8.3.15

Japan: Day 10 + 11 - The many heights and sights of Osaka


There was a lot waiting for me to explore in Osaka, but first it was time to say goodbye to the family duo who run the Asakachi Ryokan. They honestly couldn't be sweeter; as I left they stood outside the entrance and waved and bowed until I was out of sight ... which was a 60-metre walk! Every time I turned around to see if they were still there they started waving a bowing again. The one problem with this was the bus stop that I was going to stand at for up to 20 minutes was still in view, so I slowly moved my way around the corner to be out of view - I gave it a couple of minutes before peeping around the corner, by which time they had disappeared back inside.


The journey to Osaka took just over 2 hours with a 10-minute bus ride to Ise-Shi station. From their I  took the Kintetsu Limited Express train to Tsuruhashi and then jumped onto the Osaka Loop Line train for 7 stops. It was interesting to watch the change in scenery as we got closer to Osaka; from vast forests and farms to rooftops as far as the eye could see, gradually getting taller and taller the closer we got to the city.

 

The hotel was in the heart of the Umeda district which is a short walk from Osaka Station making it really easy to get around to a lot of the places I was aiming to check out over the next 2 days, so thank you for the recommendation InsideJapan.

As I arrived at Osaka Station the heavens opened and a torrential downpour ensued through the day and into the night. This was a bit of a disappointment as a lot of the things I wanted to go and do today were outside ... but it wasn't to put me off, that's what umbrellas are for right?

I got to the hotel just after 12 and was told that I wouldn't be able to check in for a couple of hours, so to make the most of this time I sat in the lobby and planned my next 48 hours to ensure I could fit everything in, as well as moving a few bits around in the hope that it wouldn't be raining the following day. This didn't take as long as expected so instead of wasting an hour chilling in a hotel lobby I left my luggage with reception and ventured outside with my camera and umbrella at the ready! 


First I checked out the back streets of Umeda which were littered with Pachinko arcades, restaurants and bars. It was all directly behind the hotel so was right on my doorstep.


I didn't want to venture too far so I only popped into the shopping centre on the other side of the road ... little did I know that it was one of the largest shopping centres in the city - this place was huge, and heaving!
 

I entered through the food market which felt a bit like the one in Harrods but 6 times the size with 40 times the number of people! The queues for certain items were 40-50 people, and weirdly enough the busiest traders were the french style patisseries! They were dotted throughout the food court and had the biggest queues by far. There was also a lot of fish and sushi for sale as well as every variety of green tea! 


There were a total of 13 floors in this place; I headed for the event hall which was on the 9th floor as I was intrigued as to what I'd find. When I got there it was a bit of a let down as it was some sort of mini market with traders selling handmade items, but the space was quite impressive. For the 9th floor the ceiling was really high and there was seating (for obviously when an event is actually taking place) that were currently being used for the men to rest while their partners carried on shopping, for groups to eat their lunch etc. 


I also wanted to check out the 13th floor because on the floor index it was labelled as 'Rooftop Plaza'. The 12th and 13th floors were a series of restaurants, from your more basic to the really expensive. The rooftop had a great view ... but wasn't the top of the building! The building carried on for at least another 20-30 floors, all of which were offices. (There was also a mini shrine on the roof ... for what though I have no clue as the sign was in Japanese).


After losing myself for an hour in what can only be described as Selfridges on drugs, it was time to head back to the hotel and check in. I went back, charged my phone, laptop, Pocket Wifi, grabbed a shower and headed back out. The rain hadn't let up and the first place I wanted to go was a 20-minute walk, so for only the 2nd time this trip I hailed a taxi! I'm really trying not to take taxis because I want to get a feel for each city and using public transport is the best way to do this. But when it's raining and I've got a tight schedule to stick to sometimes it's just necessary.


The first place on my list was the Umeda Sky Building to check out the Floating Garden Observatory. Now don't be fooled, because many have - but there is no garden and / or floating! Essentially it's an impressive viewing platform at the top of the Sky Building. It's the 18th tallest building in Osaka, and one of the city's most recognisable landmarks. It was hard to get a shot from the ground because when looking straight up in the pissing rain the camera doesn't really like it- but I tried on the way out as it wasn't raining as hard. 


It consists of two 40-story towers that connect at their two uppermost stories, with bridges and an escalator crossing the wide atrium-like space in the centre, which is probably the most impressive bit. The couple behind me on the escalator weren't fans! I think they might have been scared of heights so when you look outside and realise there's nothing underneath the escalator for 40 floors it can be a little scary if you're heightest!


