I got off the plane in Osaka and got through security. That was when I spent 30 minutes trying to figure out the trains. You see my directions did not really say anything about which line to take or what to look for. It did not tell me anything really and here I was outside the airport looking at a train map that was in kanji. Last time I checked I can’t read kanji and would have preferred the names be in roman letters but they weren’t. Then it dawned on me that I needed money to get a ticket to get on the train. So I fumbled around for a bit with a nearby atm that refused to give me money no matter if I used my US debit card or my Chinese debit card. Apparently it only gave money to those individuals who had Japanese debit cards. So I pulled my Chinese Yuan out and exchanged it. I had hoped to avoid doing that but I had no choice. Once that was done I found a map that was in English and I went to the machine and purchased a ticket. I went in to the train area and that was when I got lost again. I went to a platform and followed some people on a train and then I asked if I was heading toward inner Osaka and they said yes. I sat down and posted about making it to Osaka safely. Then the train took off and I began to worry that I was on the wrong train so I looked up and saw that the screen would switch between Kanji and English. I could not find the stops it mentioned on my map and it seemed like it would not go where I needed it to go. So after a couple stops I got off and as I did the wind took my loosely held instructions to my hostel from me and sent them down to the tracks below. Which meant I had to find the hostel online but my se phone is not the most cooperative piece of technology in the world and after several failed attempts I looked up the site I had made the arrangements through. From there I found the hotel and the directions I had lost. I decided to wait for the next train and get on and see if it was going to where I needed to go because the guy told me the last one would. So when it arrived I got on and this time I saw my stop. I was ecstatic as I took a seat and rode to the station I needed. When I got off the train I left the station and followed the directions to the hostel. When I arrived I was pleased to discover the room was a one bed place and I would not be sharing my sleeping quarters with anyone. It meant I could leave things there with a measure of safety I would not feel normally. Mind you I was not planning on leaving anything of value behind but knowing my extra shoes and clothes could sit about freely was great. Another benefit to this place was the television it had in the room. I could not understand anything but it was nice to flip through the channels anyway.
After the journey I had getting there I pretty much called it a night once I checked in. I spent way too many hours reading my guidebook and making a plan for the next day. It was late when I finally called it a night and it was early when I got up the next morning to explore the city.
When I awoke I walked to the subway. This seems like a good time to explain that there are several modes of public transport in Japan. There is the “don’t call it a subway” metro, the JR lines, Shinkansen (bullet train), a number of private train companies, and the buses. So anyway I was riding the subway. I bought my day pass and headed to Osaka Castle.
Osakajo, or Osaka Castle, lies in the middle of a 2 km square park. Which I am sure in other times of the year is gorgeous. It was still pretty nice with some of the trees showing fall colors. December is a weird time of the year to travel to Japan. Osakajo was originally built in 1583 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. He had a vision to unite Japan under his rule and his lineage. It worked, at least until 1615 when Tokugawa Hidetada destroyed the castle and ended Toyotomi’s line. Tokugawa liked the idea of the castle and had it rebuilt in 1620. Apparently it was not in the cards for the castle to exist in the 1600’s because it burnt down in 1665 after being struck by lightning. It was rebuilt in 1931, this time in concrete. It was left untouched by the air raids during the war. in 1997 the place got a facelift and it seemed to be partly under construction or maintenance when I was visiting. Inside you can learn more about Toyotomi Hideyoshi and the history of the castle. It was all in Japanese but a lot of the time if you know where to ask you can get an English audio guide. I did not so a lot of the displays was limited to a paragraph of English here and there. It was still amazing though and the top of the castle allowed for an excellent view of the park and the surrounding city.
Before I entered the castle and learned a little about Toyotomi, I stopped outside the castle and had coffee and takoyaki. The coffee was from a vending machine, cost 130 yen (about a dollar), it was hot, and in a little can. The takoyaki came from a vendor who put some vinegary sauce on it, green onions and served it to me fresh from the little maker. Takoyaki is little round wheat balls filled with octopus, pickled ginger, and green onion. They are pretty darn good really but these particular ones were the best I would have in Japan.
When I was done I left there and headed to the Osaka Museum of History. It was just outside the park and explained a lot about Osaka’s past. It had some great dioramas and some awesome displays. This time I grabbed the English audio guide and learned a lot more. In fact, I learned so much that I was there for hours and after a while stopped listening to the audio because I wanted to move on. It’s a great museum but I wanted to go to the aquarium. So I went.
I got on the subway again and headed toward the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan. The aquarium is one of the best in Japan and it was pretty amazing. It has 15 tanks and features different ocean life from around the Pacific Rim. It had dolphins, seals, otters, giant fish and rays, as well as whale sharks. The whale sharks surprised me when I reached that tank because I had no idea they would have something that big inside a tank in this aquarium. It was a wonderful place to spend an afternoon. When I was leaving I saw the setting sun and decided to sit while it went down below the horizon. It was a spectacular sunset over the water.
When it was over I went in search of food because I hadn’t eaten anything but the takoyaki and coffee. I went into the mall next to the aquarium and settled on having sushi at one of the places. This was after I bought two really expensive hats because my brain did the math wrong. The sushi was good and when I was done I headed outside and hopped on the ferris wheel and got a nice view of the city at night. The ferris wheel peaked my need to go to a tall building so on the way home I diverted my travel to take me to Umeda Sky Building.
The Umeda Sky Building is 173 meters tall and has an observatory on the 39th floor. The building is not super close to the subway stop but it can definitely be seen from there. There is an underground passageway you take to get there. Due to the tall walls around it I am not quite sure if I went under water or not. When I arrived at the building I was happy to see a Christmas village outside at the foot of the building. I ran around it a little but wanted to get to the observatory before it closed. That meant I went in and headed up to the 3rd floor where I paid the admission and was ushered into an elevator to the top. Inside they had a dining area where you could get snacks and drinks while you looked out the windows. They also had some amazing stars and trees with little gold stars hanging from them. As I wandered around them I was invited to make a wish and was handed a star to write it on and hang from the tree. I did so and I thought it was a nice thing to be a part of.
There were escalators that took you up to the last floor where you could walk around outside. I did so and enjoyed the walkway that was lit with blue and green glowing stones and had amazing views of the city. Then I headed back inside and enjoyed a beer as I looked out at the city a little more. I went down after the beer was drank and the Christmas village was still open. So I walked around and had a gluhwein, a hot german spiced wine. I found a man from Peru and spoke a little Spanish with him and then I headed out.
On the way back to the hostel, I got off at the stop that led me to Dotonbori street which is famous for the food and the neon signs. Somewhere along the many aisles of walkways is a road near a canal that is actually Dotonbori street but I never made it there. I got caught up in the covered walkways filled with places to eat and shop. It was late at this point so I ducked into a kaiten-zushi spot, better known as a conveyor belt sushi place. I grabbed a few plates that caught my fancy, gobbled them down and headed out. I was exhausted at this point and things were closing so I headed to the hostel. When I got home I looked up the route to the hotel I was being picked up at for my tour of Kyoto and then turned out the lights.