So I had to do the whole bus/cable car/train combination again, and it felt decidedly longer this time around. Eventually I arrived in Namba Station at about noon.
I am so proud of the prescience I showed when I booked the Dotonbori Hotel. I had a vision that by this point in the trip I would have neither the energy nor the will to look for a place in a map, or take several subways, so I looked for something that was so close to the station that I could just throw my bags out of the train doors and into my room.
And indeed, this hotel is in Dotonbori street, which itself is two blocks from Namba Station, so already that’s my transport and the main sightseeing spot all together in one place. It’s a pretty nice hotel, too -wifi and LAN, breakfast included, Western style, neko-map of the city, and for those staying longer they have free bike rental. If you check out their website -yes, the front really does look like that!
Rather in keeping with the Japanese landmarks I’ve seen all along this trip, the Osaka Castle is a 20th century reproduction of an 18th century reconstruction of a 16th century castle (as best as I can understand it). Although there are walls that date back to the 17th century, the interior of the massive castle is fully modern and houses a big 8-floor museum. The visit starts at the very top, at an observatory on the 8th floor, and then advances chronologically as it descends. It displays objects such as samurai armour, handwritten letters from the shogun, clothes and paintings of the time… All used to illustrate the story of the men who built the castle and their significance in the history of Japan, from the shogunate to the Meiji restoration.
Outside the castle, the grounds are pretty expansive, as the castle sits on an elevated level, and the lower level is itself surrounded by a moat. The first defence mechanism of this castle was access, and so you have to meander a little bit and cross several gates to get to the entrance.
The sun was shining, it was nice out, and I began to notice the difference in character between Osaka and, well, everywhere else I’ve been, as not one but two different people approached me in English to ask whether I was enjoying my visit, or whether I was looking for the station (I was, and I was) and a lady even gave me a map. It’s funny to be so recognisably a tourist.
After the visit to the castle, I went back to the centre and walked around Dotonbori a little bit. The guidebook wasn’t wrong when it compared the canal walk with Blade Runner: all the neon signs, the videos, the music and ads playing at top volume (there was a horrifying jingle that kept going “Takoyaki! Takoyaki! Ta-ko-ya-ki~!”, takoyaki being an octopus-based snack typical of Osaka), the hordes of people, some dressed to the nines and some just weirdly, the clash of East and West… This being a Friday night, the shopping streets were absolutely packed (but the canal walk was meanwhile deserted), and this being Japan, all the shops remained open and doing business when I left, at 20:45.
You know, I’m a little disappointed to see no trace of Azumanga’s Osaka here. If I were the mayor of the city, I would have adopted her as the official mascot. She would welcome travellers with “Yorosshuu tanomimanganaa” and appear on the maps saying “Nandeyanen!”. I think she’d be a great ambassador!
When you are in Osaka, you have to have okonomiyaki, its specialty, and for that I followed my guide’s recommendation of Chibo, in Dotonbori Street. Okonomiyaki is this thoroughly weird dish that consists of several “normal” ingredients, such as cabbage, bacon and beef, mixed together into a type of pancake that is then cooked on a griddle and served with special sauce. It’s really quite tasty, provided you have selected ingredients that you like, but a bit of a messy meal too. I had had okonomiyaki before; point in fact, I had made okonomiyaki before, in the only Cooking Club session at Goodenough that I attended (the pictures are on Facebook if you can find them).
So that’s it for my day in Osaka! I came back to the hotel, where I’m writing these lines and preparing to leave for the airport tomorrow.
It’s been a wonderful trip that has fulfilled all of my expectations. I am really very satisfied with everything that I’ve seen and done, and for that reason, and for how tired I am after 15 consecutive days of walking all day long, I am happy to be going back home. I don’t feel like I leave with any unfinished business; rather, I just think that there are still many things to see when I come next!