The views of Osaka were amazing, but the weather didn't do it justice. I arrived just after sunset to hopefully get some nice skies, unfortunately it was too cloudy but the landscape was still impressive enough to get a few shots as the light slowly faded. 


There was also a cool UV light and speckled floor out on the viewing platform which I obviusly made use of ...


Before I left the building I checked out the basement because there was an underground market that attempts to recreate the atmosphere of Osaka in the early 20th century. Market traders were setting up as I was walking around because the restaurants don't open until 6-7pm so is pretty dead before then. It looked quite fun and I really liked some of the old school advertisements that were on display, but it's a pretty random thing to have in the basement of an office building right?!


Now for my next port of call, which was the Glico running man. You may not know what that is but you would definitely have seen a picture of it over the years. But I'll get onto him in a minute, first I had to get there! I decided to walk back to Umeda station (which was only 3 stops from Namba where I'd find the running man). To help me with this quest to the station I used my trusty Pocket Wifi from Japan Experience. I know I've said it before but this little beauty was an absolute gem on this trip. I'd definitely recommend getting one.

The walk wasn't too bad, the rain just made it hard to take any shots (although I did pass a driving range which looked like fun). 

 

This was my first trip on the Osaka subway, but to be fair once you've been on one you've been on them all. Some people get flustered but as long as you can read a map you're fine. And what's the worst that can happen - you get on the wrong one! Luckily there's a train every few minutes so it's not all bad ... just make sure you don't get on the wrong carriage! :/


Once I'd made it to Namba in one piece it was time to find the famous running man, which was only about 100 metres if that, from the exit of the station.


Recognise him? Well if not,  he was originally installed in 1935, the giant neon athlete on a blue track is a symbol of Glico candy. The sign has been altered on several occasions to celebrate events such as the World Cup and to show support for the Osaka baseball team, the Hanshin Tigers who are MASSIVE out here! I've always wanted to see this for myself, I guess a bit like Times Square or Piccadilly Circus for others. The awful weather actually made it great to grab some nice arty shots ...

 

After filling my boots with shots of this Osaka icon I took a stroll around Dotonburi which is the surrounding area running along the Dōtonbori canal from Dōtonboribashi Bridge to Nipponbashi Bridge in the Namba district of the city's Chuo ward. Historically a theater district, it is now a popular nightlife and entertainment area characterized by its eccentric atmosphere and large illuminated signboards which are EVERYWHERE!

From here it was time for my last stop of the night; Shinsekai. I jumped back on the subway which was now rammed with people heading out for a fun packed Saturday night, but still queueing politely and waiting patiently (take note, London!)


Shinsekai is an old neighbourhood located next to south Osaka City's downtown "Minami" area. The neighbourhood was created in 1912 with New York as a model for its southern half and Paris for its northern half. A Luna Park amusement park operated from 1912 until it closed in 1923. Over the last decade or so it's become the cool area for little bars, diners and retro stores. It's a strange area, I guess a bit like parts of East London; slightly run down with quite an eighties, outdated feel. I liked it, the old school feel still comes through. The centrepiece of the neighbourhood was (and still is) the Tsutenkaku Tower (the "tower reaching to heaven"). It's hard not to include it in every picture you take ...


The towers total height is 103 with a main observation deck at a height of 91 m. After seeing it in all its glory I decided that I had to return the following day during the day to go up it and take in the sights. 

After a pretty succesful day I was pretty drained so called it a night at 11pm and headed back to the hotel, with lots more on the agenda starting early in the morning...


Well after such a busy day of traveling and sightseeing I was out like a light, but I was up at the crack of dawn this morning as today is my last day in Osaka. First on the list was the Osaka Castle which opened at 9am, so I left the hotel and jumped on the subway just before 9. 

 

The first thing you see when you get off the subway isn't the castle, but the Osaka Museum of History which towers right over the station. I didn't have time to check it out but I took a couple of shots - the architecture in this city is amazing.


On the way to the castle I passed a large venue with its doors open and I could hear a lot of commotion going on inside, so had a cheeky look! To my excitement I saw hundreds of judo’ers (what do you call someone that does judo!?) either way, loads of them – and it looked like they were getting briefed, so I thought I’d stick around to see if anything were to happen. Luckily for me a tournament was about to commence. At any one time there were four bouts taking place, all being adjudicated. 

