We stayed in Japan for 17 days. Every day we visited different places. Sometimes we stayed in the same city for a few nights, but we didn’t have a chance to see the same place again.
One of the most important parts of our Japan plan was transportation. There were big price differences between the prices of non-stop flights and connecting flights. On the morning of September 29th, we took off from Dubai at 05:00 in the morning of September 29th and arrived in Osaka on an Emirates flight that took about 9 hours and the local time was 18:00. The fact that Osaka was the first stop on our Japan trip was entirely due to the flight cost. There was a significant price difference between flying to Osaka and returning from Tokyo and flying to Tokyo and returning from Osaka, and we chose Osaka as our first stop. We went through passport control quickly. One of the reasons why we didn’t waste time at customs was the website “Visit Japan Web“. Next stop is Ninja Wifi. After buying the pocket internet provider that we ordered and paid for before we arrived and that would provide our wireless internet throughout the trip. It was time for train tickets. We bought our train tickets, JR Pass, which every tourist who goes to Japan knows well, at the train station. After waiting for more than an hour due to the crowds and few attendants, we were able to buy the tickets. Now it was time to move to Osaka city center where our hotel was located. We had to buy a separate ticket for that. There are many options to get from Kansai Airport to Osaka Umeda station, including buses. Taxis are one of these options, but when we learned about the taxi prices in Japan, we crossed this option out before we arrived. After a comfortable 45-minute ride on the Haruka Express, we arrived at the Hilton Osaka, where we would be staying during our stay in Osaka. But this journey was not so easy. Although we had no problem until the station, it was very difficult to find the right direction out of the giant underground city. The first minutes of the chaos we experienced at this station, which we will get used to over time, were exciting. We had been on the road for about 12 hours. After going to the hotel and having a good sleep, we were going to start our first explorations tomorrow.
We started our first morning in Osaka with a good breakfast. The day was long and there was a lot to see. It was not easy to find the subway line in the complex labyrinths of Umeda station. We tried not to lose faith that we would get used to it in time.
Our first stop was the Shinsekai neighborhood, which means “New World”. A nostalgic place that shone at the turn of the century and was forgotten after the war. At its center is the famous Tsutenkaku Tower. There are tourist shops and many restaurants around the tower. In the side streets, places selling deep-fried kushikatsu, one of Osaka’s most famous delicacies, were just opening their shutters.
We didn’t go up to the observation deck of the tower, but we learned why it was built here from the information note at the entrance:
“The Tsutenkaku Tower was built in 1912, modeled after the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Although it was scrapped during the Second World War, the tower was soon rebuilt in 1956. The current tower is 103 meters high, while the main observatory is 91 meters high. The tower also offers an open-air deck above the main observatory and a 60-meter long slide at the base of the tower.”
We listened to the warnings that you can’t come to Shinsekai and not see Tennoji Park and entered the park. As in other big cities in Japan, this park generously displays the beauties of nature away from the city noise. There is a zoo and a city museum inside. At the other end is the Tennoji subway station that will take us to Minami (Namba).
Namba is the beating heart of Osaka. From Dotonbori to the Shinsaibashi arcades, from the bazaars of Amemura to the Den Den neighborhood and Kuromon Market, all kinds of activities are here. The streets are crowded, the restaurants are full, everyone is calm and brisk…
We mingled with crowds of people in Dotonbori, one of Osaka’s most popular tourist destinations. This area, home to the famous Glico Running Man and the Kani Doraku crab, is the scene of neon shows, especially after sunset. Just watching the crowd makes you dizzy.
Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade and the surrounding streets are worth a visit. About 600 meters long, this area has everything from retail shops to expensive department stores. Den Den Town in Nipponbashi district is compared to Tokyo’s Akihabara. We thought it would be impossible not to see this place, so we dived into the side streets… Everywhere manga, everywhere anime… Young people are running from one store to another. Curious, we followed them and found ourselves in the center of manga culture. We went into a few stores and looked through their comics. Even though we didn’t understand what they were reading and what they were trying to do, it was nice to watch people move. Maid cafes are everywhere. We decided to take a breather in one of them, but we were getting hungry and we weren’t leaving without tasting the legendary Okonomiyaki. A little further on begins the shopping district known as “Amemura”. Full of cafes, clothing stores and bargain shops, time flew by before we knew it and we found ourselves in the Kuromon Market, full of shops and restaurants selling fresh seafood, meat, vegetables and fruits. The covered shopping arcade, a few hundred meters long, is known as the kitchen of Osaka. After seeing so much food and drink, it was time for Okonomiyaki. As always, our priority was going to be the surprise places we came across, and so it was. Just above the canal, we entered a street restaurant serving takoyaki at six tables on the street. First the beers, then the takoyaki…
What is Okonomiyaki and what is Takoyaki? Both are flavors that can be found almost everywhere in Japan, but everyone agrees that the taste of Osaka is superior to the others. Just as our baklava has always tasted better in Gaziantep, Okonomiyaki is also associated with Osaka.
