Japan: The Osaka Prelude

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We began our Japan trip in Osaka, and returned from Tokyo.  

After arriving in the evening and checking in, we immediately set out to Dotonbori, the food and entertainment mecca of Osaka.  It's always great after a long flight to be outside and have a long walk, Dotonbori is touristy, yes, but what a feast for the eyes, with large crabs and dragons crawling on buildings, and puffed up fugu fish ballons hanging on signs.  Lots of neon and lots of hubbub. There were hot dogs served with gyoza and french fries stuffed in them, as well as ice cream sundaes with french fries -- and crazy concoctions one would never dream of. Does anyone ever really buy and eat these things, or are they just for show? My foodie daughter was in charge of dining venues, and we struck the first culinary to-do item off our list when we went for some good okonomiyaki, which Osaka is known for.

Our full day of sightseeing the next day included temples, museums, shopping and a castle. We began in the southern part of Osaka and worked our way up. Our first stop was the Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine, somewhat south of downtown, but noted for its stunning arched bridge, (pictured above) as well as examples of some authentic Japanese architecture. This is the main shrine in japan of all Sumiyoshi shrines, and dates from the year211. Next was the Shitenno-ji Temple, and early Buddhist Temple and home to the Gokuraku-jodo garden. Late morning, and with our daughter a chef, we enjoyed wandering Sejnnichimae Doguyasuji Shotengai, the kitchen goods street, and Shinsaibashisuji. It was fun shopping for some exquisite Japanese kitchen knives, and viewing kettles and cooking pots nearly as large as me, not to mention the plastic food displays. Our lunch break was at the Kuromon Food Market, with its more than 150 food stalls, where we shared a reasonable priced plate of Wagyu and Kobe beef that melted in the mouth, while we avoided the dried fish on a stick. 

In the afternoon we visited the Museum of Oriental Ceramics, renowned for its collection of Korean and Chinese ceramics and snuffs, and japanese ceramics.  We enjoyed a visit to the grounds of the 16th century Osaka Castle, with its stunning exterior. Our plans to visit the Floating Observatory in the Umeda building were squashed, as it was closed due to damage from the recent typhoon.

Before leaving for Kyoto the next afternoon, we visited the National Museum of Art in the morning, a striking contemporary structure that is supposed to resemble a bamboo plant. The galleries are underground and feature post-war Japanese and international artists. The Science Museum is also next door. 

While in Osaka we enjoyed the luxury of the Ritz Carlton Osaka, a couple of blocks away from the main train/bus station. The hotel doesn't have really convey a sense of place -- it's very European in its art, decor and ambience, and its lovely Canadian maple (?) wood paneling-- but the service, as it is throughout Japan, was exceptional, and the jazz in the bar a welcome diversion. No complaints here, and certainly when you're pounding the pavement and crisscrossing the city, it's very relaxing to return to the spaciousness, friendliness and comfort of our Ritz abode. The dining facilities at the property are impressive.

We had a lot of advice from folks not to "waste time" in Osaka, and while it certainly wan't the highlight, we enjoyed our two days there. It was good place to begin our Japan journey, acclimate after the flight, and spend a day or two, before moving on to Kyoto, which is about a half-hour train ride away on a fast train. The only regret was not having the time, while in Osaka, to do an excursion to Himeji Castle or, for that matter, Naoshima island, with its contemporary art displays.

Dan Ilves