Where: Osaka, south of Honshu Island (the main one), on the Seto Inland Sea (Setonaikai), Japan.
When: November 2013.
Why: I took Jeff to Osaka for a birthday present. Peach airline ran a special offer on flights from Busan to Osaka, so I was able to take my love to Japan for 22 hours for $100 each. It was a quick, crazy and fun adventure.
I love crazy travel. I love preposterous trips, which are quick blasts of a country’s cultural clichés. Short, quick trips are fun!
In 2010, Jeff and I went to Austria for two hours – on a pub crawl. I stopped in Shanghai for fifteen hours on my way to Bangkok. For seven of those hours, I was asleep. This time, we went to Japan for only 22 hours.
One of the things that I like about these mini-adventures is that you are limited to the best sights and the most important experiences of your destination. However, one of the bad things about these short trips is that you can only visit limited sights and have limited experiences in your destination. What made me sad about our trip to Osaka was how much we missed. We will most definitely have to go back.
Jeff and I had both been through Osaka before, en-route to Kyoto, but we didn’t visit it on that trip. Travelling from Kansai International Airport, which is in Osaka, to Kyoto by train, we pased through Osaka each way (I even changed trains there); but we were limited on time and so had to give this city a miss. What we saw though was a cool city, with lots of funky looking shops and skyscrapers, lots of lights, people, funny signs, and also lots of cute suburbs with canals, and little box houses and little box cars.
In 2013, Peach airlines started flying from Busan Gimhae airport (our local airport in South Korea) to Osaka, and luckily we were able to take advantage of their opening special offer of $100 flights. So we went to Japan for a night.
Osaka is the third largest city in Japan. It’s an industrial city, a harbour city and a city of commerce. Osaka is not so famous for historical sights and yet there are some interesting things to see here and the city does have its own distinct culture and distinct history.
In some ways Osaka could be any Far Eastern major city (it reminded us of both Busan and Seoul in Korea); but then again it is most definitely Japanese and we were able to experience some key Japanese cultural clichés, such as sushi, shopping and sake (actually, we drank beer not sake, but that’s not alliteration. We did see lots of sake though).
Going to Japan for only 22 hours was stupid and crazy and fun, and I would most definitely do it again.
Getting there and getting around
We flew from Busan Gimhae Airport to Kansai International Airport (KIX), which is in Osaka. The flight time was one hour and five minutes, so it was quicker for us to get to Osaka than it was for us to get to Seoul. We flew to Osaka with Peach airlines, which is a Japanese airline based in Osaka.
KIX airport is a little scary as it is built on a large, square, man-made island; so you come in to land over the sea and the plane has to brake or it would fall off the end of the island. There are two terminals at KIX: on my first visit I flew into T1 which has lots of shops and restaurants etc (though not many things airside). This time we landed at T2, which seemed to be for the sole use of Peach airlines. T2 had a few shops and a cafe, both in the check-in area and air side.
There was a free shuttle bus between the two terminals. This took about ten minutes to travel between the two.
The train station is at T1. There are two train lines that run from the airport to the city centre: The JR Line and the Nankai Electric Railway. The JR line goes to Osaka central station and Kyoto; The Nankai Electric Railway line goes to Namba, which is where we were going.
There are two trains you can take to Namba: the fast train is called the Rapi:t (see above left). This is a snazzy and sleek train which takes 37 minutes to get to the city centre. This costs ¥1,100 (£8).
The slower train is called the Airport Express. This takes 47 minutes to get to Namba, and costs ¥830 (£5). The Airport Express train is just a normal subway train (see above right).
Each train departs every half an hour, so there is a service every 15 minutes to Namba.
Whilst we were on the plane there was a special offer advertised where you could get minor discounts on the train tickets – so we decided to buy our express train tickets from Peach. It was ¥1,000, rather than ¥1,100 (£6.20 rather than £8). We were given a stamped receipt which we had to take to the ticket office, where they would exchange the receipt for Rapi:t tickets.