Okonomiyaki can be defined as pancakes prepared on a flat grill. It consists of dough blended with various ingredients such as dashi (broth) soup, cabbage, a few condiments, pork, seafood, cheese and mochi. Crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. After frying, it is topped with special sauce, mayonnaise, seaweed flakes and bonito flakes and served. Takoyaki, which literally means grilled octopus, refers to the savory dish of grilled balls made of flour and egg batter filled with octopus pieces, pickled ginger and other ingredients such as fried tempura batter (tenkasu). Each takoyaki ball is the size of a golf ball and is piping hot when served. There are about 6 or 8 balls in a single takoyaki order. The balls are served on a hand plate, then topped with bonito flakes (katsuobushi), seaweed flakes, mayonnaise and takoyaki sauce. It is a nice experience not only to eat them but also to watch how they are cooked on the grill.
Namba’s rhythm and neon show increases after dark. On our first day in Osaka, we had spent about 9 hours and we were tired with the pace of the city. We ended the day and returned to the hotel.
On Sunday, we wanted to do what an Osakan would do. We changed our route from the chaos of the city to nature and went to Minoh. It was an amazing place with all the surprises of nature. A forested valley at the foot of the Osaka mountains, just north of the urban chaos. It is known as one of the best places in the region to see the autumn colors.
The hiking trail is about three kilometers along a deep valley and takes about 45 minutes. The river was with us the whole way. The road has a low slope, is paved and closed to vehicle traffic. We came across Ryoanji Temple, famous for its red wooden bridge, the insect museum and a red coffee cart that surprised us with its delicious coffee in the garden of the museum. It was the beginning of autumn, the air was cool, the leaves were yellow and the valley was covered with different bird sounds.
The park where the waterfall is located has a viewing terrace, seating areas and cafes. The Japanese were wearing their raincoats, opening their small bags of food and eating their meals on the blankets they laid underneath. The only sound that disturbed the sound of nature was the “click” of the cameras. From time to time, the hiking path consists of junctions going in different directions. It was not the time for a test of getting lost in an unfamiliar geography. It was only the second day of our Japan adventure and we returned to the main road and went down to the station the same way we had come.
Back at Osaka Station, we spent a few hours getting to know this complex labyrinth. It’s like another city within a city. Osaka Station is an important stop in the Umeda area, served by many local and inter-regional trains, but not by the Shinkansen, which stops at Shin-Osaka Station. 8 subway lines intersect here, with 133 stops serving all parts of the city. Formerly dark and cramped, the station underwent extensive renovations and was reborn in 2011 as one of Japan’s most attractive train stations. Osaka Station City‘s landmark is its large glass roof. Renovated buildings on the north and south sides of the station offer passengers shopping, dining, entertainment and recreation.
The station is crowded all day long, but it is impossible to describe the crowds during working hours. After seeing this place, I swore that I would never say anything about the crowds at Metrobus or metro stations in Istanbul.
We continue to get out of the crowds and explore the quiet corners of Osaka. Our destination is Koyasan, or Mount Koya. This is not a place of this world. It’s a different world where Japan’s most sacred cemeteries are located. We arrived in 2 hours after a few train transfers, a cable car ride up a small mountain and a short bus ride to the main city. It was a day trip, but I would have liked to spend at least one night on this mountain to do Koyasan justice.
Kobo Daishi is one of Japan’s most important religious figures. Also known as Kukai. In 805, he introduced Shingon Buddhism to Japan. A sect of the religion and members of the sect chose Mount Koya as their center. Of course, this choice was not easy. It took them 20 years to find a suitable deserted place. In 826, they decided on Mount Koya. They build their temple and start worshipping on this secluded mountain. In time, a small village forms around the temple. The village has a cemetery. Religious figures who die over time are buried in this cemetery. This tradition continues for years and a huge cemetery is formed around the temple. The road from the cemetery to the temple becomes the way of the cross for the members of the sect.
Fate brought us to such a strange place on the fourth day of our trip to Japan. We found ourselves on a pilgrimage route, famous for its cemeteries. Dozens of temples all around. Thousands of statuettes in the tombs, with red aprons around their necks. We could feel the history and spirituality. Everyone comes to this mountain to make a wish, our wish was to get back to the station without losing our way. But first you have to see the famous temples of this religion, the most important of which are Kongobuji and Okunoin, where the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi is located.
In our research on the area, we had read many recommendations for an overnight stay and the benefits of visiting the cemetery at night, but after seeing the eerie sights in daylight, we decided to head back to Osaka and wander the city’s vibrant streets.
