Posts Tagged Osaka
Super Dave and I enjoyed a morning of sightseeing and shopping in Osaka before returning to the hotel to recharge and get ready for an evening out.
We set out for Dotonbori, the always exciting nightlife area. The sun was down, all of the city lights were on, and the streets were full of people. We started with a drink (or two) at Hub Pub, a popular English pub chain. From there we found our way to Suntory Old Bar, which unsurprisingly served Suntory Whiskey.
Neither Super Dave or I are whiskey drinkers, but when in a Suntory whiskey bar you can’t just order a beer. We both ordered double whiskey on the rocks. Old Bar had a long, narrow bar with stools and some tables. It wasn’t very busy when we arrived, but I did notice two Japanese women sitting further down the bar. I told Super Dave that he should practice his Japanese skills by talking to the women and asking them to recommend a good place for us to go next. He was nervous about approaching the women, but I kept trying – telling him that he would likely never see them again, so there would be no problem if his Japanese bombed. We practiced some possible phrases and I just about had him convinced, but he changed his mind at the last minute.
Encouraged by the whiskey, I decided to show David that I wasn’t going to ask a friend to do something I wasn’t prepared to do myself. I told Super Dave to follow me, and I approached the women at the end of the bar. I apologized for interrupting, and then introduced us as English teachers from Shizuoka who were visiting Osaka for the first time. I said that we didn’t know the city well, and asked for a recommendation on a good place to go. One of the women called over the bartender; as someone who doesn’t often approach women in bars, I was half expecting her to complain about us. Instead she asked for a pen and paper, and proceeded to draw us a map to a cool sounding bar called Rock Rock.
I thanked them for the help and offered to buy them a drink. They politely declined, so we finished our drinks and went on our way. Having a conversation like this would have been extremely difficult (or impossible) when I first arrived in Japan, so I felt proud of myself as we followed our hand drawn map to the next venue. Thank you Japanese lessons and alcohol!
Rock Rock was a bit of a dive, but with its own style. It wasn’t very busy when we went in, and one of the other customers appeared to be passed out in a booth. Despite this, they impressed us with their music choices; Alice in Chains was playing when we arrived and it only got better from there. Also, Rock Rock served us beer metal goblets! We had a few goblets (not a phrase I ever expected to type), before deciding to find somewhere different.
When we hit the night air outside of Rock Rock I realized just how drunk I was. Super Dave was feeling no pain, but I was really hammered. We wandered the area until we found ourselves in an area with narrow streets and lots of tiny pubs. I suddenly became very aware of the fact that I needed a bathroom break. Just when I had started to give up hope and consider finding a dark alley, a beacon of light hit us: a sign with Merseybeat Mojo on it and an outdoor speaker playing The Beatles.
We rushed inside, I made good use of the bathroom, and we moved over to the bar at the end of the narrow room. The bartender was friendly and spoke English fluently. We ordered drinks, and I finally noticed that despite playing Beatles on the speaker outside, they were playing the Blues Brothers soundtrack inside. When I was a kid, the two movies I watched the most were Blues Brothers and Ghostbusters, likely over 25 times each. I mentioned this to the bartender, his face lit up, and he searched through his rack of CDs to find the Ghostbusters soundtrack.
We were joined at the bar by two Korean women who were out on a pub crawl as well. They were also well into their evening, and the bunch of us attempted to have drunken conversations in Korean, Japanese, and English.
Details after this point are a bit fuzzy – we did leave the bar at some point and flagged down a taxi. The driver had no idea where our hotel was, but thankfully we had brought a brochure from the hotel that included a map – this is a highly recommended travel tip, especially when alcohol is involved. I don’t remember getting back to our room, but I do have some memories of spending much of the night next to the toilet in our bathroom. Sorry Super Dave!
Japan is filled with old castles, and most of them have been destroyed and rebuilt several times. Osaka Castle is no exception; the main tower and surrounding buildings have been destroyed and rebuilt many times over, with the most recent restoration in 1995. After seeing Himeji Castle twice (which was never destroyed), I wasn’t sure that I would enjoy Osaka castle as much. I ended up being pleasantly surprised.
The current version of Osaka Castle is a restored exterior with a modern museum inside. The museum tells the story of both Osaka and Osaka Castle, which was played key roles in the struggle to reunify Japan in the 1500s. The museum was interesting and interactive, and featured excellent English signs.
We explored the castle for a few hours, and then headed towards the obligatory gift shop near the exit. Outside the gift shop is a giant golden tiger and a box full of samurai gear so you can pose for a picture. There were a lot of Japanese people standing around, looking at the tiger and cool samurai clothes, obviously wanting to take a picture, but nobody wanted to be the first person to step up. Fortunately my dad was there to bravely volunteer:
My dad had just traveled half way around the world and was in a modern restoration of a 500 year old castle. I don’t think anything could have stopped him from getting a picture with a fake sword in front of a golden tiger. The crowd of Japanese people, now happy that none of them had to go first, formed an orderly line to dress up and take pictures.
