Hello lovely people…I have finally managed to visit beautiful Japan, and after spending two weeks there I can easily say I cannot wait to be back! I have visited Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Kanazawa and the Chiba prefecture, and had an amazing time exploring and eating super delicious Japanese food! I stayed longer in Tokyo and Kyoto, so I had two days to visit Osaka, which I believe are enough if you cannot stay longer, otherwise I would recommend a three-day stay. Osaka was quite different from what I was expecting, but in a good way; I didn’t think I would love it as much as I did, but it’s actually a great city, fun, colourful, lively, with great food and a lot to do and see. I went to Osaka by bullet train (Shinkansen) from Tokyo station to Shin-Osaka, and it took me around three hours of a pleasant and comfortable journey. Make sure you choose a seat on the right hand side of the train, and at about 45 minutes into your journey you should be able to see Mount Fuji if the sky is clear!
If you are planning on visiting various places around Japan, I highly recommend you buy a Japan Rail Pass. I bought mine about two weeks before I left for Japan on the Japan Experience website. I chose the 7-day pass, as it covered all the trips I had planned on doing, including my train back to Tokyo. Purchasing the pass is easy, you can do it online via one of the official vendors, you then need to exchange your order for the actual pass once you arrive in Japan. I exchanged my order at Haneda airport (JR East Travel Service Centre, Tokyo Monorail 2nd floor ticket gate / arrival lobby), but there are many other places you can exchange it at. I didn’t need to book a seat on the trains, as February is not peak season, so I just checked the train times on the Hyperdia website and went to the station about 15 minutes before the trains departed. All you need to do once at the station is to show the pass at the gate and you are set! The Japan Rail Pass can also be used in Tokyo on the Monorail and the Yamanote line, on the JR Ferry and Busses, and in Osaka on the Kanjo (Loop) line.
I walked a lot as usual, but the public transportation works really well. I bought a SUICA pre-paid travel and shopping card (yes, you can use it to pay when you get food and drinks at vending machines, and also to buy newspapers for example!!) as soon as I landed at Haneda airport in Tokyo. The pre-paid card is very useful as it can be used on trains, busses and subways around Japan, so you don’t have to worry about buying tickets every time you visit a new city. The SUICA card costs 2000 Yen (just over 15 Euros), and includes 1500 Yen plus 500 Yen for deposit, which will be reimbursed once you return the SUICA at one of the JR East stations. Be aware that it can only be charged by paying cash at the automatic ticket vending machines and fare adjustment machines displaying the SUICA logo at the stations. There is also a similar card called PASMO, which works exactly the same way, the only difference should be the location where you can give your card back and be refunded of the deposit and remaining credit, as they belong to two different companies.
For more info on the SUICA travel card click here
When you visit Japan, the best thing you can do is either rent/ buy a pocket WI-FI, or a data only sim card for your phone, as you won’t find WI-FI easily around the cities apart from hotels and maybe a very few cafes and restaurants. You won’t be able to receive or make phone calls, but you will be able to use the internet, and that means you will still be able to use your social media, check the news, and most importantly, use Google maps to make sure you don’t get lost! I opted for a sim card, as my friend had used a pocket WI-FI before and told me the battery doesn’t last long. I bought my b-mobile pre-paid sim card at Haneda airport (2nd floor at the arrival lobby), and it costed 3223 Yen (about 25 Euros) for 5 GB to be used over 21 days.
Food you shouldn’t miss
One thing I adore doing when I travel is to try the local food, and in Japan I took this mission very seriously, as I couldn’t help but trying whatever inviting food I saw while I was walking around! I tried lots of different Japanese sweets, but the two things you shouldn’t miss in Osaka are the super delicious Okonomiyaki and Takoyaki. Okonomiyaki is a savoury pancake, the batter is made of flour, grated nagaimo, water, eggs and shredded cabbage, and can be topped with seafood and usually pork belly slices. Takoyaki is a round fried ball of wheat flour with a small piece of octopus inside. You can easily find food stalls selling it as you walk around Dotonbori and other areas of the city.
If you get the chance, make sure you dine at Imai Honten, the oldest traditional udon restaurant in Dotonbori; the place is cosy, the service impeccable, and the food delicious. It’s open from 11:00 am to 10:00 pm on Thursdays and Fridays; dishes start from 765 Yen.
Address: 1 Chome-7-22 Dotonbori, Chuo
Nakanoshima Park is a waterfront park nestled between the Dojimagawa and Tosaborigawa rivers. Its rose garden features 3700 rose bushes and about 310 different rose species, but of course there were no flowers when I visited in February, so I guess I will need to go back in May or October, when the rose blossoms are at their peak! The park is surrounded by classical buildings, which make a nice contrast with its scenery. While there, make sure you don’t miss the Osaka City Central Public Hall. As the park was only about 25 minutes away from my hotel, I decided to walk there, so I could enjoy other areas of the city as well, but you can also catch the subway to reach it.
How to get there: Get off at Hommachi Station (Yotsubashi subway line), take exit 28 and follow Yotsubashi-suji Street to the north for two blocks until you reach the entrance to the park on your left. The rose garden starts at the top of the stairs just behind the clay tennis courts.
