Japan Day 20-23: Riding Kakogawa to Osaka and Exploring

Before I rode out to Osaka, my cousin took me to Himeji Castle, 20km west of Kakogawa. Given that it was the Monday after Golden Week, it was really quiet and we didn’t have to wait in any lines or have any random people walking through our photos. The castle itself is huge, you can see it from the train station, nearly 2km away and the fact that it’s over 600 years old is even more impressive. It’s covered in a white plaster made from lime, ash, hemp and seaweed, which protects it from fires, rain and snow. On the inside there are weapon racks, platforms, hiding places and a shrine on the 6th level.

After lunch I packed up the last of my things and headed off to Osaka, it was mostly city riding with a lot of stopping and starting at intersections, but at least the path was flat and smooth.

It was dark when I arrived, but my hostel was brand new and really quiet, so at least I was going to get a lot of rest. I walked around the corner to find some dinner and came across Tsutenkaku Tower, the central point of a popular nightspot called Shinsekai. All the tourists walking along the restaurant strip have their heads tilted upwards, looking at all the strange signs and lights. I saw giant turtles, blowfish, wrestlers, octopus and Japanese mascots I’ve never seen before.

Kushukatsu is a popular dish here (kushu meaning skewer and katsu meaning fried) and there are over 100 different types to try. They were pretty tasty, but more of a snack food, so I ended up getting some extra food from the grocery store afterwards and headed back to the hostel to get a good night’s sleep.

Day 21: Namba and Osaka Aquarium

Today was a bit drizzly and I decided to explore the city a little bit and head to the aquarium which was recommended to me by a friend I met in Kobe. The central area of the city is around Namba Station and there are endless streets of food and shopping. I was on the hunt for some udon and found a place that specialises in curry udon, the best of both worlds. There were lots of businessmen having their lunch and the place was quiet, aside from the sounds of cooking, Japanese pop music and customers slurping their soup. The food was delicious (they offered a bib if you were concerned with splashing curry on yourself) and eating it with a giant ladle-sized spoon was quite enjoyable.

Afterwards I headed to Kuromon Markets, hoping for something sweet for dessert, but it was mainly souvenir shops and a lot of fresh meat and seafood. Most of it was out of my price range, but it’s the place to go if you want sea urchin, baked scallops, slabs of tuna belly or giant crab legs.

I figured out my way to the subway station and made it to Kaiyukan, Osaka’s aquarium and had a fun time wandering through all the different sections. At the very start you take an escalator to the seventh floor and slowly walk downwards, I took way too many photos, but I’ve included some of my favourites.

Cute souvenirs I’d love to buy, but it wouldn’t be too fun to carry them around for the rest of my tour.

Capybara, the largest rodent in the world and can weigh up to 70kg

A whale shark

Seal trainer getting a hug during feeding time

I headed back to the hostel for a simple dinner and an early night because I wanted to get up reasonably early the next day to get the two-day Osaka Amazing Pass. It costs 3,300 yen ($40 AUD) and allows unlimited free transport, free entry to 35 attractions and some other discounts too. I already picked out about ten things I wanted to see and hopefully two days will be enough time to fit it all in.

Day 22: Osaka Castle, Dotonbori and Umeda

Osaka Castle was originally built in the late 16th Century but it was destroyed by enemy troops, rebuilt and then destroyed again by lightning. After it was restored using donations from people in the region, it is now one of Japan’s most famous landmarks. Notable features are the golden decorations such as the tigers and shachihoko (folklore creature with the head of a tiger and body of a carp) and the stone walls along the moat.

I took a boat ride around the moat, where the walls are over 30m high, making them one of the greatest stone walls in Japan. The route was very scenic and it was amazing to think of the work that went into rebuilding the castle so many times.

I headed back into town for some lunch and had some tonkotsu ramen and for 100 yen ($1.20 AUD) extra, it came with gyoza and steamed rice.

I visited the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living which included a construction of a mini village, set in the 1950s. It was neat to see the shop fronts, laneways and inside of houses and they even simulated different weather effects.

For dinner I went to a cat themed restaurant, even though I’m more of a dog person, I still appreciate the cuteness that Japanese shops and restaurants offer. The food was quite good and I was really enjoying the variety in the food and still not sick of eating Japanese food.

On the night tour I was the only guest for the session, so my guide Hatchan had an easy time taking me around Dotonbori. The area is known for its insane lights and overhead displays lining the river and restaurant strip and the smell of delicious food was enough to make me hungry again. She showed me to some little laneways and a little shrine where you splash water onto a Buddha, which I’ve only seen in Osaka so far.

Artwork in a really narrow laneway

My guide Hatchan

One of the most famous neon signs is the Glico man, he has been there for 70 years and is up to his 6th version. Glico is the food company which makes Pocky, among other things, but for whatever reason, this guy just happens to be really popular.

Lastly I headed north to Umeda, the second, more modern hub in Osaka to check out the city from the top of Umeda Sky Building. It’s two joined skyscrapers with a circular observatory at the top where you can have a 360 degree view of the city without pesk poles or gates in the way. It looked pretty cool from the top and I was glad I finished the day on a high.

A photo of the building during the day

Day 23: Wandering and Eating

I walked around the corner from my hostel to Shitennoji Temple, which has loads of turtles and a few buildings that are currently under construction.

However a more peculiar temple was nearby, Isshin-Ji, the Common People’s Temple, which is interesting because they have 13 Buddha statues and each of them are made of the ashes of 200,000 people.

I headed back to Shinsekai and visited the observatory at the top of Tsutenkaku Tower, which has lots of quirky things like the Billiken Lucky Statue, all sorts of Pocky souvenirs and giant action figures.

Abeno Harukas is the big glass building, the tallest in Japan

Hello Kitty dressed as takoyaki (little circles of wheatflour and octopus) while making takoyaki

On the previous night I spoke to a Canadian exchange student about Japan and some of the quirks and cultural elements I couldn’t quite get my head around. She suggested that I visited Animate, a hobby shop in town, if I wanted to experience some Japanese culture shock. So basically on the upper levels there’s an adult section where I saw the “other side” of the cuteness obsession. It was rather strange, but I think I’ll just leave it at that…

After forgetting about what I saw at Animate, I went to find a restaurant called Sweets Paradise which has an all you can eat pasta and sweets deal. I was prepared, I brought my kindle along to do some light reading and stayed for the whole 90 minutes and ate as much as I desired. I was in heaven, but I was also sensible and ate some salad first, given that fruit and vegetables can be very pricey to buy in Japan. I adore the sweets here because I love anything of the sponge variety, but back home they’re a cheap dessert, so they don’t get much attention. Whereas in Japan, sponge is so plentiful, it’s light, fluffy and velvety, with so many flavours and additions, it’s like eating clouds that melt in your mouth.

Yep, I even ate kale

Half of the sweets range

A solid tea collection

I was too full by the end of it, so I gently strolled back into town where I wandered through the food department of a huge store and had a look at their fresh produce. The box of fruit was 6,000 yen ($75 AUD) and the freakishly uniform strawberries were 400 yen ($5 AUD), it makes me wonder where they’re growing things, or if it’s all imported.

Before heading home I took a sunset cruise to sit down while my food settled and see Osaka one last time. I really enjoyed the city and the all the cool stuff it had, while not feeling crowded or cramped at all. I was too full to eat dinner, so I took a long walk around Tennoji Park before getting back to the hostel to pack and get ready for the next day.

The rainbow, amphibious bus

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