You have to go on and be crazy. Craziness is like heaven. (Jimi Hendrix)
It was love at first sight. As we stepped out of Namba station, in the centre of Osaka, I knew I would love that city with all my heart. It was a Friday night in July, we had been on the road for nearly 20 hours and were exhausted. All I wanted was to fall in bed and sleep for the next 12 hours. But then it hit me, hard! At the bottom of the escalator, as soon as we quit the station building. It was still hot, neon lights were blinking everywhere and some musicians were playing Japanese pop songs on the sidewalk. There were people everywhere but nonetheless I felt safe and at ease. At the same time I couldn’t stop and wonder at all the craziness and chaos around me. Yes, I think craziness is a good word to describe Osaka, or at least the Namba/Dotombori area. I knew where to look for our hotel, the Namba Oriental, I had studied the town map carefully, but I had no idea our hotel was in the middle of a shopping arcade. We checked in and there was no way I was going to bed, the adrenaline still rushing through my veins. Instead we went for a brief walk around the arcade and had a takoyaki dinner, a famous Osaka specialty. What we noticed straight away was the kindness of all the Japanese people we interacted with. I can’t say “talked to” because most didn’t speak English, but we somehow managed to communicate anyway. We had many awww-moments that night, we paid for our drinks at the cashier, turned around and in unison awed because he or she was so cute and nice to us :) That basically happened with every person we met in Japan!
Our first proper day in the Japanese metropolis started with a visit to the Osaka Castle. It was really hot outside and very humid. We found the castle quite easily. I was worried about using public transportation in Japan, but it turned out it isn’t difficult at all. If you ever traveled to other big cities, like London or New York, you won’t have any problems. Also, did I mention that Japanese people are very kind and helpful?
The castle area is quite impressive, and the castle itself was nice too. Our Osaka Amazing Pass included the entry to the castle so we queued with all the other tourists to get into the elevator and start the castle tour from the very top. On the top floor you have a very nice view of the surrounding area and thanks to the golden fish statues you never forget that you are on top of a castle. Inside there is a museum, you can read and learn a lot about Japanese history, but we were more interested in exploring the present-day town so we only skimmed the exhibition and then went on to our next stop, the floating garden.
The floating garden is an observatory on top of the Umeda sky building. It’s not a garden, as there are no flowers, but it is kind of floating between the two main towers of the building. It is in Umeda, the northern part of Osaka. In fact Osaka has two centres, one in the north (Kita) and one more south (Minami). Finding the Umeda sky building was a bit difficult as I had some difficulties to understand the map: reading the street names written in Japanese didn’t help much. But we finally found it and were happy to see that there was no queue to get to the top. Even the escalator, that is suspended in the air, wasn’t half as scary as expected and from the top of the building you could finally get an idea of how massive the city really is.
On the ground floor of the sky building is a food hall, or something like it. They reconstructed an old Japanese village and inside every small house you find a cute little restaurant. There was even one making Swiss cheese fondue! Of course we skipped that one and went for some tempura instead. I must admit we still felt a little shy about trying food we didn’t know, we also avoided restaurants that required sitting on the floor or had a counter for everybody to sit on. During the first days we stuck to dishes we were familiar with, like tempura. Still, the waitress had to point out that we had forgotten to put radish into the dipping sauce :)
After lunch we went back to the Minami area, we did a little tour of the Amerikamura neighbourood. On the top of one building there was even a liberty statue!
Then we went back to the pedestrian street under the arcade and walked down to Dotombori bridge. We went on a short boat trip on the river where we saw the first love hotel and then went back to our hotel for a quick shower.
When it was dark we went back to the crazy Dotombori area for some more pictures and a little shopping. If you take the side streets from the shopping arcade you will discover very nice little places that are much more quiet, we even came across Hozenji Temple, an oasis of peace and tranquility inbetween the whole chaos and craziness.
We then went into one of the hundreds of game halls to have a look around. That’s where we discovered purikura photo boots. Well, I’m not a teenager anymore, but I just love those! During my two weeks in Japan we tried out four different purikura boots :)
Finally it was time for dinner, we decided to go for a sushi train this time, yummy!