You can’t come to Osaka without seeing the famous Osaka Castle. The castle is arguably Osaka’s most important landmark. It is also the most important structure of the Edo period that witnessed the bloody power struggles dating back to its foundation in 1603. Although it dates back to 1583, the tower was rebuilt in 1931.
From Osaka Station, we took the Osaka Loop Line to Morinomiya Station, which took us to the southeast side of the park. In the distance, the roof of the castle came into view through the trees. The bright white Osaka Castle, eight stories high, with its gold decorations and greenish copper roof, was a striking and inviting sight in the distance. It is said to be one of Japan’s favorite castles, alongside Himeji Castle and Crow Castle in Matsumoto. We also saw Himeji Castle on our way back to Hiroshima. You can find the comparison on the following pages.
After the Gokurakibashi bridge, one of the main gates of Osaka Castle, we entered the garden. Our exit was through the Sakuramon Gate. The bridge took us to the inner moat surrounding Osaka Castle. The museum inside the castle is open from 9 am to 5 pm. Admission is 600 yen for adults and free for children 15 and under.
Osaka Castle is visited by more than 2.5 million people every year. First, we went up to the top floor of the castle and looked out over the city. As we walked between the floors, we read interesting information about the history of the castle. The castle also houses a museum with more than 10,000 historical artifacts.
The construction of Osaka Castle, or Osakajo, began in 1583. Toyotomi Hideyoshi wanted to build the largest castle of the time, as he intended it to be the center of a new, unified Japan under Toyotomi rule. However, a few years after Hideyoshi’s death, Tokugawa troops attacked and destroyed the castle, ending the Toyotomi line in 1615. It was rebuilt by Tokugawa Hidetada in the 1620s, but the main castle tower was burned down by lightning in 1665. The tower was repaired in 1931. The castle miraculously survived air raids on the city during the Second World War and was reopened to visitors in 1997 after major repairs. An elevator was also built inside the renovated castle.
On the top floor of Osaka Castle, there is a lovely observation deck where you can enjoy a 360-degree panoramic view of Osaka city. From here you can also see the gold leaf decorations up close. The “shachi”, a mystical creature with the body of a carp and the head of a tiger, can also be seen from this floor. This half tiger and half carp fish is thought to protect the castle against fire.
Osaka Castle is surrounded by 106 hectares of open parkland and is a welcome refuge from the crowds of the city. Not only the main building and tower are spectacular, but also the secondary castles, gates and moats with their giant stone walls. During cherry blossom season, Nishinomaru Garden is one of Osaka’s most popular hanami spots. We left the castle through the Sakuramon Gate. On either side of the gate are huge stones called Ryukoishi, which means dragon and tiger stones. It is said that when it rains, the image of a dragon and a tiger will appear on the stones. We will come back to Osaka on a rainy day to investigate the truth of this legend.
Leaving Osaka Castle, we traveled further south to Shitennoji, one of Japan’s oldest temples. Founded in 593 by Prince Shotoku, who promoted the introduction of Buddhism to Japan, the temple’s buildings have burned several times over the centuries, but have been rebuilt to reflect the original design. The pebble-covered courtyard of the inner precinct houses a five-story pagoda and the Main Hall (Kondo), which can be entered and exited.
We’re hungry, the Okonomiyaki are parading in front of us, lined up in a line. The destination is Dotonbori. But first we have to cross the Shinsaibashi passage. It’s not an easy path, because on both sides there are inviting places with the smell of food. This is one of the busiest and oldest shopping streets in Japan. There are stores for every budget and taste. But we’re not interested in the stores as we make our way to our destination. We come across all kinds of anemia stores. The streets are full of girls who look like cartoon heroes. They all have similar clothes, the same expression on every face… They look as if they are about to give bad news, cartoon characters who will start crying are walking in front of us. It is really hard to understand whether it is luck to find so many different types together on the same street or whether our hunger is making us dizzy. After long walks and searches, we anchor at a shabby place on the road that fits our criteria but is full of local customers. Okonomiyaki are lined up side by side on the grill in front of us, waiting to be placed on plates. When we order and find a place to sit, all the tiredness of the day seems to disappear in an instant. The two Okonomiyaki and a beer that soon arrive in front of us are worth everything.
Namba, the center of the Minami district south of Osaka, offers endless shopping, dining and entertainment opportunities. Leaving the region without choosing one or more of them would be the biggest betrayal of our trip to Japan, so we take every opportunity we come across. The Japanese have called this city “the cuisine of Japan” for centuries for a reason.
Named after an enterprising merchant named Shinsai, the fate of the Shinmachi neighborhood changed in the 1600s with the construction of a bridge connecting it to the Dotonbori area. Since then, trade has continued to increase around Shinsaibashi. The traditional theaters and entertainment halls of Dotonbori are almost impossible to find today. In fact, people now come here to watch the theater on the streets all day long instead of theater plays indoors. In other words, to eat, to drink, to look around…
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