must visit places that are unique to this extraordinary city. That was what I do for my short 4D3N trip in June 2013 and for one entire day, I dedicated everything to the lovely city.

1. Osaka Castle
A castle in the middle of the city is not to be missed, especially for first time visitors to Osaka. To find out how to get to the castle, read my previous post on transportation means. As this famous tourist attraction is right smack in the middle of the park in the middle of the city, it took us a while to stroll through the park (famous too for cherry blossom viewing in spring) before we eventually reached the main entrance. If uncertain, just follow the signs or the hoards of tourists groups.

I was there relatively quite early at 10am and thankfully there were no tourist groups present although there was a very colorful Chinese group of friends. A steady drizzle of rain drove everyone inside the castle for cover and to the food stores that surrounded the main open space where the entrance was.

Osaka entrance view

The top of the castle is at the eight floor and you can either opt to take the stairs or the lift. Deterred by the long line waiting for the lift, my mom and I started up eight flight of stairs, not without questioning our decision. The floors to the top made up the museum that displayed the history behind the beautiful structure. There are flight of stairs heading up and another heading down to facilitate better control over the flow of the crowd but of course there were a few morons lost souls going down on the up-ward stairs and vice versa. 

Things to see and do.

The floors consisted of various ancient artifacts vital to the castle's history that tells the story of its war value to Japan's rich past. There were displays of the items once used by its builder, Toyotomi Hideyoshi such as notes, letters and even his clothes. For these, flash photography was not permitted as the burst of light might wear out the ink and colour. Of course, once again, there were inconsiderate tourists (aforementioned Chinese group) who ignored this rule completely and proceeded to pose in front of the displays, their camera flash going off repeatedly. An old man served as the caretaker but unfortunately he did not see what they did.

A fun and free souvenir activity was collecting the ink stamp in certain sections and you take your stamp piece of paper home as a memorabilia.If that's not for you, there was also a photo-taking area where tourists can dress up like a samurai or a soldier and pose for a photo opt.

The view from the top of the castle would have been stunning had the cloud dispersed but it was easy to picture what a magnificent sight it would be in spring with the cherry blossoms blooming across the park on a sunny day.

Panoramic view of Osaka Park.

Address: Osakajo, Chuo-ku, Osaka
Opening hours: 9am-5pm (Last admission at 430pm)
Closed: December 28th through January 1st
Website: http://www.osakacastle.net
Fee: 600yen

2. Osaka Museum of History
After the castle, my mom and I headed over to the museum which was situated within walking distance of the castle and near the Tanimachi 4-chome station exit 9. At first glance, it appeared more like an office block but you will be awed at the exhibits inside.

Museum of History.

There are 10 floors but the permanent exhibits are on the 10th to the 7th floors and visitors have to work their way down from the top floor during which they can also have a great view of Osaka Castle.

Each floor depict different periods of Osaka's 1400 year history with life-size reconstruction, scale models and key photographs and videos. On the 7th floor, there was even a section where a staff will help you change into a yukata, stroll around the exhibit and take pictures. Free of charge.

It was fun getting dressed in a yukata with the help of an experienced staff and walking around in it on platform sandals. I had to take tiny but quick steps to move around because the skirt was tight. A small pillow was stuffed between my sash and back to make sure my back was rim-rod straight. I salute the girls and ladies who walk around in their yukatas and kimonos.

Occasionally there will special exhibits on display on the lower floors at an additional charge. Like Osaka Castle, I recommend visiting this place before lunch to avoid the tourist groups.

All within the musuem.
Address: 1-32 Otemae 4-Chome, Chuo-ku, Osaka City

Opening hours: 930am-5pm (Sat - Thurs), 930am - 8pm (Fri) (Last admission 30min before closing)
Closed: Tuesday (If Tuesday is a National Holiday, Closed on Wednesday), 28 Dec - 4 Jan
Website: http://www.mus-his.city.osaka.jp
Fee: 600yen

3. Kuromon Ichiba Market
To be perfectly honest, I stumbled upon Kuromon Market by accident on the way back from Osaka Museum. I read about Osaka Kitchen though during my research and found that the local chefs frequent the biggest food and vegetable market in the city to get fresh quality ingredients and kitchen utensils.My mom and I got off at the Nipponbashi station and after getting turned around a few times, found ourselves in the covered market.

Dorayaki uncle.

It was past lunch then so a lot of the fresh, raw product stalls were closed by the time we got there but there are several eateries available that offer delicious Japanese delicacies and snacks like Dorayaki, grilled scallops, tuna and the best part.....Kobe Beef.

