Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Dreaming of Osaka

Osaka is not your ordinary Japanese city. While it is one of the most important cities in Japan, Osaka enjoys a more laidback setting compared to Tokyo, or even Nagoya.

After our hearty breakfast, we checked-out and hailed a taxi to Kyoto Station. While it was hard for me to leave Kyoto, a sense of adventure started to fill the air. Since Osaka is not that far from Kyoto, we took the local train instead of the Shinkansen. The trip will only take around 45 minutes to Osaka Station. My mom and I waited at the open air platform, and it became hot and humid. Japan's summer was taking its toll on us, so we kept on drinking cold drinks to keep us hydrated.

We left Kyoto at around 11 in the morning. The train was a quick respite from the scorching summer heat. I browsed my playlist, played The Killers' first album (Hot Fuss), took a seat near the window and watched as the landscape slowly changed from modern buildings to paddy fields. Tired from yesterday's activities in Kyoto, I slept for a while. It wasn't until I felt a tap on my left shoulder. It was my mom, saying that we are approaching Osaka station. Groggy and feeling dry, I drank my milk tea with so much gusto. The train started to slow down. Skyscrapers were almost everywhere, and I thought I wouldn't enjoy this city as much as we enjoyed Kyoto. I kept my expectations low.

We immediately felt the heat as we exited the station. We took a cab to our hotel since it wasn't that far, and we're both tired. With a real-feel temperature of 42 degrees, walking around downtown Osaka wasn't a great idea. We arrived two hours early on our check-in time at our hotel. To kill time, we left our luggage and decided to explore Nakanoshima, our neighborhood. The entire street felt like Ayala Avenue in Makati, only that it was more organized and tidy. We ate at a local cafe inside an office tower just right across our hotel. Our lunch, a combination of pork curry and sushi meal, was nothing but a spectacular feast. My mom claimed that she'd get fat should we stay longer in Japan!

We went back to our hotel, and I got excited when the front desk gave us our key cards because it was my first time to stay at a 4-star hotel in Osaka. Generally, Japan is one of the most expensive countries in the world, that's why it's quite hard to find cheap accommodation here. Luckily, I scored a great deal at Mitsui Garden Hotel for JPY 15,000 a night! The room comes with a king-sized bed, lots of pillows, complimentary drinks, shower, bathtub, toilet with bidet, and a flat-screen LED TV. I splurged a bit since I just turned 28, and I wanted our last three days in Japan to be stress-free. The view from our hotel room was just spectacular.

The usual Dotonbori crowd.

The Japanese summer heat was just too much. Even if I grew up in a tropical country, I still can't stand it. Instead of exploring the nearby shopping places of Osaka, we decided to take a nap for a good two hours. We thought it would be cooler if we stroll around in the late afternoon. Of course, we were wrong. The nearest train station from our hotel is approximately 800 meters, a good 10-min walk as what Google claimed. It turned out the whole trip took us more than half an hour. Even at five in the afternoon, the weather was muggy. The air was thick, and I was sweating like a pig! After we scurried our way to the busy streets and train stations of Osaka, we finally made it to Dotonbori, the shopping district of Osaka. The neon lights and the big LED ads were glaring as we were walking around the street. For first time visitors, taking a photo with the Glico man is a must! We met up with a friend and ate ramen at Ichiran. The queue was crazy, but the long wait was worth it. Still feeling hot and sweaty, we continued to explore the corners of this famous shopping district. The sea of people made it worse as it was more difficult to navigate and to shop. We decided to call it a night. We can always go back here during the less busy hours.

Osaka Castle

The following day, we went to Osaka Castle to know more about the rich and colorful history of Japan. At nine in the morning, the temperature was already soaring to a sweltering 37 degrees Celsius. We took some pictures of the castle and eventually rushed our way to the museum. The entire building was airconditioned, so it was a quick relief from the intense heat.

Another great place to visit in Osaka is the Umeda Sky Building. Standing at 39 floors, it is one of Osaka's tallest buildings. Its floating garden observatory offers a panoramic view of Osaka. I can even see our hotel and Itami Airport from there! We didn't stay too long though because of the midday sun.

Umeda Sky Garden

Downtown Osaka

On our last night in Osaka, I decided to roam around Nakanoshima and took some photos using my phone. Despite my endless rants about Japan's crazy humid weather, the streets and rivers of Osaka remain clean. Not a single piece of trash was present while we roamed around the city. That alone is already impressive. While it remains as one of the most important cities of Japan, Osaka is still more laidback than in Tokyo. The entire Kansai Prefecture is a microcosm of old and modern Nippon. Walking around the old quarters of Kyoto, or within the guarded premises of Osaka Castle felt like a trip to the past – a country that was once ruled by the powerful Tokugawa Shogunate.

On our way to Kansai International Airport, we crossed the bridge from Rinku Town. I told my mom that the entire airport is built on a man-made island. She was amazed by this engineering feat, something that we don't have in our home country. It is no wonder why most people whom I know always keep on coming back here.

Japan, you never fail to amaze us.

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