Travels in Japan: Osaka 大阪, Kansai (September 30 to October 4, 2017)

Courtesy of T.Kambayashi (Wikimedia Commons). See
Courtesy of T.Kambayashi (Wikimedia Commons). See the original page.

After a brief stay in Tokyo, we took the Shinkansen bullet train to Osaka (大阪) located in the Kansai region of Japan; the journey took about 3 hours westward. We had the First Class Japan Rail tickets but had forgotten to reserve our seats in the First Class section of the train. We were lucky that one of the train conductors allowed us to sit in the reserved First Class section, as there were not many people and we were carrying a lot of luggage. The seats were quite comfortable, clean, and spacious. An attendant provided us with some refreshments, snacks, and a wet towellette. The time passed quickly as we made our way to Shin-Osaka station– one of the central Japan Rail (JR) stations.

With luggage in hand, we transferred to the local train line to the newer Bay Area, facing Osaka Bay. The overall train ride took about 45 minutes from the main city center. The hotel we stayed at was Hotel La Raison (now called Quintessa Hotel Osaka Bay as of 2019), a fairly new luxurious, Western-style hotel located in Cosmo Square (train station). The room was quite spacious and comfortable.

The Bay Area of Osaka has many nearby attractions, including Universal Studios Japan, Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, and Cosmo Tower. We were lucky that Hotel La Raison offered a complimentary shuttle service to these attractions (except for Cosmo Tower, which is within walking distance) and to the JR Osaka Station. See the main website for the shuttle bus schedule.

Tip: If you have the Pasmo card, you can use it to travel on the local train or bus transportation system in Osaka. Just remember to add more money to the card as needed.

Shitennoji Temple (Tennoji district)
Shitennoji Temple (Tennoji district)

September 30, 2017

Attraction List:

  • Shitennoji Temple (Tennoji district)
  •  Shinsekai (Tennoji district)
    • Tsuenkaku
  • Nipponbashi district
  • Namba district
    • Dotonbori 

Once we settled down and relaxed for awhile in the hotel, we headed out to the Tennoji district, the older part of Osaka. We first visited the Shitennoji Temple (photo above), one of the oldest Zen Buddhist temples in Japan from 593. Although the buildings were renovated, they still have its spiritual charm. Just beware of the mosquitoes that surround the pond near the side of the temple.

Tsutenkaku tower in Shinsekai
Tsutenkaku tower in Shinsekai

After a spiritual walk around the temple, we headed towards Shinsekai (meaning “new world”), the retro entertainment district that represented Japan in the old days before it got rich. The iconic Tsutenkaku looms just past the archway declaring the entrance to Shinsekai. Many eateries with their bright advertising signs and people handing out menus bombard your senses as you walk down the street. We wandered around the district a few times to get a sense of our surroundings and the eating choices available before deciding on a restaurant.

At a restaurant called Tsuruhashi Fugetsu Shinsekai, we tried the okonomiyaki, flour and yam-based pancake mixed with meat and vegetables fried on a hot plate, but was not brave enough to try Osaka’s signature takoyaki, fried octopus mixed in batter and topped with mayonnaise.

After dinner, we strolled out of the Shinsekai area northward into the Nipponbashi district.

Caution: The sidewalks in Japan have a rain gutter on the right hand side, creating an uneven surface that is difficult to see at night. Beware of falling and twisting an ankle! I speak from experience.

The Nipponbashi district has many forms of entertainment, such as a whole building dedicated to gaming, and specialty shops selling Japanese anime and manga. This area is commonly known to the locals as “Den Den Town.” It is highly recommended that one researches which specific anime/manga stores to visit because it can get overwhelming with all the choices. During the time of my visit, I noticed that the prices in Osaka tended to be lower than those in Tokyo. I am not certain about Kyoto as I did not spend enough time there.

Iconic octopus restaurant in Dotonbori
Iconic octopus restaurant in Dotonbori

After this brief detour, we continued north into the Namba district and then to Dotonbori. Namba district is known as the entertainment and shopping district. Dotonbori is the food lover’s paradise! Lined with small restaurants on both sides of the river, Dotonbori should not to be missed with its iconic giant signs of the Glico man and the red octopus. Even in the rain, we saw people queuing up with their umbrellas outside the restaurants. I guess the locals are food lovers, rain or shine!

Lining up for ramen in the rain in Dotonbori
Lining up for ramen in the rain in Dotonbori

After exploring the area, we took the train back to our hotel and had a good night’s sleep

October 1, 2017

We took the shinkansen to Kyoto for the day. Then, we returned to Osaka in the evening.

October 2, 2017

Attraction List:

  • Shinsaibashi
    • Shinsaibashi-Suji
  • Namba district
    • Dotonbori 

By now we were familiar with the public transportation system in Osaka. Since the weather was rainy, we opted to explore Shinsaibashi-Suji (also known as Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade), one of the main shopping areas in Osaka located on Mido-Suji Avenue. We took the shuttle bus from the hotel to Osaka station, then from there, we took the train to Shinsaibashi station. From the station, we headed south to the shopping complex. There was an underground passage that allows you to go to the other side of the street, where you can enter the shopping complex proper.

The shopping complex had all the usual Japanese flagship shops, such as Uniqlo and Daimaru department store, as well as western shops. It is recommended that you plan ahead as to which shops you want to visit.

Note: The shops in Shinsaibashi-Suji allow you to get your tax refund at the Daimaru department store. The system is very efficient and you can get your refund in no time!

For lunch, we went to J’adore restaurant, which served decently priced western-style lunch sets, such as pasta, and self-serve drinks, salad, and soup. This quaint place was very popular with the ladies.

Dotonbori in the daytime

Afterwards, we continued walking south to Dotonbori. On both sides of the river walk are the picturesque signs and flashing advertisements. Busy during the day and night there was much to see in this part of town. As the paradise of food lovers, there were many small places serving takoyaki, ramen, street food, and Asahi beer. We took in the sights and smells as we explored the place for a few hours. Then, we had a coffee break in one of the coffee shops we passed by.

Takoyaki anyone?

Note: Not sure what to eat? Check out Gurunavi, Japan’s version of Yelp for restaurant recommendations and deals.

As it neared evening, we walked further south to the heart of the Namba district that contained more shopping, dining, and entertainment (notably the pachinko parlors, nightclubs, and arcades). After exploring each niche and corner, we settled for ramen at a small shop in Dotonbori. We tried the gyoza and pork ramen, which was quite flavorful but a bit too salty.

Tired from all the walking, we headed back to the hotel.

October 3, 2017

We went on a day trip to Himeji. Then, we returned to Osaka in the evening. for dinner.

We had dinner at a Chinese restaurant called 551 Horai in the Namba district. The restaurant primarily served chow mein, fried rice, and assorted set dinners.

October 4, 2017 Osaka -> Tokyo

This was the last day of our brief exploration of the western part of Japan. Once we had breakfast and checked out, we went by taxi to the JR Osaka station. From there, we took the shinkansen to Tokyo, a 3-hour journey. We had the forethought of reserving our seats in the first class train car. This way we did not have to worry about not having seats.