Tuesday, March 6, 2012

osaka in a day - part 1

Before I talk about what I did in Osaka I should probably mention the crazy shit that went down trying to obtain my Kintetsu Rail Pass. So the only people who can buy a Kintetsu pass are visitors and so it has to be purchased outside of Japan. They also have a location in the Kansai Airport to buy the tickets but otherwise everything has to be purchased abroad. So I mentioned here that I had made a trip to Taipei just to buy a voucher to exchange for the rail pass. Once you land in Japan there are several offices you can exchange your voucher at. On the pamphlet, the tourist office gave with the voucher, it stated that there was an office in Tsu. You would assume that I would be able to exchange it at the Kintetsu office ocated at the Main Tsu Station but unfortunately that was not the case. So we stopped by the Kintetsu office that is located in the Tsu Station before heading over to the Moku Moku Restaurant. When we got to the office they told us that their office didn't exchange the vouchers but the KNT tourist office back in Tsu Shimmachi, which is the stop we came from, did it! It was almost 6 pm and that was when the office closed and the next train back to the Shimmachi Station didn't come until after 6 and they didn't open until 10 am the next morning. I had to get that ticket now! I was so glad that Vinnie was there because the people didn't speak any English and I probably would not have understood that I needed to go back to a different office to exchange the voucher. Thankfully the other office was willing to stay open for us so that we could hurry back and exchange my voucher. If they didn't and if Vinnie wasn't there I probably would have gone angry foreigner on their asses and force them to do what I wanted or what is better known as the gaijin smash. But then again I'm usually all talk and steam and no action :( As it was I was already pretty pissed off that we had wasted 300 yen going back and forth on the trains.

Anyways on to my Osaka adventure. I had plans to meet Riley, the friend I'll be staying with in Osaka, for lunch at 11 am so I thought I could catch an early train and maybe check out some sights before I had to meet him up. I get three limited express train vouchers with my Kintetsu Pass and the limited express train takes 2 hours to get from Tsu to Osaka. It would have cost almost 3000 yen for this one trip so the Kintetsu Pass is real steal since the pass costs a little over 3000 yen for 5 days. I forgot to mention before that the trains in Japan have heated seats! OMG best invention ever! They need to do that in Taiwan trains. Anyways not only were the seats heated but on this train the seats could rotate so if you had a group of friends you could make it so that the seats faced each other. I guess a group of 3 girls wanted to do that but when I sat down in the empty seat that was assigned to me that ruined their plans so the other two friends rotated their chairs back... leaving the girl next to me in social isolation. Sorry! The first thing I did upon arriving at the Osaka-Umeda Station was to go to the nearest information booth! Haha I just love hitting them up for brochures and stuff. I've been pretty disappointed because all the information booths pretty much have only one or two brochures in English and they only offer information pertaining to their city. This was a problem since I was hoping to get ideas on places to visit in nearby cities. I've been spoiled by Taiwan with their abundance of information and their gazillion of pamphlets and books about different cities.

At the information center I picked up an One Day Osaka Unlimited Pass for 2000 yen. This pass included unlimited use of the subway, certain private trains and free entrance to over 20 locations. My first stop was the Tsutenkaku Tower, aka Tower Reaching Heaven, located in the Shinsekai District. The tower one of the well-known landmarks of Osaka. The tower offers a view of Osaka but the view isn't that impressive, just a lot of buildings and skyscrapers. The little turret at the top of the tower forecasts the weather with three changing colors.


Closely associated and also enshrined within the tower is the Billiken, the God of Happiness or "things as they ought to be." Visitors rub the Billiken's feet in hopes of getting their wishes granted so I totally had to do it too. I don't even think I made a wish, I just rubbed his feet.


The Billiken is actually a charm doll created by an American in the early 90s. How weird that there are statues of it all around Osaka but I've never heard about it in America. The Shinsekai neighborhood has a lot of interesting restaurants with humongous exterior decorations. The area was really kitschy and is famous for kushikatsu, pieces of meat or vegetable sprinkled with bread crumbs that are skewered and deep fried. I didn't get any since I had lunch plans but wished I had the chance to try some.