Minami Area / Dotonbori
Since it was a nice day, I kept on walking for about half an hour, until I reached Shinsaibashi-suji, Osaka’s famous covered market street. Once out of the arcade, you will see Ebisu bridge (Ebisu-bashi), which is a great spot for pictures of the canal (Dotonbori-gawa), and the big billboards, including the famous Glico running man. After the bridge I turned left and walked along the main Dotonbori strip, full of restaurants and food stands. Lively and colourful, Dotonbori is hands down one of my favourite spots is Osaka, especially at night, when everything is lit up. The food stands are very inviting, and it’s hard not to want to try everything they sell! I couldn’t resist when I saw a stand selling dango, a Japanese sweet made from mochiko (rice flour), served on a skewer usually in group of 3 or 5, and covered with a sweet soy sauce glaze; I am glad I tried them, as they were super nice! At the Nakaza Kuidaore Building, you will be able to see the drumming mechanical clown Kuidaore Taro, which is the mascot for Osaka’s eating culture. If you turn right down the Sennichi-mae arcade, you will reach Hozen-ji Yokocho, a quieter spot particularly nice at night. Here you can visit the Hozen-ji, a small Buddhist temple with a moss-covered statue of the deity Fudo Myo-o. I then walked past the temple and headed towards the Tombori River Walk, the promenade alongside the canal. All the walking made me hungry, so I went back to Dotonbori and stopped at Chibo for a super delicious Okonomiyaki, which they served on the steel plate set into my table. You can have it topped with your choice of meat, seafood and vegetables, I chose to have mine topped with seafood and I totally loved it! I wanted to go to the Bunraku Theatre, which is about 10 minutes’ walk from the main strip, but I spent quite some time wondering around the arcades and cute shops, so I decided to skip it. The sweets shops are something else, everything looks delicious and cute at the same time, and they have a wide range of local sweets too. Before I left Dotonbori, I went to Pasela Café and had a huge Honey Toast cake with banana and caramel. Trust me, you need to try it but you might want to share it, as it’s almost like a whole cake! After my stop at the Pasela Café, I walked around the Minami area for a bit longer to enjoy the lights and watch a group of girls performing along the canal, and then headed back to my hotel by subway.
How to get there: (Shinsaibashi-suji) Shinsaibashi station (on the Midosuji line) is the closest station, and it’s a 4 minutes’ walk away.
Chibo restaurant: 1-5-5 Dotonbori. Open from 11:00 to 1:00 am, mains from 885-1675 Yen.
Pasela Café: 1-4-27 Dotonbori
Osaka Castle was first built in 1583 and meant to become the centre of a unified Japan under the reign of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. However, the castle was destroyed after his death, rebuilt in the 17th century, and had the main tower burnt down in 1665, only to be rebuilt as you see it now in 1931. The castle and its grounds are beautiful, but unfortunately the inside of the castle is now modern and hosts a museum about the castle’s history and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. I did find the museum informative and interesting, and I liked the observation deck on the top floor, but what I enjoyed the most was exploring the castle park, which include a beautiful plum and peach grove, turrets, gates and other structures from the Edo period. Make sure you have at least 2-3 hours to spend there, as there is a lot to see!
How to get there: As I had a Japan Rail Pass, I used it for the JR Loop line and stopped at Osaka-jo Koen station, which is around 10 minutes’ walk to the main entrance.
For up-to-date opening hours click here
Admission fee is 600 Yen, or 900 Yen if combined with the Museum of History, which is a 10-15 minutes’ walk from the castle. Open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.
After my visit at the castle, I went to Shinsekai, which is an old neighbourhood not far from the Minami area. Colourful and lively, it’s mainly known for the Tsuten-kaku Tower, built in 1922 after Paris’ Eiffel Tower. You can go up the observation deck, which is open from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm. There are several restaurants and food shops in the area, which, like most of the places in Osaka, looks nicer at night, when the tower, lanterns and restaurant signs are all lit up.
Admission fee for the Tsuten-kaku observation deck is 700 Yen.
How to get there: The Shin-Imamiya station on the JR Loop line is about 8 minutes’ walk from Tsuten-kaku.
From Shinsekai, I walked just over 20 minutes to Dotonbori to see the colourful lights again, and to have dinner at Imai Honten, amazing traditional udon place which I totally recommend.
After dinner I walked to Namba station and took the subway to Tempozan, Osaka’a Bay area. There are a variety of tourist attractions here, including museums, theme parks, observatories and shopping centres. I mainly went for the Giant Ferris Wheel, which is among the biggest in the world. The ride lasts 15 minutes and offers views of the bay. The area was really quiet when I went, I guess because it was almost 10:00 pm on a Thursday in February, so I decided to go back to my hotel after my ride on the giant wheel.
Address: 1 Chome-1-10 Kaigandori, Minato Ward
How to get there: The closest station is Osakako station (exit 1) on the Chuo line, which is about 5 minutes’ walk from the giant wheel.
Opening hours: From 10:00 am to 10:00 pm.
Admission fee is 800 Yen.
I had to skip a few things I wanted to visit while in Osaka, mainly because it took time to enjoy everything, and it was nice to just walk around the city and check out the cute shops, food stalls, the lights, the signs, the canal and so on. However, I am glad I did, as I don’t like to rush things, and hopefully one can always go back and experience other parts of the city as well as those you loved the most on your first visit. I hope you will find my tips and plan useful; if you want, stay tuned for another post on my Japanese adventure, which I think might be on Kanazawa, or maybe Kyoto. In the meantime, have a great start of Spring (IF it decides to arrive!) and have fun exploring!!!