This is exactly the kind of thing that would have embarrassed me when I was a grumpy teenager. However, as a 27 year old I realized that my dad was actually pretty cool, not to mention fun to travel with.
Next up, Osaka Aquarium!
My parents and I spent our afternoon exploring the magnificent Himeji Castle, and then headed to Osaka to check into our hotel. I had booked us rooms in the Park Hotel Rinkai, an inexpensive business hotel where I had stayed last year. It’s not the fanciest hotel, but it’s centrally located and inexpensive.
Park Hotel Rinkai is easily accessible from two different stations on the Osaka subway. The problem is that I couldn’t remember which exit to use, and we ended up wandering around for some time trying to find our way with street maps, my fuzzy memory, and some good old fashioned guessing.
We did eventually find the hotel, and checked in at the same time as a large group of middle aged Asian women. After checking in, we jammed into a tiny elevator filled with short, chatty women. We were at the back wall of the elevator, so I needed someone to press the buttons for us.
“すみません、１０回のブタンを押してください” (Please push the button for 10th floor) I said politely. This got no reaction. Figuring that they might not have heard me over their conversation I repeated myself slightly louder and more clearly. The woman closest to the elevator turned to me and responded in English “Sorry, not Japan, Korea. Korea.”
I responded with the only phrase I know in Korean. “Annyeong haseyo! (Hello) Please push 10”. This got the desired response, and a good laugh from the Korean ladies in the elevator.
I had tried to warn my parents that the hotel rooms were going to be small. I think they were expecting Canada small and not Japan small. They were shocked to see the tiny rooms that I had booked us into. Their room had two single beds (my dad snores like a rusty chainsaw), with barely enough room for their tiny suitcases. My room was so small that the three of us could barely fit inside at the same time, and we are all small people!
I remembered the hotel being fairly quiet the last time, however I didn’t have a tour bus full of excited middle aged women on vacation staying there at the time. Our fellow guests were up late chatting, singing, and generally enjoying themselves. I have now added “middle aged Korean women” to my list of fun people to party with in the future.
After thoroughly enjoying my visit to Osaka aquarium, I walked into a nearby shopping area to get some food. As luck would have it, I wandered into Naniwa Kishinbo Yokocho, which was designed to look like 1970s era Osaka. Walking around was a lot of fun, but I was focused on my goal of finding one of Osaka’s two famous foods: takoyaki (fried octopus balls) and okonomiyaki (like an omelette pancake). Both Hiroshima and Osaka have claims on okonomiyaki, the difference being that Hiroshima’s version has fried noodles inside.
After walking around for a while, I ended up walking into the nearby Tempozan Harbor Village where I followed my nose to a delicious smelling okonomiyaki restaurant called “Tsuruhashi Fugetsu“. I was shown to a table with a large grill in the middle. After looking at the Japanese only menu, I ordered pork okonomiyaki both because it sounded delicious, and because it was one of the few items I could read from the menu.
Usually when I am eating alone in a restaurant I am always reading a book. In this case I had to be careful not to let my book get too close to the grill. Fortunately I had no issues and enjoyed reading while eating the fantastic okomoniyaki that the server cooked at my table.
After eating, I got up to continue my exploration of Osaka. While I was in the aquarium, my knee had started to hurt a little. I injured my knee in University due to some grain alcohol fueled misadventures and it has never really been the same since. Usually it doesn’t bother me, but due to the amount of walking I have done in the past few days, it was becoming very uncomfortable. After lunch I was really starting to notice the pain.
To give my knee a rest, I went to a nearby IMAX theatre (Osaka Port has everything), and watched a cool 3D movie about New York City. After the movie my knee was hurting more, and I was starting to limp. I really wanted to get to Osaka castle, but reluctantly made the decision to end my trip short.
I went back to Osaka station, and did a little shopping in an import food store to kill some time while waiting for the shinkansen. I could have used at least another day in Osaka, but I don’t think that my knee would cooperate. I will have to go back another time! I really did enjoy my short time in Osaka and wish I could have stayed longer.
(2015 Update) I realized much later that one of the big differences between traveling by myself and traveling with someone else is that I am much less likely to stop and take breaks when I am on my own. When I started to think about the insane amount of walking I did in my two day trip to Himeji and Osaka and the short amount of time I spent sitting, it’s no wonder that my knee was hurting.
If you are sightseeing in Japan, be prepared for lots of walking. And if you are traveling by yourself, take breaks! It’s important!
