We’re staying in Osaka today! fireworks go off The enthusiasm was primarily because after a gruelling two days which covered Kyoto, Hiroshima and Miyajima, we were grateful for the extra time to sleep and I was also excited by the prospect that today may be the day we got to wear a Kimono or Yukata in Japan, something I passed on last time I was here. We continued our bread basket breakfast tradition and finally tried the black lychee looking fruit. Verdict – not lychee but close enough? We also continued our post-breakfast walk around the hotel before finally getting ready to board the bus for our day in Osaka.
It was a fantastically hot day, defying the weather report, with bright blue skies and a burning sun which made us question if it had really rained the day before. Our first stop was Osaka Castle. The Osaka Castle, built and fortified by Hideyoshi as never before, only for his chief retainer, Ieyausu of Nijo Castle, to burn down the castle is the Summer War after which Hideyoshi’s son committed suicide. Being a castle, it’s surrounded by deep moats, which means it was a long walk to the castle through the tree-lined paths kindly gracing us with their shade.
The walk was unexpectedly crowded, with throngs of people pouring in and it was only when we reach the inner bailey that we realized a colourful and lively event going on was what had attracted all the crowd. Above the crowd, the white castle sits on a sheer base of giant quarried stone, from which it rises with its characteristic green tiled roofs tipped with golden shachihoko. While I was busy being stunned by the size of the rocks, we were handed our tickets and were ready to explore the castle. We walked up the steps of the stony base, grateful for the mist spraying over our heads in an attempt to ward of the ever-increasing heat.
At the entrance, we found two lines – one for anyone who cared to climb up the 8 storeys to the observation deck, and one for those who preferred to take the elevator upto the 5th floor. We stuck to the elevator, avoiding the stairs like the plague to ensure ma didn’t have another Sunrise Peak episode. The 5th floor houses the folding screen depicting the Summer War in Osaka and while photographs are permitted here, photography is prohibited on the 3rd and 4th floors which house the more interesting parts of the exhibition such as portraits of Hideyoshi (who we’d now become eager to see having heard so much about him), real Japanese armour and intricate scale models of Osaka Castle during different rules. What I didn’t get to see however was the Golden Tea Room its walls and ceiling and even the utensils used for tea, all covered in gold leaf.
As we walked down to the second floor, we stumbled upon… a costume experience, where we found one of our tour buddies getting dressed up as a samurai, complete with helmet and battle coat! We decided to join in the fun (Z abstained) and ma and I dressed up in colourful kimonos! Of course, the kimonos were far too large for me, and I was reminded of my internship days where the guys on site declared that 3 of me could fit into the smallest pair overalls they had for me… they weren’t wrong -_- It was so much fun getting dressed up in a jiffy kimono, sash, flower in our hair (read hijab) et al and then asking Z to be our photographer ^^
Back on the first floor, we bagged another commemorative coin (I know you’re getting curious but you’ll have to patient and wait till the end of this series to see the final tally) and a couple of postcards. We didn’t have much time to linger since we had to negotiate the steps back down and eventually we all assembled under the shade of a tree, armed with a rainbow of crushed ice flavours, from traditional melon to exotic Blue Hawaii in an attempt to ward of the heat.
As we began our long walk back to the bus I realized just how much of the castle gardens we had left undiscovered. What we had seen around us was breathtakingly beautiful and I began to wonder what a spring picnic on the castle grounds would feel like. Magical I suppose, surrounded by the plum blossoms. There was just something so peaceful about the grounds despite the throngs of people and I just wanted to lie down and stare up at the canopy tracing out the shapes of the different leaves against the sky.
I couldn’t do that though, less out of fear of what constitutes propriety in public, and more because we were hastening on to our next stop- the recently opened Osaka Museum of Housing and Living. The bus dropped us off at a street corner from where we walked towards the museum entrance past photo studios, where Z picked up more film for his Polaroid, and beautiful salons promising to leave you looking like a plucked chicken. We picked up out tickets at the museum entrance and began our tour not quite knowing what to expect.
As it turned out, the museum is designed such that you can experience life in Edo period Osaka by walking down streets lined with shops and houses and doing so in a kimono if you should like to get into character. We decided to forgo the cosplay having dressed up already, but Z decided to give it a shot only to find out that they were out of kimonos! Our first view, as we started from the top, was an overhead view of the wooden buildings lining the streets with tiled roofs and a buzzing walkway filled with people dressed up in kimonos. We made our way down and took a step back in time. We found ourselves peeping into schoolrooms and theatres, workshops and homes, staring at lions and dolls, lanterns and ukiyo-e. The best part of our meanderings was when the lights went dark, a deep rumbling of thunder was heard and the flashes of ‘lightning’ could be seen the overcast sky.