 
Headed over to Minato-ku which is the ward where the Osakako Station is and where my friend lives. After dropping off my stuff we grabbed some lunch. We grabbed some okonomiyaki, a Japanese savory pancake, because Osaka is known for their okonomiyaki so I had to try it.

I got a traditional shrimp okonomiyaki which included octopus, squid, vegetables, etc. Even though this was a shrimp okonomiyaki there was just two shrimps and too much squid for my liking. Riley got one that is geared towards foreigners and looked better than mine. I had to try the traditional dish though, oh wells.


I insisted on paying for lunch to thank Riley for letting me stay with him. Total came out to be 2610 yen, so expensive! After lunch we headed over to the Osaka Castle. I recommend going around the back because it has a better view of the castle than from the front. To head towards the back just walk down the hill along the inner moat, you'll pass by the Japanese Plum Grove Garden. The garden was amazing because the plum blossoms are blooming right now! While walking along the moat we kept walking into swarms of bugs. It was gross because we were talking and I was afraid I would accidentally inhale one. Had to keep our eyes peeled and a hand over our mouths.


At the entrance, Riley and I parted ways because I was visiting a whole bunch of sites covered by my Osaka Unlimited Pass and didn't want to force Riley to pay for them. The elevator brings you all the way to the top of the castle where you get a view of the city. The view was ok would have been better if all the cherry trees in the gardens were in bloom. Then you walked down the castle where each floor had different exhibits. If you don't get the Osaka Unlimited Pass I wouldn't recommend paying the 600 yen admission fee since the museum wasn't that interesting and I just walked quickly through it. The exterior is the best part of the castle!

Located inside the Osaka Castle Park is the Peace Osaka or Osaka International Peace Center. Peace Osaka has exhibits about the air raids on Osaka and also the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In addition there are also exhibits about the atrocities that Japan committed against other countries which I found really interesting. Nice to see a country that puts a spotlight on the horrible things they've done and not try to ignore it. This was one museum where I actually spent time reading all the placards and looking at all the pictures. Some of the images were very disturbing - you've been warned.


The Details
Osaka Unlimited Pass
One Day Pass: 2000 yen  Two Day Pass: 2700 yen
website: where to buy, benefits, map, etc
where to exchange in Tsu: at Tsu Shimmachi Station, turn right when exiting the turnstiles and head for the KNT office at the corner of the station.

Tsutenkaku Tower
1-18-6 Ebisu-Higashi, Naniwa-ku, Osaka, 556-0002
tel: 06-6641-9555
hours: 10:00-18:00 (closes at 18:30)
admission fee: 600 yen - student discount 500 yen
website: English tower guide
directions: take exit 3 from Ebisucho Station of Subway Sakaisuji Line and just walk straight, you'll see the tower in the distance

note: take the elevator up to the 2nd floor for the ticket office and entrance to the top of the observatory

Osaka Castle Museum
1-1 Osakajo, Chuoku, Osaka City 540-0002
tel: +81-(0) 6-6941-3044
hours: 9:00 am to 5:00 pm (last admission at 4:30 pm)  closed: December 28- January 1
admission fee: 600 yen
website: http://www.osakacastle.net/english/
directions: 15-20 minute walk from exit 1B, 9, Tanimachi 4-chrome Station or exit 3 from Temmabashi Station of Subway Tanimachi Line

you'll exit out into the Osaka Castle Park and will walk through an area with a huge fountain in the middle walk towards the path on the left hand side to head to the castle and head up a huge flight of stairs

Osaka International Peace Center
2-1, Osakajo, Chuo-ku, Osaka 540-0002
tel: 06-6947-7208
hours: 9:30 am - 5:00 pm (last admission 4:30 pm)
closed: Mondays, last day of each month, days following national holidays
admission fee: 250 yen
website: English pamphlet
directions: inside the the Osaka Castle Park after exiting the area with the huge fountain, while heading straight towards the Osaka Castle instead of walking straight turn left, follow the signage

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