The only problem for us was that we arrived at the ticket office with only four minutes to the next Rapi:t express train, and once we got to the front of the queue we had missed the train. We probably would have been able to get this had we bought tickets at the machine. The next train departing was a cheap, slow train, but this still got in before the next express train. So we went on the slow, cheaper train with our expensive, express train tickets, which means we actually lost out by pre-buying the tickets. We both said that if we go back again we will just buy tickets at the station.
We caught the Rapi:t express train back from Namba to the airport the next day and this was very comfortable and snazzy.
You can also get buses and ferries to the airport. To find out all about airport access, visit the Kansai Internationa Airport website.
Getting around, we only walked as we were based in the Shinsaibashi/Namba area.
For longer journeys Osaka has a Metro system. You can find route maps, prices etc. on the Osaka Transport Bureau website.
Whilst we’re talking about getting about Osaka, I just want to mention the taxis and the bikes. Apparently, taxis in Japan are super-expensive – so best avoided; but I wanted to mention them as all the taxi drivers in Osaka all wore nice suits and tuxedos (taxidos?), and they looked lovely. Also, Osaka was full of bikes – possibly because owning a car here is apparently really expensive.
What we did on our night and morning
With such a short amount of time we had to focus our visit on one or two things – and so we decided to just focus on eating and shopping and enjoying being in Japan. Jeff wanted conveyor belt sushi; I wanted meaty noodles; and we both wanted to do some Christmas shopping.
We would have liked to have gone to the castle or to one of the shrines too, but we didn’t get up early enough so we didn’t have time.
The main shopping, eating, drinking, having fun area of Osaka is based around Namba station and Shinsaibashi. In this area there are arcades after arcades, running for streets – even with some streets running through them. These arcades are a tangle of shops, amusement arcades, restaurants, pichenko halls, cinemas and bars. Many of the businesses in the malls were covered in crazy signs and neon, but there were also many classical Japanese style bamboo houses and restaurants with paper lanterns outside.
Walking through these arcades was a struggle for me because there was so much to look at: so many shops to drool over, so many menus to examine, so many puffer fish to say hello to. I was like a wide-eyed child, giggling at the flashing lights.
In the centre of the Shinsaibashi district there is a pretty canal. There are nice pavements along the canal, waterfront shops and restaurants and a few bridges that pass over the water. Next to one of the bridges is the famous running man neon advertisement (see photo at the top of the page). Like Picaddilly Circus in London, this explosion of advertising light is fun to see and great to photograph. The running man and his light-up friends are located where the Shinsinabashi arcade passes over the canal (more about this below).
On the far side of the canal to Namba station, the Shinsaibashi mall goes on and on and on for another ten blocks or so. It’s not the longest mall in the world though, it’s not even the longest mall in the city: that honour goes to another Osaka mall, Tenjimbashisuji – which is 1.6 miles (2.6km) long!
Next to the mall there are older, quieter, more traditional Japanese lanes with many fun, funky, small, individual restaurants, bars and shops. This was a nice area to wander and we saw many inviting hang-outs. Had we been with a group of people we would have loved to have investigated the Irish pub, the Western restaurant, the Jazz bar, the tapas shop, or some of the quieter Japanese bars. The drinks costs looked acceptable (¥500 for a pint (about £3.50)), though we didn’t like that many places charged you to sit down.
The first thing we did in Osaka was go to check into our hotel as we wanted to get that sorted and out of the way. Our hotel was located on the edge of the Shinsaibashi area, so we walked through the arcades, over the canal and past the bars to get there. We eyed up pretty places, telling them that we’d be back soon.
Once we’d checked in, we decided to walk back to the main canal area as there was a sushi joint we wanted to find (Genroku Sushi) which was located near to the running man sign. We walked through the Shinsaibashi Mall, Jeff dragging me away from the shops so that we could go eat.
Once we got to the running man we took lots of pictures, then we wandered off to the right, thinking the restaurant was in the Dontonoburi area. We had a little lost wander around here, past penguin bars, rose covered love motels, past a water hotel and crazy columns, and back along the canal, before we discovered that the special sushi place was actually in the other direction.
