Saturday, April 25, 2015

Why Osaka and not Tokyo? A travel guide to Japan’s Kitchen City

Do you want to visit Japan but feels like Tokyo is so overrated? Why not come and visit Osaka?

Discover this unique destination where Japan’s conservative culture perfectly meets its modern and urban lifestyle.  If you want to explore a place filled with good food, booming night life, ancient and modern architecture, historical landmarks and friendly people, Osaka is the right place for you! Tokyo may be Japan’s capital, but Osaka remains to be its best place to eat, drink and party.

Osaka is located at the South coast of the Western part of the Japanese island of Honshu. It is Japan’s second largest city and primary economic center. The place is known as a food lover’s paradise and has been dubbed as the “Nation’s Kitchen” since the Tokugawa period up to the present.

However, it’s not just the okonomiyaki and takoyaki which draw millions of tourists to Osaka annually (though those yummy dishes are partly responsible for it); different sites and attractions also lure a lot of people to come and discover Osaka.

Here are the top 10 things to do when you’re in Osaka:

1.   Visit Osaka Castle

Osaka Castle is one of the most popular attractions in Osaka. This replica of the original castle built in the 1580’s will give you a glimpse of Osaka’s historical past. It also has an observation deck at its 8th floor which will give you a scenic view of Osaka. During spring, the cherry blossoms in the castle grounds would give a wonderful ambiance to your afternoon stroll. Admissio to the castle tower costs 600 Yen while 200 Yen when you enter Nishinomaru Garden.

Getting there:            
You can take a train from Temmabashi Station or Tanimachi 4-chome Station on the Tanimachi Subway Line and Chuo Subway Line or a train from JR Morinomiya Station or Osakajo Koen Station on the JR Loop Line. This train ride takes around 10 minutes and costs 160 Yen.

2.   Learn about Osaka’s history at the Osaka Museum of History

Relieve Osaka’s past and be captivated by it. This museum houses a lot of life-size constructions, movies, photographs and art works which depict Osaka’s colorful history. Each period of Osaka’s history is obvious in every floor so don’t be surprised when you feel like you’ve seen the old Japan. The museum opens from 9:30 to 17:00. They’re closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  It will cost you only 600 Yen to get inside.

Getting there:
The museum is located in the outer edge of the castle grounds so you can just walk from the Osaka Castle.

3.  Shop ‘til you drop at Shinsaibashi

Shinsaibashi is Osaka’s most famous shopping district. If you love shopping, never skip this hotspot. Whatever your budget is, you’re sure to find good deals from different department stores who offer both Western and Japanese items to the cheapest and to the most expensive items. Aside from shopping, you can also enjoy the wall plaza, a 12-meter high glass ceiling where water flows continuously. Such a serene view.

Getting there:
Take the 10 minute train from Umeda by Midosuji or Yotsubashi Subway Line which costs around 220 Yen.

4.  Food trip at Dotonbori

I’ve been there for 2 consecutive nights! Your stay in Osaka wouldn’t be complete without exploring this food haven; after all, Osaka is considered as a gastronomic destination. If Shinsaibashi is for shopping, Dotonbori is for eating. After that tiring shopping spree in Shinsaibashi, enjoy Dotonbori’s specialties like sushi, takoyaki, okonomiyaki, udon, fugu, grilled beef and matcha ice cream.

Getting there:
Shinsaibashi and Dotonbori are separated only by a man-made canal. So from Shinsaibashi, you can just stroll on the walk-bridge across to Dotonbori.

5. Have fun in the Universal Studios Japan (USJ)

If you want to have some fun and want to satisfy the kid inside you, visit this amusement park and prepare to be amazed. After all, USJ is considered as one of the world’s top 15 theme parks. With attractions that replicate the biggest Hollywood movie sets, you’ll surely be mesmerized and captivated by the USJ. I suggest booking online in advance for the timed ticket so can go to the Harry Potter attraction with less stress. Thousands of people line up just to have a glimpse of what is it like in the wizarding world. When in Universal Studios Japan, bring with you a lot of patience, and another set of patience. Only Japanese can be rewarded for being so patient waiting for their turns. The Harry Potter attraction alone is more than enough to make your trip and time there worthwhile.  Opens from 9:00 to 21:00. Admission Tickets are sold at 7,200 Yen (with tax) for a one-day pass and 11,213 Yen (with tax) for a two-day pass. Or if you have extra money, then get the Universal Express Pass which enables you to shorten your waiting time is also available for 8,200 Yen for 7 attractions.

Getting there:
Take the 10 minute train from Osaka Station for 2,900 Yen to Universal Station.

 6.  Appreciate the Osaka Skyline atop the Hep Five Ferris Wheel

If you want to have some fun, yet at the same time go on a sightseeing of the Osaka skyline and take-in its view at a reasonable pace, hop onto the Hep Five Ferris Wheel. The 15-minute Ferris wheel ride will surely give you a magnificent view of the whole of Osaka. Each pod is air-conditioned and has a speaker where you can plug your phone to play any music. How cool would that be? Tickets to enter cost 500 Yen.