Despite a very long day of walking yesterday, I woke up refreshed after a good night’s sleep in my hotel bed. I have been sleeping on a futon so long, that I forgot how amazing it is to sleep in a bed.
I ate breakfast and checked out of the hotel, then walked to the subway station. My destination was Osakako station. In this case the “ko” means port. The Osaka port area has several attractions, the biggest and most impressive being Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan. The aquarium is one of the largest in the world.
Visitors enter at at ground level, then take an elevator to the top of the structure. There are tanks featuring aqua life of all kinds from different regions of the world, all in separate tanks. The tanks are arranged around the outside of the building, allowing visitors to spiral downward to see the same areas at lower and lower depths. In the center of the structure is a huge tank featuring a 12 meter long whale shark. The lowest levels of the aquarium feature special tanks that include giant crabs and jellyfish.
Osaka aquarium is a world class facility that should be on everyone’s must do in Osaka list. Aside from the wide array of aquatic life from around the world, the most interesting part of the experience was the people. Most of the gaijins in the building (no, I wasn’t the only one), were busy taking pictures of the fish and reading the information. The Japanese people, especially the children, were making several comments that everything looked delicious. Note to entrepreneurs: open a sushi restaurant right outside the exit of Osaka Aquarium. It’s guaranteed to succeed.
After spending the afternoon exploring Himeji castle, I returned to the station to catch a train to Osaka. The station area is an interesting contrast to the massive 400 year old castle that dominates the view. All of the buildings are big and blocky. There is an interesting mix of office buildings, fast food restaurants, hostess bars and kimono shops.
I was happy to get back on the train and off my feet for a while. I took a Tokaido line rapid train to Osaka, which took about an hour. I could have also taken the shinkansen, but I would have spent more and only saved about 15 minutes.
Osaka station is HUGE. The station area combines both Osaka station and Umeda station. It serves over 2 million passengers each day, and is one of the top 5 busiest train stations in the world. I managed to navigate my way through Osaka station into the connected Umeda subway station to catch a train towards my hotel.
I had made an online reservation at Park Hotel Rinkai, an inexpensive business hotel in central Osaka. The online reservation explained that the hotel was close to two different subway stations. This statement was true, however the subway stations themselves were connected together in a sprawling underground maze. Navigating a confusing subway station after a full day of exploring a castle is difficult. I went to street level and found that all of the buildings looked very similar. This combined with no street names made locating the hotel an exercise in frustration. After about 30 minutes and several creative uses of four letter words, I finally found it thanks to street maps and some luck.
I booked the hotel both for the location and the cost. My single room was only 5800 yen (about $58) per night. This seemed like a good deal for being centrally located in Japan’s second largest city. I checked in using Japanese (the staff didn’t speak English at all), and went to my room. At this point I realized why the room only cost 5800 yen – it was TINY. The room was about the same size as my single dorm room at the University of Manitoba. There was a single bed, a desk, and a tiny bathroom that somehow jammed a toilet, sink, and deep bathtub / shower into a space better suited as a closet.
Despite being small, the room was clean, fairly quiet, and well equipped. Also, it really was close to the train station if you knew the correct exit number. The TV had regular local channels, but for 1000 yen I could buy a “movie card” at a vending machine near the elevator that would allow free unlimited access to all the movies for 24 hours. And when I say all the movies, I mean ALL the movies. There were brochures that gave hints to the different options available. Watching them all in 24 hours would have been impossible.
On a likely unrelated note, there was a sign on the TV indicating that I could order an in room massage by calling the front desk. I looked at the English translation of the hotel guide for details (always read the hotel guide to find where the nearest fire exit is), and the guide explained that yes, a masseuse could be ordered. I am going to assume it was a real massage, and not a “massage”. The bigger question is how could anyone get a massage in a hotel room that tiny.
By this point it was still before 8:00pm. I changed clothes and headed back out to the subway station to seek out an attraction from my guidebook – The Umeda Sky Building. The building is famous for its design: it looks like a table on top of two glass towers. There is a glass elevator from ground level to the 35th floor, and a glass walled escalator takes you up to the 39th floor. A glass walled escalator is an interesting experience, especially at night when the city it lit up. Not recommended for those afraid of heights.
The escalator lets you off at the 39th floor, which offers amazing 360 degree views of Osaka. It’s also possible to go up to the rooftop “floating garden” for an open air view of the city. Unfortunately it was raining at the time, so I didn’t spent much time on the rooftop. If you like unique buildings or tall places with a good city view, Umeda Sky building is a cool place for both in Osaka.
I spent a long time looking out the windows at Osaka before finally deciding to call it a night and head back towards my hotel, and towards a long overdue dinner.
(2015 Note) Unfortunately Park Hotel Rinkai has closed permanently. It was a good, inexpensive place to stay in Osaka. I ended up staying there 2 more times before moving back to Canada.