So we wandered along till we found the sign, which is a huge plastic hand holding a sushi (see below), and then we went in for our tea. Genroku Sushi is a stereotypical, conveyor-belt sushi joint, but it is cheap and fun and central. Our waitress was great for service and for helping us and they had menus in English, which was quite nice when eating unknown seafood. Jeff had eighteen plates of sushi, I had seven. I think it cost about $1.50 per plate (about £1), and we spent an hour here. It was fun and extremely Japanese.
Dontonbori Street, the street the sushi restaurant was on, seemed to be a special foodie street. Opposite our restaurant, there was a sushirama – which had a famous clown man with a drum for their logo. He is called Kuidaore Ningyo and he is a famous mascot of Osaka. We saw him everywhere in Osaka. The signs for the shops were brilliant: there was a funny, angry man who sold battered squid balls, huge octopus, lots of inflatable puffer fish and some funny animatronic crabs. We had a lot of fun just walking and looking at stuff, taking photos and souvenir shopping.
We popped into a huge Daiso by the canal, which was packed with people and chocolate. Daiso is the Japanese pound store which sells lots of fun, cheap things. We had Daiso in Korea and I was always popping in to buy random stuff. The Daiso in Osaka sold loads of Christmas costumes, kit-kats of all flavours (including strawberry, green tea, normal tea, strawberry cheesecake and wasabi), onesies, household stuff and USB lighters (‘I love U…. SB!)
We wandered back to our hotel, past all of the bars and restaurants we had eyed up earlier, but we were both quite tired so we just stopped for some take-away squid balls (a delicacy of Osaka) and we went to have a look at all of the cool stuff in the 7-11. 7-11s are cool in Japan as they sell loads of cool, random stuff, and it’s like going to a Muji store, but real.
The next morning we had originally planned to go the castle, but we decided that we would much more prefer to go to Tokyo Hands so we could buy some Christmas presents. Tokyo Hands is a Japanese department store that sells really cool, Japanese stuff. We only had half an hour in here and it just wasn’t enough time. It was like being in a museum, full of fun things – but a museum where you could buy the exhibits. We both did lots of Christmas shopping in here for our family back home.
After this we took a wander down Shinsaibashi mall, but in the other direction (Shinsaibashi north shopping street). It was nice to have a Sunday morning potter about. We went in another Daiso and quite a few sweet shops – albeit Japanese sweet shops.
We then wandered back to the station, stopping for some yummy noodles on the way at Kinryu (Golden Dragon) Ramen.
We ordered this steamy, meaty, noodley broth through a vending machine. There were two options: ramen noodles with pork or ramen noodles with extra pork (how to choose?). The nom nom noodles were served normally (i.e. not through the vending machine), and we sat outside to eat/drink it, overlooking the hectic shoppers of Dontonburi Street.
And then it was time to go home…
What we didn’t do
Osaka Castle Museum
We originally planned to visit Osaka Castle on the Sunday morning, but after a slow start and after seeing that there was a Tokyo Hands we decided to just go shopping instead.
Osaka Castle is actually just a concrete reconstruction of a previous castle, but the tiered pavilions are still very pretty and still very Japanese, and the castle has a pretty location in a park, with a moat. Apparently this is a great place to see the cherry blossom in spring.
There is a museum inside the castle which contains exhibits about and artefacts from the castle.
The castle is open daily from 9.00 to 5.00. Entrance is currently ¥600 (about £4).
This important, pretty shrine has a very distinct red, humped-back bridge. Apparently it is a very individual, very Japanese shrine as it was built in 211AD, before Chinese influence came to Japan.
The shrine is located to the south of Osaka, between the centre and the airport. There are two Sumiyoshi stations on the Hankai line and one on the Nankai railway.
You can visit the Sumiyoshi-taisha temple website, though sadly it is only in Japanese, so you will either have to Google translate it or just click on random buttons.
Isshinji Temple (a.k.a. Bone Buddha Temple)
You know that church in the Czech Republic that is made entirely from bones (Sedlec Ossury), or the Mausoleum in Rome with the bone statues (Our Lady of the Conception of the Capuchins (aren’t Capuchins a type of pickle or a monkey?))