Getting there:
The place is most suitably located beside the JR Osaka train station so it would only take a minute to walk there. 

7. Visit The Osaka Aquarium

Kaiyukan or The Osaka Aquarium displays the different amazing aquatic life of the Pacific Region. Each region of the Pacific Rim is represented in 15 huge water tanks. Fishes and other marine life unique to each region are being displayed in each tank. The central tank is the biggest and is the aquarium’s main attraction because of its whale shark. This site opens from 10:00 to 20:00 and will cost you 2,000 Yen.

Getting there:
Take the train from JR Fukushima Station by JR Loop Line (subway). Travel time is approximately 15 minutes for 900 Yen.

8. Experience inner peace at the Shitennoji Temple

Shitennoji Temple is one of the oldest officially administered Buddhist temples in Japan. You can come inside the temple and pray, stroll in its Gokuraku-jodo Garden and marvel at the displayed paintings and sculptures in its treasure house. There’s also a flea market in the temple grounds every 21st of the month. You can enter its outer temple grounds for free, but an entrance fee of 300 Yen is required for you to enter the inner precinct. Another 300 Yen is required for the Gokuraku-jodo Garden and 500 Yen for the treasure house.

Getting there:
You can take a 10-minute walk to the temple from the Shitennoji-mae-Yuhigaoka Station on the Tanimachi Subway Line or north of JR Tennoji Station on the JR Loop Line.

 9. Experience a unique kind of entertainment at the National Bunraku Theater

Bunraku is a traditional Japanese puppet show. This art form is unique in the sense that each puppet is 4 feet tall and is controlled by three people headed by the main puppeteer. In Japan, it takes 30 years of training before one can become a main puppeteer. Can’t understand Japanese? Don’t fret because there are also headphones available to provide English translations for the tourists. Bunraku Theater usually holds performances in three week runs in the months of January, April, June, July, August and November. The admission ranges from 1,500 to 6,500 Yen depending on the performance.

Getting there:
The theater is near the Nippombashi Station on the Subway Sennichimae and Tanimachi Lines. Once can just walk for about 5 minutes to the theater.

10. Relax at Spa World

     After touring around Osaka, you can always cap your day (or night) by relaxing at this spa paradise.  If you want to relax and experience taking a bath at a Japanese onsen (hot spring), then this is the place for you! The resort offers 16 different baths with themes from 11 different countries. It also offers a spacious swimming pool and other services like gym, restaurants, saunas and massages. What’s more amazing,  they are open 24 hours! It will cost you 2,400 yen for 3 hours; 2,700 Yen for all day and an extra charge of 1,300 Yen for midnight stay.

Getting there:
Take a 15-minute train ride from JR Fukushima Station by JR Loop Line to Shinimamiya for 900 Yen. You can also take a 5-minute walk to Spa World from Nankai Dentetsu Shinimamiya Station.  

Other things to do in Japan:

Make the most out of your stay in Japan by making a side trip to Kyoto, Nagoya and Nara. Experience their bullet train and in no time you’ll be in another city in Japan.

 ·  Discover Kyoto’s historical value

If you can’t get enough of Japanese history and culture, why not take a side-trip to Kyoto? Kyoto is Japan’s former capital and the seat of the emperor. It has around 2000 temples and shrines renowned for their historical value. It is even designated as a World Heritage Site so prepare to be transported back in time when visiting Kyoto. Some of the must see attractions in Kyoto include Kinkaku-ji Temple which is one of the 17 World Heritage Sites in Kyoto, the Geishas in Gion District, Kyoto Gosho (imperial palace), Kiyomizudera (Pure water temple) and the Fushimi Inari Shrine. You can stay at Bijuu Hotel to make your stay memorable.

· Take a day trip to Nagoya

What makes Nagoya perfect for a side-trip is that it can be easily explored in just a day. Its accessibility to and from other Japanese cities makes it a perfect instant getaway. Though this city is the hub for Japanese industrialization, it still boasts of wonderful attractions. The two most famous tourist spots in Nagoya are Atsuta Shrine and Nagoya Castle. Other attractions also include the Tokugawa Art Museum, Toyota Plant Tour, Railway Museum and Sakae.

 ·  Explore the legendary Nara

If you want to experience the Kyoto vibe minus the numerous tourists, then Nara for is for you. With the abundance of legends, zen gardens, ancient monasteries and old temples, Nara is surely a magical and picturesque place. One of its major attractions is Nara Park where the tame Sika deer freely roams. It is even said that if you’ll bow to the deer in the park, the deer would also bow to you! Other attractions in Nara also include the Todai-ji Temple, Heijou Palace, Ishibutai Kofun and Yoshino Angu. You can stay at the beautiful and legendary Nara Hotel. It is known to be the premier guest hotel in the Kansai Region for dignitaries.