The Tale of Three Cities – Osaka, Kyoto & Tokyo

Osaka

When we reached Kansai International Airport, Osaka, we were welcomed by this super amazing guy!

Super Mario Welcomes You..

I was extremely surprised to see that the Kansai international airport is themed by ..Nintendo!

Yes!!! Super Mario, Yoshi, Princess Peach, Goomba, Toad and many others excitingly wave hello at you from every wall thus welcoming you to Osaka!

Kansai International Airport themed by Nintendo

Quick Checks on Arrival

Activating SIM/Data: Japan requires a contract with the holder for the purchase of a sim card that allows voice calls, so ideally you cannot purchase such a sim card. Data only card is the only option you can avail and they are available in plenty. We chose an unlimited plan for 15 days which was valid across Japan.

Cash: Japan is a cash friendly society, we stopped to withdraw a small sum in yen to keep in handy. This came in really handy for our trip.

Post immigration and after the quick checks we exited the airport! We were finally and officially… tourists in Japan!

We walked towards the taxi stand, the driver did not speak English but there was an airport staff who was facilitating the taxi assignments. He tried to understand where we had to go and communicated this to the driver, the driver asked us to get into his cab. I thought it would be a good idea to check for an estimated fare and if he would accept card payments. The driver told me how much it would cost …and I kept blinking!

Wait, what!? He finally wrote it down in his palm, the whopping number! Well, I was glad that at least there was no problem with my hearing! I turned around to see that this had sent Dileep to a stunned mode from which I had to shake him to recovery.

Yes, cabs are expensive in Japan and we had to cover about 45 km to reach the city. I asked the staff about other options which we could avail. He said there are a lot of trains as well as busses. As we proceeded to take a train, he smiled and said, “Good decision, save money!”.

We came back to the arrival terminal to notice what we had completely missed the last time. The airport arrival terminal directly leads you to the train terminal which offers connectivity to almost all the places in Osaka city.

We purchased two tickets for a very less intimidating 2400 yen and proceeded to the platform.

I recommend travelling in Rapi:t, an express train. This train is comfortable and provides separate space for your luggage. In about an hour we reached our station “Shin-Imamiya” and from the station it was hardly a 2 min walk to our hotel, FP Hotels Grand South Namba.

This hotel deserves special mention for the friendly staff, clean rooms and the facility of a free lounge. This lounge later became one of our spots to unwind and enjoy a free cup of coffee/tea before heading out or after coming in.

Day 1 and Day 2: Dotonbori

The first place we visited was the famed streets of Dotonbori. We headed out for our dinner to Soemoncho, the food street.

Christmas, as opposed to what we thought, is a very lively time to be in Osaka. The Midosuji Avenue near Dotonbori was decked with colorful illumination and the lined trees looked as if a million stars were arrayed on the roads. Many Santas waved Merry Xmas from fashionable bikes and the mood was indeed very festive.

Xmas Fun

We ventured to explore the options to eat in Soemoncho, the famous food street. Soemoncho is a foodie’s paradise, there are a lot of options to try. We tried Salmon and Avocado salad, Japanese Omelette, Curry and rice, Ichiran Ramen and much more in these streets. This is where we found about Kotodama!

Soemoncho

On the first evening, we decided to step into the popular chain, Ichiran Ramen, to find no pork Ramen. The entrance to this place intimidated us as it had an exceptionally long queue.  We waited for an hour and a half to get a chair, yes a chair, because in Ichiran Ramen you don’t get a table. You are seated in a booth and facing you is a curtain. Behind the curtain is the kitchen where Ramen is cooked, the way you want to have it. I was sitting alone and looking around waiting for my hot steaming ramen. It was then I saw what was written in the wall above me. 

Kotodama – Hospitality of Words

“All of us here at Ichiran greet and send off our guests with words of happiness. This is said to be Kotodama or the power of words. “

The significance of kotodama is that words are alive, and have the power to create. A good word brings good things and bad word brings bad things. Words arise from thoughts and hence also means that good thoughts bring good things and bad thoughts bring bad things. 

This was proved to be true all through our trip!

Ichiran Ramen–the way you want it

Also if you find a queue on the road, check if you can see ahead a small outlet of Beard Papa’s for the world’s best cream puffs! We had our dessert from there and went ahead to Shinsaibashi, a must visit street for the shopoholics!

Shinsaibashi-Shoppers Paradise

Day 3: Nipponbashi

We were ahead of the schedule. We covered Dotonbori and Midosuji illumination the first two days itself. Now that we have some buffer, my actions figure collector husband wanted to take stock – of the famous toy and anime industry in Japan. And the best place for Otaku in Osaka is Nipponbashi!

Nipponbashi was just a 15min walk from our hotel. We planned to spend a few hours there, take stock, pick up something that is rare and head to Osaka castle after lunch. Osaka castle grounds had illumination at night during Christmas, and though he claimed he didn’t want to miss it I am not very sure what his intentions were.

It was a great walk through well paved lanes and tram tracks. On the way, we noticed that almost all the buildings had the same color palette – shades of white and grey. This palette slowly changed to a vibrant one once we were in Nipponbashi. Both sides of the road and inner lanes are filled with hobby shops, manga book stores, slot machines and maid cafés. The hobby shops have everything from Gundam to Hot Toys, Godzilla to Marvel Legends – and almost every peripherals you could think of – display stands, tools for models, paints and a lot more. The most interesting thing is the price. There is no standard pricing there. One shop could be selling an SH Figuarts cheaper than the other, so you need to cover a lot of shops. The shopkeepers are very knowledgeable. They know which model you are referring to, which make and from which wave it is and mostly almost all the stock is digitised making it is easy to find.

This is where I lost my husband and eventually a plan of few hours stretched throughout the whole day. He says, if you are looking for any anime merchandise, be sure not to miss the following –

  • Herogangu Laboratories (Action figures)
  • Animate (books and other merchandise)
  • Super Kids Land (Gunpla and related tools)
  • Super Potato (for retro games – consoles, game cassettes etc.)

Although, I am not sure about bargaining, you can get free tax from certain shops and also make sure that you are not buying a second hand one, because a lot of shops trade used (good condition) toys.

Toys–every nook and corner

Also, if you go there looking for ‘cute toys’, you mind end up in an adult toy shop. But if you are a curious one, do check them out. They do have some ‘state-of-the-art’ stuff ! Not talking about it here.

Day 4: Osaka Castle

Osaka Castle is closed during Christmas eve. Something we did not know. We missed exploring the beautiful castle but we ended up having no regrets because the grounds were beautiful and full of vendor selling a lot of interesting things. But avoid visiting it on a holiday because then you will miss a chance of enjoying touring inside the castle.

Osaka Castle in all splendour

Dotonbori River Cruise: This is a great way to see and choose places to eat and places to shop. This river cruise

River Cruise

Journey to Kyoto.

I was excited about travelling to Kyoto, the breathtakingly beautiful former capital city of Japan. But the journey was not quite as we expected because we took a wrong train!

Upcoming – Tale of Three Cities: Kyoto!

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