Beef, beef and everything beef stall.

I can't remember the name of the stall but it was at a cross junction within the market. There you can find all sorts of cuts and grades for you to buy or grill on the spot for your consumption. Prices range from 600 - 1500yen. 

Kobe beef.

The Kobe beef I had was whipped up well done for us and it was literally melt-in-your-mouth delicious! The insides were grilled to perfection and the meat was simply juicy with flavour. This place was a real hidden treasure and like any hidden treasure, I can't tell you where to find it (because I am also uncertain) except that it was in Kuromon market. 

Address: 542-0073 1-15-6 Nippombashi, Chuo-ku, Osaka City
Opening hours: Varies by each shop.
Website: http://www.kuromon.com/

4. Tombori River Cruise 
After Kuromon Market, we found our way back to the Dotonbori in time to catch the hourly evening river cruise along the Tombori River. The river flows between Dotonbori and Shinsaibashi and is remarkably clean considering the number of people visiting the place!

So anyway, we clambered onto a boat about to set off only to find that....everyone in the boat save for us were Japanese. Our guide, Hiro spoke simple English though and tried his best to explain the attractions of Dotonbori as we set off. I knew a bit of Japanese and got the gist of what he was saying to the Japanese group but my mom was completely at a lost and kept asking me to translate for her.

Our guide Hiro-chan
The entire cruise took about 20mins and down the river during which we passed nine unique bridges of different designs and made of either steel or stone. We also got a close-up look of the iconic Glico Man (with a Star Wars' theme) and a few famous love hotels along the way. Throughout the ride, we had random people waving at us from the banks and snapping photos of us and us of them.

Colourful sights and sounds of Dotonbori.
It was an interesting ride and a good break from all the walking we've been doing.  It was a pity though that it was mostly conducted in Japanese because I would love to learn more about the bridges.

After the cruise, we strolled through Shinsaibashi again and I came across this interesting and pretty manhole cover in the middle of the street. I managed to catch a break in the endless flow of people to snap a clear picture. Got to love how much thought and artistic input goes into beautifying the city. And that no one has stole this cover yet. I was tempted though.

Pretty cover.
Address: Tazaemonbashi Pier
Opening hours: 1 - 9pm (weekdays), 11am-9pm (weekends and public holidays) (Boat departs every half an hour)
Website: http://www.ipponmatsu.co.jp
Fee: 700 yen
5. Neko no Jikan 
I admit. I got lost looking for this place. After walking the whole day, my feet and brain were fried and I could not process the streets anymore. I was in the right area, America-mura but I missed the street by a few shop lots. It was very frustrating but I persevered for my love of cats (and because I miss my furkid therapy) and after an hour, found the place. 

I was close to jumping up and down in joy when I saw the signage for Neko no Jikan, the supposedly first cat cafe in Japan and scrambled up the stairs to the first floor. Shoes are to be removed before entering the warm and cosy cafe and at the reception, the human staff provided us with an English menu of cakes and drinks. 
Guests have several options to select from to spend time with the cats. 
Option 1: 1 hour with the cats = 1000yen
Option 2: 1 hour with the cats plus 1 drink = 1250yen
Option 3: 1 hour with the cats plus a drink and cake = 1500yen.

Mom and I opted for option 3 after a tiring morning and afternoon and quickly smoothed ourselves with the felines perched on every available surface. There were about 10 kitties at that time, all of which have been taken off the streets or adopted. I found it funny that most of them were purebred felines which made me wonder who would abandon them? 

Warm ambiance for humans and cats.
I paid the most attention to a flat-face Persian with the most adorable wheeze whenever I tickled his chin. There was also a munchkin that was scrambling all over the floor after the older more agile cats.  Here, I got to try my hand at animal photography under very low lighting conditions and it wasn't easy getting decent shots of the cats.
For our coffee, tea and cake set, we had selected a latte, earl grey tea, cheesecake and a brownie. While the tea was fragrant, there was nothing spectacular about the coffee. The cakes were good though although served in a small portion. I liked the cat biscuit touch added to the set and that the cheesecakes came in cat shape.

Cafe staff hard at work.
The hour ended too soon and I sadly bid goodbye to the cats there. I will definitely visit this cat cafe the next time I come.

Address: Villa Inoue 2-A 2-17-10 Nishishinsaibashi, Chuo-ku, Osaka city
Opening Hours: 11am - 9pm. Reception closes one hour before the closing time.
Website: http://www.nekonojikan.com
Fees: 1000 - 1500 yen.

