21 April 2018
Getting to Osaka
After an epic 14-hour journey from Melbourne via stop over at Hong Kong, we landed at Kansai International Airport in Osaka at around 10:30pm local time. Bub was already asleep as we made our way through immigration, customs and baggage collection. As tired as we were, we still had to exchange our currency and find the bus that would take us to our hotel. I had read online that it was way more convenient to catch the bus than the train and since we had two luggages, two hand carries and one stroller in tow, it was our only option in that moment (taxi is super expensive!). It cost Y1550 per person or around $18AUD, a great value since our hotel was in proximity to Osaka Station which was close to an hour away. Bub woke up during the bus ride, spotting stars outside the window which kept her busy until we reached our stop in front of the New Hankyu Hotel just across Osaka Station. I looked at the time on my phone as we reached the hotel (Umeda OS Hotel), it was close to midnight. After a quick check-in procedure, we finally made it to our (tiny) room. “It looked bigger online, it’s kinda cute” I said to Wifey. “The bathroom smells nice and very clean”, she said with a smile. Bub cheerfully jumped on the bed which occupied 70% of the room space. Our home for the week.
22 April 2018
Day 1 – Osaka
Breakfast at Saizeriya
As much as we wanted to sleep in, we were not going to miss the buffet breakfast that we paid for. Holding our breakfast coupons provided the night before at check-in, we headed to Saizeriya, an Italian restaurant right across the lobby. I wasn’t sure what kind of breakfast we were going to be served; Japanese, Western or Italian. It was a combination of all the above. There were sausages, bacon, scrambled eggs, pasta bake, smoked fish, miso soup and rice. Bub had a liking to the wedges, corn and bacon.
Tsuyu-no-Tenjinja Shrine (Ohatsu Tenjin)
A stone’s throw away from our hotel, the Tsuyu-no Tenjinja Shrine is situated at the end of a shopping arcade that we passed by as we walked back from attending church. A handful of people were already there offering their prayers as we entered the main Torii gate. Also known as Ohatsu Tenjin, derived from the name of the a woman who fell in love with a man named Tokubei, the shrine was a key set to the play based on their tragic love story which ended in both of them committing suicide. Beside the shrine, a love sanctuary dedicated to the lovers display not only their statues but also a painting depicting them. A sub shrine to Inari, the god of rice took my full attention due to the vermillion torii gates that lined the path toward it. Wifey and Bub happily explored the grounds while I snapped some photos of it.
Before we could get to our destination, we firstly had to pick up our train passes at Osaka Station. I booked these passes a month before our trip. These Japan Railway (JR) West passes were valid for 5 days and covered the Kansai area including the bullet train to Hiroshima which would have been expensive to buy on its own. It was to cover all our transportation needs during the whole trip (except subway lines).
On our way to see Osaka Castle, we stopped by the food hall at Osaka Castle Park since it was way past Bub’s lunch time. There were plenty of western typed restaurants but since it was to be our first proper meal in Japan, we thought we should go with a Japanese restaurant. We also had to make sure that there was something in their menu that Bub would eat. With only a couple of options within the vicinity, Kinjotei Japanese diner was the winner. The menu had set bento meals between Y1000 and Y1500 with English names, which made ordering a breeze – chicken karaage set for Wifey and pork katsu for me plus a matcha milk tea drink on the side which we ordered before finding out that the meal actually came with drinks already. According to Bub’s taste, she would give the karaage 4 stars, the rest of the food she wasn’t too keen on. Overall, I would give this restaurant a 3 and a half stars for crispy karaage and some decent side dishes.
It was a fair walk across the park to reach Osaka Castle, at one point challenged by a steep flight of concrete stairs which slowed us a little as I had to bring up Bub and the stroller separately. The view was totally worth it. Before reaching the castle, we passed by the side of the moat. The bushes that lined the path were in full bloom of pink and white flowers. As we got closer to the entrance, the crowd of people grew. Some congregating around food trucks that sold soft serves (matcha flavour was very popular) and other Japanese delicacies like takoyaki (octopus balls).
There were even more people inside the castle gates admiring the white castle that stood before us. Having been rebuilt and renovated a few times throughout history from natural disasters and war, the castle was initially built during Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s rule back in 1583. Strolling through the curated garden, we noticed a particular spot by the pond where a number of people were taking photos in front of. I was assuming it was to take a picture of the heron that was conveniently sitting on a concrete pagoda in the middle of the pond but as we copped a full view of it, the castle was perfectly framed in the background. I had to get “the shot”. It was quite warm for a Spring day, around 27 degrees. As Bub napped under the shade of her stroller, we cooled off with some milk tea I purchased via the drink vending machines conveniently placed within the resting area.
Still feeling jet-lagged, we made a decision to find a place to eat around our hotel as we wanted an early night in and conveniently, the Sonezaki Ohatsutenjin-dori Shotengai Shopping Arcade (what a mouthful) was just behind the hotel building. Even so, we still took our time looking at menus that were mostly in Japanese though some had English translations. There were also plenty of sampuru or food replicas on display to help our cause. We passed by a seemingly new restaurant who had greeters at the door smiling at us and spoke enthusiastically in Japanese. “English menu?”, Wifey asked. The female greeter paused, signalled with her hand for us to wait and then hurried back inside. She returned with a colleague who said with a smile “We don’t have English menu but I know some English, I can help you order”.
After a little stumble in communication while ordering off the menu, we ended up ordering some wagyu beef and pork belly to grill and a bowl of chashu pork ramen. Wagyu beef came first and as soon as I placed the raw marbled pieces of meat on the grill it made the most wonderful sizzling sound. The smell was salivating. Bub was making her own slurping noises as Wifey fed her some ramen, from time to time shouting “noodles!” when she wanted more. I started to cook the pork belly while we enjoyed the beef dipped in a sweet and salty sauce partnered by steaming rice. It was an enjoyable experience and the food was very good – 4 stars.
The day felt long which was probably due to our tiredness however it was a pleasant start to our Japan trip. A little taste of Osaka which had us craving for more.