Anyway, there’s somewhere like that in Osaka as Isshinji Temple has thirteen Buddha statues that are made up from the bones and ashes of worshippers. Back in the 19th century so many people left their ashes at the temple that the temple commissioned a local sculptor to mix the ashes with resin and to produce a statue from the remains of the people. The first statue was built in 1887, made from the remains of 50,000 people.
The temple was bombed in the war and the statues destroyed, but the monks took the remains of the previous statues and combined them with new remains to produce new statues. A new statue is now made about every ten years.
The temple is located on the edge of Tennoji park, which is where the zoo is also located.
America Mura is an area of Osaka which is supposed to be quite American and where you can buy lots of American brands. They have a huge cowboy sign and a mini-Statue of Liberty. It’s supposed to be really funky district for shopping and partying and a hangout for Westerners in Osaka. It is on the other side of Mido Suji Avenue to Shinsaibashi.
Tempozan Big Big Wheel
Between the city centre and the airport there was a very BIG Big wheel. In fact, it’s so big that it was the biggest big wheel in the world from 1997 to 1999. The Tempozan Ferris Wheel is not only a big wheel but it also reports the weather for tomorrow: if it is orange it’s going to be sunny; green, it’s going to be cloudy; and blue, it’s going to rain. It was blue when we saw it.
A ride on the wheel is only ¥700, about £4.50.
Universal studios: Located by the coast, to the south-east of the city centre. www.usj.co.jp.
I wanted to go to Mino Park as it has wild monkeys and I love monkeys. It also has a waterfall and many temples and is supposed to be a great place to go to to see cherry blossom and to escape the city (though in 22 hours, that wasn’t a problem for us).
The Japan Guide website has information about the park and how to get there.
The Umeda Sky Building
The Umeda Sky Building is only the twelfth tallest building in Osaka, but it is one of the most distinctive and also boasts lots of fun things to see. You can ride on the world’s highest escalator – which is an outdoor escalator, 40 floors up (eek). There is a floating garden on the roof, an observation deck and also on the roof there is a heart that lights up when you hold hands with your beloved (or anyone really). In the basement there is an olde-worlde style Osaka market and lots of places to eat.
The Umeda Sky Building is located near to the JR Osaka Central Station.
Where we stayed
Chisun Inn Shinsaibashi
To be honest we only booked this hotel as it was OK, available and in the area we wanted to stay in. I think there must have been something happening in the city the weekend we were there because accommodation was really hard to find. First we wanted to book Hotel Hillarys, but this sold out whilst we procrastinated. So we decided that we would like to stay at the Floral Inn Namba, but then this sold out whilst we procrastinated again! So we ended up at the Chisun Inn and it was fine: a very standard, OK, Japanese hotel with a pod bathroom and a double bed.
I wanted to stay in a capsule hotel, but Jeff wanted somewhere more normal. There are a few capsule hotels in the area if you fancy this. The capsules are usually attached to bath houses and the pods usually have okay beds and TVs etc. The ones we looked at cost about £30/pod/night. You can book these through Hotelscombined.com.
Finally, if we return I think we will stay at the Dontonbori Hotel, which is on Dontonbori Street.
We walked past this hotel when we were lost and we stopped to take photos of the great guys holding up their entrance way. I thought the hotel was probably somewhere really funky and expensive, especially because it is in such a central area – but I just saw it on Hotels Combined for $100, so we will definitely have to check this place out.
Before we left, I found this really useful article: 40 things to do in Osaka. Now I don’t want to read it cos it just shows me how much we missed. Oh well, we’ll have to go back.
Osaka Info is a great website which I’ve used a lot whilst researching specific information for this web-page.
Please note, some, if not much of this information may not be correct, or may be out of date. All these articles show is how we found these places when we visited and what we personally thought of each place. Where possible I will include links to site which will contain more up-to-date info. All of this is our own work and any opinion expressed is that of the author only.
All photos copyright of J Clemo-Halpenny. If you would like to copy or reproduce any of these images, please email me to ask permission.