We left the night behind on the 9th floor and stumbled across the beautiful beginnings of the Hermann Harp Concert. We lingered there listening to the familiar classical chords before entering what I could call a modeller’s heaven, where intricately detailed models of Osaka were displayed through the Meiji, Taisho and Showa periods. Even some of the models, like the Tsutenkaku and Luna Park had a complete 24 hour cycle, with skies changing and lights turning on and off. I would have loved to just sit there to be able to fully appreciate the detail put into every model. We left the 8th floor, past old TV sets and telephones that made me appreciate the world of OLEDs and smartphones all the more.
The true gold mine, though, came as we left the displays behind and entered the museum shop, which happily housed every kind of model I would potentially want to ever buy. Had I been a smart shopper, I would have exercised self-restraint and waited to head to a tax-free store to make my purchases, but on trips like this, where you’re not sure which models will be available easily, you tend to buy them as you see them. I picked up all my favourites, not wanting to regret missing them later and in doing so pretty much cleared out my mum’s wallet, having left my own behind in the bus. Oops. The museum had one other thing going in its favour – it was the place my mum discovered the healing refreshment of a cold Sparkling Apple Minute Maid.
After all that shopping and sparkly goodness we headed for lunch at the dubiously named Bulls at the OCAT mall. Not one for experimentation what with my tissue paper colon, I wasn’t sure quite what to expect for our Japanese sukiyaki lunch. We stepped in to the restaurant and were met with a familiar sight- a simmering pot sat on our table accompanied by a plate of fine cuts of beef and an assortment of vegetables waiting to be boiled. I was taken back to our Shabu Shabu adventure of 2015, which had been a resounding success for everyone, myself excepted again thanks to the uncooperative colon. My heart sank in the soy souce and sugar broth and even Fanta grape, which tastes exactly like my favourite childhood cold medication Dimetapp couldn’t help. However, I was determined not to write off the lunch without first giving it a try. Interestingly, the final touch in sukiyaki is to dip your cooked meat and veggies in raw egg before eating. Since eggs are my enemy, I skipped the last step and found myself , to my own surprise, enjoying the meat more than the veggies. Since we had half a day to go, I couldn’t overdo it though, so I was ecstatic when the noodles came out. Those noodles in that broth were absolutely divine. Lunch turned to be a spectacular success, and for those unsure of the raw egg, they had seized the opportunity and channeling their inner chef had simply mixed the egg in with their broth to cook it instead. cue slow applause
There wasn’t much to see at the OCAT mall, so after a short restroom and prayer break we headed to the famous Dotonbori street. While it’s famous for its food and nightlife, we were heading there for neither of the aforementioned things, having just had lunch and it being afternoon. We ended up strolling down the food street, past dazzling mouth watering 食品サンプル displays and storekeepers all vying for our attention. There were game arcades, in which we ran in to our せんせい in the middle of an intense drumming session. Food, games, shopping – Dotonbori has it all.
As the summer sun began to bear down on us quite unbearably heating the asphalt of the road, we found ourselves making our way into souvenir and department stores to escape the heat. We went in to escape the heat, and came out with more models, at great prices I may add. By the time we all assembled at our rendezvous point under Osaka’s famous crab, we were all ready to hit Abeno Harukas for some much needed air-conditioning and to rest our feet.
We weren’t interested in seeing much at the mall, except the observatory and rooftop gardens. For others however, this was the place they’d finally get their hands on Japan’s famous cheesecake so while cheesecake lovers headed on to wait in line for some strawberry goodness, we went straight up to the rooftop gardens, to which we discovered entrance was free, for some well-deserved R&R and some great views of the city.
We rested in the sanctuary of the garden for a long time, until the humidity forced us back inside. We’d already picked up our commemorative coin, so it was now all about finding a much-needed coffee shop. This would prove to be no easy feat. The evening had brought with it the crowds so we were struggling to find a single coffee shop with seats available as well as being sidetracked by all the alluring shop displays. From photo studios with the most gorgeous kimonos on display available to try on, to beautiful and delicately hand painted wallets and lanterns, from the promise of massive discounts at Loft to the more practical allure of black full face visors, the likes of which we had seen runners using at Osaka castle – there were plenty of distractions around until we finally descended to the same floor as our rendezvous point and found a seat at Muji Cafe.
By the time we reached the cafe, we were thoroughly exhausted and I felt like I had completed a marathon, despite this not having been the most hectic day of our itinerary. Coffee, tea and dates were very much in order and thankfully dinner was in the same complex, somewhere down below at an Indian place called Ganges. We had super spicy kebabs and tender boneless chicken tikka with papad as appetisers, so by the time the butter chicken and naan came out I was already feeling full. Oops. Z had been relegated to the gents’ table, so we ended up having dinner with our buddy from our list trip and her mum who’d joined her this year just as our had! We shared pictures, exchanged stories and by the end of it all agreed it was time to get a good night’s sleep.
We had to pack up as soon as we reached the hotel, because we were going to be checking out in the morning – all set for our luggage to be shipped to Tokyo while we went on to Nara.
Missed Day 3 Part 2 in Miyajima?
Check out Day 5 in Nara!