Japan 2014 — Day 3: Osaka — Osaka Castle, Tenjinbashisuji, Okawa River, Umeda

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Before I give the impres­sion that all we did in Japan was walk between places to eat, which is abso­lutely true for the most part, I have some evid­ence of sight see­ing. This is our third and last day in Osaka, and its a deli­ciously crisp morn­ing. These are my favour­ite sorts of mornings.

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The streets aren’t full of people at 8:30AM yet, but…

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…the sub­way is! I used to think sub­ways being packed like sardines was some­what of an exag­ger­a­tion. As this photo shows, it’s not. And it’s not even con­fined to Tokyo. All through­out our trip this time, D and I felt that there were a lot more people — loc­als, and Japanese and for­eign tour­ists. Last time we vis­ited was in November 2011, 8 months after the Tōhoku earth­quake and tsunami. The heightened buzz of activ­ity we exper­i­enced this time round was a stark con­trast to trav­el­ling dur­ing peak hour without being packed like sardines last time!

Osaka Castle

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We caught the train to Tanimachi Yonchome Station to vis­it Osaka Castle. We were on a mis­sion to see some castles this time, hav­ing man­aged to miss see­ing any last time.

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Right out­side the sta­tion is the Osaka Museum of History and in the fore­court was a rep­lica of an old build­ing used to demon­strate the steeply pitched thatched roofs that are a fea­ture in Japanese con­struc­tion par­tic­u­larly in places with heavy snow­fall. Don’t you love the things in your travels that you don’t plan for?

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Osaka Castle is a short walk from the station.

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Lots of leafy trees line the walk to the castle grounds.

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And…we finally see Osaka Castle in the distance.

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Shortly after, we make it onto the grounds of Osaka Castle. This is the moat sur­round­ing the castle.

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The autum­nal foliage and the morn­ing sun just make for the most beau­ti­ful scenes.

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There’s a large park sur­round­ing the castle and its moat. There’s not much grass around for a ‘park’ but it’s dot­ted with trees that look just like huge bon­sai. And yes I am very aware that bon­sai are tiny trees. That aside, the autum­nal foliage nev­er ceases to impress!

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The main gate to the castle is under renov­a­tion, but the approach is still very pic­tur­esque. There’s no great bar­ri­er pre­vent­ing people from fall­ing into the moat on the approach to the main gate — I guess they expect people to have some com­mon sense, which is refreshing.

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Once you cross the main moat, there’s anoth­er inner moat sur­round­ing the castle that you need to cross before you’re in the inner castle grounds.

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We pass by a large hall near the entrance to the inner castle grounds.

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There are food stalls set up here. D and I had skipped break­fast, think­ing there’d be food around the train sta­tion (there wasn’t!), so we were glad to see reas­on­ably priced food so close to the castle.

20141119-DSC01122The takoy­aki was bet­ter than I expec­ted — it was deli­ciously hot and gen­er­ous with the octopus in each one. These were miss­ing bonito flakes, though, and we like bonito flakes.

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There were a lot of Mandarin tour­ist groups around the inner grounds of the castle.

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Stalls were set up selling bits and bobs and a man with a mus­tache was busy attract­ing the birds. By this time, Osaka castle was feel­ing very much like a tour­ist trap.

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And Osaka Castle — the entire reas­on we were here.

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Essentially all but the top floor of the castle is a museum com­plete with glass pan­els hous­ing arte­facts and inter­act­ive displays.

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I love museums and art gal­ler­ies, but if I vis­it a build­ing for its archi­tec­tur­al qual­it­ies, I’m really not all that inter­ested in the museum part of it. I’d find it vastly more inter­est­ing if they’d just left the castle as it was occu­pied, and for that reas­on I prefer vis­it­ing temples to castles.

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Anyway, the view from the top is really some­thing! You get 360 degree views of the Osaka sky­line and the gar­dens sur­round­ing the castle.

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This is the view towards the train sta­tion or the Osaka Museum of History.20141119-DSC_0094

This is the view towards the main entrance of the inner castle grounds.

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And we spot a base­ball field off to the oth­er side.

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I was quite excited to spot jagabata at a food store at the base of the castle.

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Jagaimo is a hot baked potato with a slab of but­ter. I’d first come across it while watch­ing the Aria, an anime where the girls rave about how deli­cious the fluffy, but­tery good­ness is on a cold day. And it is! It’s a really simple food, but so tasty. In anime the but­ter is placed in the middle of the quar­ters, but D thinks they put it on the side so you could con­trol how much but­ter you want (umm, ALL OF IT, please!).

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Inside the gift store, we spot this group of high school stu­dents play­ing a game where you throw shruiken at a tar­get. It’s much harder than it looks, which made for much laughter.

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And of course, kawaii Hello Kitty goods.

Okawa River

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We debated between catch­ing the sub­way or walk­ing 2km to our next des­tin­a­tion, Tenjinbashisuji Shopping Street.

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We pass by the Otemae College of Nutrition & Confectionery.

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And stop by Keihan City Mall (noth­ing really not­able there) on the way…

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It was a nice sunny day, so a walk it was.

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A long park stretches some length of the river once you’ve crossed to the oth­er side. I will nev­er tire of see­ing autum­nal foliage!

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We spot the College of Analytical Chemistry, Japan, on the way, with

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We also see an exposed rotat­ing car gar­age. We’ve seen them before, but N had man­aged to vis­it Japan and not spot any, so I took this photo for her bene­fit. These rotat­ing car gar­ages can get quite tall as evid­enced by the one attached to the hotel across from ours.

