Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Day #1 - Osaka Castle

»Day #1 - Osaka Castle

21 December 2012, Friday
The day was 21-12-12, the day the world would end in major cataclysms - solar storms, magnetic pole reversal, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. To the horror of some friends and family members, we chose today to travel to Japan instead of sitting at home tuning in to this grand finale.

Thankfully, rather than losing radio contact and flying into an erupting Mt Fuji, we touched down at Kansai Airport at 8.35am as scheduled.

「外国人の皆様、日本へよこそ」("To our foreigner passengers, welcome to Japan," announced the cabin attendant.

Nearly 2 years after my return from Japan in the wake of the 9.0 earthquake on 12 March 2011, I was back in the Land of the Rising Sun. This time with a companion though - my girlfriend Zhi, whom I promised I would bring here one day and "show her around the place". But that's an understatement as we have both been anticipating this moment since we booked our flight with Air Asia during a promotion back in March. (Perhaps I should also mention that the experience with Air Asia is a terrible one.)

The lines at the immigration counters were long but everyone proceeded smoothly as the officers attended to us in a swift manner. That's score one for Japanese hospitality. Compare that to Malaysia's...

It wasn't long before we find our luggage from the carousel and walk out into the arrival hall. We rented an iPhone from a Softbank service counter, together with a SIM card for JPY250 per day (without the data plan) and a JPY315 administration fee. [1] We needed it for the convenience of contacting our friends whose place we were crashing at and the rental fee was reasonable enough.

Umeda - 梅田
関西国際空港 ⇒ 大阪
Kansai Kokusai Kūkō ⇒ Osaka
Travel Time: Approx. 1 hour 15 mins
Price: Approx. JPY1060
Since this wasour first day, we didnot have much in plan. The first thing to do wasto find a locker to leave our luggage. Train stations in Japan were not short of coin lockers but one which is big enough for a travelling luggage is hard to find. Nevertheless, we managed to find one in Osaka station, because I did my homework on the internet. [2]

2012 Japan Trip::Osaka
Top: Glico man at Namba
Bottom-left: Christmas tree in Umeda; Bottom-right: Yodobashi Camera in Umeda

JR Osaka station is situated in Umeda, a major business district in Osaka. Apart from large departmental stores including Daimaru, Isetan, Hanshin and Hankyu, a 12-storey Yodobashi Camera can also be found there. It is one of the biggest electrical chain stores in Japan, alongside Bic Camera and Yamada Denki.

Osaka Castle - 大阪城天守閣
大阪 ⇒ 大阪城公園
Osaka ⇒ Ōsakajōkōen
Travel Time: Approx. 9 mins
Price: Approx. JPY160
In the 16th century, there was a big temple called Ishiyama Hongan-ji in Osaka. With the temple functioning as a fort against the attack of warlords, the temple town prospered into a self-governing body. However, its head priest was later ordered by Nobunaga Oda to leave the temple and the place was later destroyed by fire. In 1583, at the site where Ishiyama Hongan-ji once stood, Toyotomi Hideyoshi ordered the construction of Osaka Castle, which was modeled after Nobunaga's Azuchi Castle. The castle took 14 years to complete. (Full history here [3])

2012 Japan Trip::Osaka
Main keep of Osaka Castle (Entrance fee: JPY600)

Being a castle that has played an important role in the unification of Japan, Osaka Castle has been declared as an Important Cultural Asset by the Japanese government. However the castle pales in comparison with Matsumoto Castle and Himeji Castle. Much of its interior has been replaced by modern amenities... including an elevator. Which is why I never bothered to visit the place during my previous trips to Osaka.

2012 Japan Trip::Osaka
Osaka Castle is a popular spot for hanami (cherry blossom viewing) during spring

If you wish to get a view of the city, you may pay JPY600 to enter the castle. But honestly, the inside of the castle is not much impressive. So for those who have a tight schedule, this stop could be skipped, unless if you happen to be in the city during the cherry blossom season.

Dōtonbori - 道頓堀
大阪城公園 ⇒ JR難波
Ōsakajōkōen ⇒ JR Namba
Travel Time: Approx. 24 mins
Price: Approx. JPY170
As evening came, we headed to Namba for dinner. It is within walking distance to Dōtonbori and Shinsaibashi, both of which are popular shopping districts in Osaka. We sort of got lost finding our way to the main avenue of Dōtonbori , partly due to my unreliable memory and the rain. So we only managed to get to Glico Man by the canal (see first photo) to take a quick snap, and took the train back to Osaka to get our luggage before finally going to Han Yee and Shao Thing's place for the night.

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