I couldn't believe I’d stumbled on a local judo tournament is Osaka. I stayed for about 20 minutes (as nobody asked me to leave) and once I’d had my fix of Judo I finally made my way to the castle.

The castle wasn’t hard to miss – it’s bloody massive! The castle is one of Japan's most famous and it played a major role in the unification of Japan during the sixteenth century. Building started back in 1583!



I took a few shots whilst looking around the grounds (which covers 15 acres!) and checking out the moat which runs around the castle, the local dogs which all seemed to be tiny and wearing clothes, plus the tourist spots before heading inside to see the view from the top of the main tower. 



The views again were amazing and thankfully the weather today was so much better than yesterday!


From here it was a trip back to Shinsekai to go up the Tsutenkaku Tower.

And then, out of total coincidence – one which I could have never have hoped for; whilst taking a stroll through the park on the way back to the station I stumbled across a couple having their wedding photographs taken having had the ceremony in the morning. The couple looked amazing, as did this little fella in his bowtie (who'd just had a little ice cream ... I think he'd earnt it!)



I had a quick walk through the market before heading to the tower ... which had seen better days!


When I got to the tower I was told that there was a 40-minute wait, which I was fine with (if the queues that long then it surely means it’s worth it … and I’m not one that likes missing out on stuff!)


This tower was much more than just a viewing platform. Inside there were shops, a band playing, a museum detailing the history of the tower, a massive Cligo section and a series of photo opportunities, even an artist who will paint a portrait of you from a photograph he takes by the time you come down from the tower! 


After all that fun I still had the views to look forward to, and they didn't disappoint! The zoo is right next to Shinsekai so you get a great view of the park and its animals including the lion, giraffe, zebra and flamingo enclosures! (The zoo was one thing on the list that I didn’t have time for, but now feel like I got to enjoy it – even if it was from above!)


From the tower I wanted to head to see the Cligo running man during the day as it’s a different colourway in the daylight. This was also on the way to the highlight of the day - the sumo tournament! But back to Dotonburi; I explored more of the river today (which wasn't really an option last night in the rain), checking out the amazing frontages, both new and old. Also, the Japanese really do love their green tea flavoured chocolates!


From here it was a short 5-minute walk to the Osaka Prefectural Gymansium where I was to enjoy an afternoon of sumo wrestling. It was the 2015 Nihon Grand Sumo Tournament and was taking place over the next couple of weeks in Osaka. Sumo tournaments happen every other month and take place around the country, so my trip was great timing. Today was the first day of the tournament so excitement was in the air. My trip to Osaka was based around this tournament and booked by InsideJapan to ensure I didn’t miss it so a massive thank you to them.

On my way in I actually saw a few sumo wrestlers signing autographs, so I thought I’d grab a quick photo – it’s not like I’m going to come across a sumo wrestler in London is it!? 


The tournament was so much more than I’d hoped for. Sumo wrestling is actually really impressive and quite brutal. The guys do some serious damage to each other. The crowd really get behind their favorites – it sort of reminded me of wrestling ‘back in the day’ when you had your favorite and would cheer for them from the moment they come out to bout until they disappear either victorious or in the shame of losing.

After enjoying a couple of hours watching fat guys throw each other around watched by screaming skinny guys, I headed to Osaka bay. Firstly I checked out the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan. The most impressive parts of the aquarium were the tunnel tank and the Pacific Ocean tank, which included a couple of whale sharks. The size of this tank and the sharks was immense - you had to stand pretty far back just to get a shot of them!

 
And I couldn’t have timed it more perfectly for the final destination. The Tempozan Giant Ferris Wheel is in Osaka Bay as well and is literally only 100 meters from the aquarium entrance. The sun had just started to set, which a clear sky like tonight gives you those deep blues that are perfect for photographing – especially landscapes as beautiful as this. The wheel has a height of 112.5 metres and a diameter of 100 metres, making it one of the largest in the world! The views of the bay were beautiful. It takes around 15 minutes to go round once.


The wheel also has colored lights that provide a weather forecast for the next day. Orange lights indicate a sunny day, green lights a cloudy day and blue lights indicate rain.



And as the trip around the wheel ends so has my time in Osaka. I loved it here, just as much as I thought I was going to – it’s an amazing city and definitely one that I could spend more time exploring. Today was fun packed from start to finish and has left me with just enough time to write this up before having to head to bed to get ready for tomorrow … Himeji and Kurashiki!

Night all

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