6. Umeda Floating Garden Observatory
After the cat cafe, my mom and I made a quick stop at our hotel to drop off our purchases and to freshen up before heading out again, this time taking the train to the Umeda area. Another iconic structure of modern Osaka, the Floating Garden Observatory was located at the top of the Umeda Sky Building. After a 15minutes walk from the Umeda main station, we joined the long line of people waiting to ride the lift to the observatory level from the third floor. After 30 minutes of queuing, we were finally in the lift riding up to the 40th floor.

Ground view- looks like an eclipse.

The view from the top was spectacular! Unlike most towers where the observation place was enclosed, the Floating Garden Observation was open to the clear view of a 360-degree panoramic view of Osaka. This is also a popular spot amongst love-birds and couples for its romantic, under-the-moonlight ambiance. Me, I just wanted to take photos of the view and of the moon which was supposedly a super moon that night. But because it was so cloudy, I couldn't get a nice shot.

Moon over the city

Panoramic view.

Address: 1-1-88, Oyodonaka, Kita-ku, Osaka
Opening hours: 10am to 1030pm (Last entrance: 10pm)
Website: http://www.kuchu-teien.com
Fees: 700yen

I should mention that for the Osaka Castle, Museum of History, Tombori River Cruise and Umeda Floating Garden Observatory, I did not have to pay a single yen as I had complimentary entrance thanks to the Osaka Unlimited Pass. There are many other tourist attractions that are included in the pass as well. Getting to these locations were also a breeze thanks to the pass.

For more photos of Osaka, head on over to my photo album: Osaka 2013: Day 3 - A Day in the City

Read about: 
Transportation around Osaka tips - Getting around and about Osaka 
Osaka 2013 Day 1: Shinsaibashi and Dotonbori
Osaka 2013 Day 2: Nara & Kyoto
Osaka 2013 Day 3: A Day in the City
Osaka 2013 Day 4: The Last Day and also, Momofuku Ramen Museum
Osaka Flight & Accommodation: Osaka Flight & Hotel package


Unknown said...

hello! I love your blog!!!:) its very detailed and can really help first timers in Osaka.. my family and i were also planning to go there this april, and we didnot book by tour package...did you guys go by tour?
and how much pocket money should we bring?:) hehe

Unknown said...

this is phoebe by the way (im using my brother's google account coz i dont have one:) hihi)

Tania said...

Hi, Phoebe and Samuel ;)
Thank you for dropping by. I am glad this post was helpful to you. I did not go on a tour for Osaka as I usually prefer free and easy and doing everything at my own pace. But of course, transportation and directions can be a real puzzlement without a tour guide.
For a 4Ds trip, we brought approximately RM3000 for food, transportation and misc expanses. Hope this helps :)

Potato Queen Travel and Lifestyle said...

Hi Tania, I randomly stumbled upon your blog just coz i miss jp so much. I lived in itami which is just above osaka for a month in oct 2013 for business trip. I salute on how u could do so much with such limited time. I only go out during weekends so it was indeed very tired to squeeze so much places. If you have more time in jp, i recommend to explore kyoto more esp during autumn coz it is so beautiful. U can visit sagano bamboo forest which is commonly seen in wallpapers and tourism websites, kinkaku-ji the golden pavillion, nijo castle, the philosopher's path and fushimi inari red torii gates. If have even more time can go to kobe which is about same distance frm osaka to kyoto and wakayama but it takes about 4hours of travel time

Tania said...

Hi, Alice

Thank you for dropping by! It must have been a whole different experience staying in Japan for a whole month and doing what the locals do. But like you, Japan has a special place in my heart and in fact, I am going there again for the cherry blossom season. It'll be a longer trip this time but no less exhausting as i'll be going to Kobe, Kyoto, Nara and Osaka. I am already planning to visit all your recommended places :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Tania, I stumbled upon your blog when I was searching for Osaka travel tips.. it's an very interesting read on your trip there... i will be going there in Nov for 8 days and hope you can give me some suggestion of the nice places I should cover in the trip as the transportation seems to be very confusing.. it will be such a great help for me... thanks and have a nice day.. Ng ;)

Tania said...

Hi, Ng
Thanks for your comment. The attractions in this post would be a good start and I found recommend a couple of nights in Kyoto. You can get more ideas from my recent trip:
Just drop me an email if you need more help :)