Tenjinbashi

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After a decent walk, we’re at Tenjinbashisuji Shopping Street. This is Japan’s longest shop­ping street, and the world’s longest covered shop­ping street — it stetches 2.6km and is where the loc­als do their shop­ping. We’re here for gen­er­al shop­ping, but mainly ’cause I know this street has good food! And also why we weren’t too wor­ried about the lack of sub­stan­tial food around Osaka Castle.

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First off, unagi! This is our favour­ite eel place. We first encountered this store in Kanda, Tokyo, three years ago. Everyday we’d walk past the deli­cious smells of grilled eel waft­ing from its Kanda branch on the way to the sta­tion, and then one day, we finally caved and ate there. And we were glad we did.

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The food is tasty, but more than that, the prices are amaz­ing for eel. D’s unadon (above, top right) was ¥1300, while mine (above, bot­tom right) was ¥800. Even at oth­er stores in Japan, it was double the price it was here.

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Right after­wards, we see a long queue of people extend­ing from this cart. We’d seen it before we went into the unagi res­taur­ant, but there was no queue so didn’t think much of it. But the long queue people piqued our interest and we like cro­quettes. So, we hop in the queue with abso­lutely no idea how to order. We knew they sold more than one type, but couldn’t fig­ure out what they were.

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In the end, we ended up point­ing to two types on the tray behind the counter. We didn’t know what we ordered, but it turned out okay! We got a pork mince cro­quette and a potato cro­quette. They weren’t the tasti­est cro­quettes ever (we were full from lunch, so…), but they were hot and fresh.

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And we’re finally back to shop­ping! The ceil­ing is lined with torii gates that change col­our after every block. So it’s blue now, and next block it’ll be aqua­mar­ine, then green, etc.

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Some of the stores on Tenjimbashi street have par­tic­u­larly inter­est­ing facades. The left is a styl­ish wooden build­ing, which sells sen­bei or rice crack­ers (can’t remem­ber!), while the one on the right sells mush­rooms, which is made obvi­ous by the giant bowl of rice with mush­rooms atop its entrance.

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This is the cutest ad for dry clean­ing services.

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And of course, this super­mar­ket that is decked out in neon lights. The decor here is so out of place for a super­mar­ket, but so suit­able for a pachinko par­lour, I’m won­der­ing if it’s not a con­ver­ted space.

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There’s mir­rors lin­ing the walls of the space, while the neon lights extend even to the ceil­ing fan.

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Directly oppos­ite the super­mar­ket, we come across anoth­er branch of our favour­ite takoy­aki store. We remembered there being one along the street, but I recalled it being more towards the end of the shop­ping street under­neath a bank and oppos­ite the entrance to the sub­way. Ah well! I guess stores move. This takoy­aki was just slightly more spe­cial than the ones from the Namba branch — each takoy­aki had two pieces of octopus! Yum!

Umeda

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Alhough Umeda was just two stops away from the north­ern end of Tenjinbashi Street, we headed back to the hotel to ask our hotel to book a wax food mak­ing class we wanted to take in Nagoya in two days, but alas the male recep­tion­ist refused (even though the female recep­tion­ist had agreed to the day before, just that the place hold­ing the class was closed). Ah well, we were long over­due for a rest!

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We weren’t all that keen on vis­it­ing Umeda — our pre­vi­ous vis­it didn’t leave us too impressed and we were too full from our pre­vi­ous meals to feel up for the all you can eat kushiage on the top floor of the Yobodashi Camera. But we’d seen advert­ise­ments on the sub­way about the Christmas lights at Osaka Station City. So we out again, find­ing Namba Walks closed.

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We arrive in Umeda. Isn’t it grand?

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The last time we went to Japan, Christmas lights weren’t really a thing with the restric­tions on power con­sump­tion after the nuc­le­ar plants were shut down. So this time, we were determ­ined to see Christmas lights because we know Japan really does go all out to cel­eb­rate Christmas. The pho­tos on the sub­way made these lights look way more elab­or­ate than they actu­ally were. The lights in Namba were far more impressive.

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A Christmas tree illu­min­ates the front­age of the North Gate Building.

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Heading back inside, we spot some cute Snoopy toys.

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…and Sylvanian Family fig­ur­ines too!

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And we hydrate ourselves with a fizzy Grapefruit Passion drink by Schweppes.

Dotonbori

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After hav­ing a look around Umeda after see­ing the lights with none of the food options tick­ling our fancy, we headed back to Dotonbori (food cent­ral!). We’d walked past Tempura Tendon Tenya mul­tiple times by now, and decided to stop for din­ner on the way back to the hotel.

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We ended up get­ting soba and a tem­pura rice bowl. Now, the rice bowl was a sur­prise! You see, we get by with order­ing by look­ing at the pic­tures, and they obscure the rice under­neath the tem­pura (prawn, pump­kin, beans, sweet potato). But that’s okay, hav­ing the tem­pura atop the rice meant that it didn’t get soggy.

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We also love our dessert, so ordered yuzu sorbet ¥120.

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After din­ner, D drops in to McDonald’s after­wards for an affogato to keep him awake while I pack our bags for our move to Nagoya in the morn­ing. An affogato is really quite a smart idea — it uses food that McDonald’s already serves (soft serve, oreo crumbs, cof­fee) and turns it into some­thing new for their menu!

And that’s the end of our time in Osaka. We really do like Osaka. It’s more per­son­al than Tokyo, and more con­veni­ent than Nagoya, Yokohama or Kyoto, yet all the while retain­ing a cer­tain Japanese charm with its neon lights and oddly scattered tra­di­tion­al buildings.