Friday, October 21, 2011

Osaka, Japan

After a month of intensive planning, we went, saw and conquered Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo in about 10 days. This trip has required the most intense planning for us because:
1. We covered 3 cities
2. In a language we knew nothing, in characters we don't understand
3. A myriad of train choices crawling across the cities, some with almost similar sounding stations, with different types of ticket choices and a combination of them all. For Tokyo, I found two separate train maps, one for the Japan Railway tracks and one for the Metro tracks. And, we needed to buy the Japan Rail Pass before we got there.

Let me just say we planned in great detail where we wanted to go, what stations would get us there (together with interchanges), how much it would cost for the transport (Hyperdia is a fantastic help!) and in total, which train combination ticket would have been the most cost saving. Another great website for planning is Japan Guide.

First stop was Osaka, a vibrant city teeming with young, trendy and gorgeously dressed girls. We stayed in the heart of the action, Shinsaibashi. Almost 99% of the girls were beautifully made up, wore fashionable clothes and shoes. I really stood out in my t-shirt, jeans and sports shoes. And make-up-less face.

Some shots of Osaka and where we went (other pictures on my Facebook and Flickr):
The moat around Osaka Castle
Osaka Castle
Osaka Castle - there was some dancing competition going on
People came out in droves bringing their dogs. This lady brought her rabbit to watch the performances.
Umeda Sky Building elevator-bridge encased in glass. Wasn't as frightening as I thought. We went right up to the top to enjoy the Osaka skyline.
Experimented with my camera using miniature. Looks like a toy city right? Like those tiny models of a new housing project.
Visited the Aquarium which was, okay. I think I still prefer Singapore's Sentosa one. They had a sun fish in this tank too but couldn't get a good shot of it. This giant stingray was doing flips up and down the tank.
More fish. No need to go scuba. And frankly, I won't want to with a shark around.
Sat the Ferris wheel located just beside the aquarium. Japanese seem to like these Ferris wheel as we saw quite a few of them across the country.
Flowers and heartfelt thanks to Steve Jobs in front of the Osaka Apple Store.
Dotonbori - famous Glico Man at the bridge. Shopping street packed with people.
We stayed in Hearton Hotel which took us 30 minutes of walking around, dragging our luggage trying to get our bearings (but once you find it, it's SO near the metro station). This branch was in Shinsaibashi, the heart of the shopping area and would be the nearest hotel to a station that we stayed.

Small rooms but it was comfortable and had wifi in the lounge. Included in our deal was breakfast which gave us a choice of Japanese or Western breakfast. I tried both and um, preferred Western because the Japanese meal consisted of dry pan fried salmon with rice. A bit too dry to my taste. The Western meal had egg and a gorgeously thick crispy toast which sparked a craving for toast with butter since I've returned.

The bed measured 120cm across. We just didn't turn when we slept.

After Osaka, we headed off to Himeji for a day trip. Activating our 7-day JR Pass, we asked the station master which train headed to Himeji and was told to wait at a certain platform.

The Shinkansen

The train came soon after but then I realized we were standing where the green car (which I remembered to be some first class seats) stopped. Not wanting to risk having the doors close on us, we quickly got in, found the car to be quite empty and sat down.

Green Car logo
Seats in the Green Car

After a few minutes, we realized we were violating three rules of our JR Pass:
1. We were in the Nozomi train (the fastest train) which is not allowed on a JR Pass
2. We were in the Green Car
3. Those were reserved seats and we didn't make any reservations even if we could!

We decided to buat tak tau (act like we didn't know any better, which was true). Thankfully, the guy who came to check our tickets merely asked where we were heading and nodded pleasantly to us. Trip took us only about 30 mins. Wow! I fell in love with the Shinkansen then.

Unfortunately, the Himeji Castle is still under construction.
There was a room that held the various types of armoury. Inspiration of Darth Vadar.

It was gloomy in Himeji. Other than the Himeji Castle, we walked around some gardens just beside it.

There were stray cats at the castle and this guy came to feed them rice. Japanese cat eating rice.
Japanese Garden

From Osaka, we headed to Kyoto, making sure we didn't get into a Nozomi train again.

Also, I noticed every city had interesting manhole covers:

Manhole covers in Osaka, depicting the Osaka Castle. 
Himeji manhole cover depicting... river and lilies? No idea the significance.

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