Japan can be both touristy and tranquil during the peak season of spring and summer depending on how you plan your itinerary. After spending three days in the country, narrated in my previous blog, I enjoyed moments of serenity inside Zen temples like Ryoan-ji in Kyoto as well as in certain secluded spots in Nara park. Those moments made our trip to Japan totally worth it.
On Day 4 of our trip, we loaded our day pack with water, chocolates, wafers and some dry fruits and headed out for a city tour of Osaka. Known as the commercial center of Honshu, the second largest metropolitan area of the country has successfully merged its historically significant past with today’s ultra modern outlook, both co-existing harmoniously. Interestingly, Osaka had developed into an important regional port as early as the 4th century AD! From the ancient Sumiyoshi Taisha shrine (built in the 3rd century AD) and 16th century Osaka Castle to Universal Studios and colourful Minami entertainment district, Osaka filled us with a sense of awe.Our first stop was Sumiyoshi Taisha or Sumiyoshi Grand Shrine, the head of approximately 2,300 Sumiyoshi shrines throughout Japan. We walked over the lovely Sorihashi bridge that created a high arch over a duck pond – filled with fish and miniature turtles – to enter the shrine. The calm grounds and picturesque landscapes transported us to a long forgotten era in Japanese history. We learnt that the main shrine hall was a designated national treasure and the sacred trees inside the shrine complex were over 1000 years old.
After spending a memorable hour at Sumiyoshi Taisha, we walked to the tram station and took the tram to Tennojiekimae to visit yet another famous temple, Shitennoji. The temple was founded in the end of 6th century by Prince Shotoku of the Asuka period who supported the advent of Buddhism in Japan. The original temple had long since burnt down and was reconstructed several times over the centuries, keeping the original design intact. A five-storied pagoda stood in the inner precinct of the temple grounds. We had to purchase tickets to enter this area. We marvelled at the neatly kept centuries-old Gokuraku-jodo garden near the pagoda. We did a quick round of the garden and temple grounds while snacking on chocolates and wafers. having satiated our mind and body, we hailed two taxis (our first and only taxi ride in Japan :)) and headed for Osaka Castle.
The magnificent 16th century castle, perched on two raised platforms, was surrounded by impressive stone walls and moats. Though turned into a museum in the 1990s, much little of the interiors left intact due to its destruction in the 17th century, the castle stood tall as though keeping an eye on the modern city around it while reminding its inhabitants of its majestic, but somewhat tragic, past.
The inside was a bit of an anticlimax with a modern elevator taking visitors to the different levels of the castle. The history of the castle was artfully depicted on the walls. In the western citadel of the castle was a lovely garden, lined up with hundreds of cherry trees, and a teahouse. There was an admission fee of 200 yen to enter the garden. Since the cherry trees were yet to bloom, we skipped the garden and continued towards our next, and final, stop for the day – the bay area and Tempozan harbor village.
Osaka bay area – dotted with museums, theme parks, aquarium, observatories, and shopping centers – has a lot to offer to tourists, especially to a family with children. We took the metro (Chuo line) from Morinomiya station near Osaka castle and got down at Osakako station. Tempozan Harbor Village was just a 5 min. walk from the station. The marketplace in the village was bustling with activity. The dusk air was filled with the aroma of freshly baked bread and tempura fry. From fashion and jewelry
stores to food courts and gourmet restaurants, the complex welcomed local shoppers with its wide assortment of merchandise.
We headed for the aquarium (Kaiyukan). Unfortunately, the ticket counter closed for the day right before our eyes although the aquarium was open till 8 PM. We learnt that the ticket price was
pretty steep – 2550 yen for adults and 1300 yen for children. However, it is well worth the price if you are interested in watching marine life of the Pacific Rim in their natural habitats, recreated in the most innovative manner. From dolphins, sea lions, penguins and otters to whale sharks, sting rays and jellyfish,
one can find them all in this aquarium. We marvelled at the colourful lighting on the outer walls of the aquarium and then walked towards the Ferris Wheel. Deciding to take a ride to get a bird’s-eye view of the evening cityscape, we bought tickets (800 yen/person). The evening chill from the ocean hit us full force as we began to ascend, but the view from the top was mind-blowing! We could see the well-lit harbour and the city spread around it. Back on firm ground, we took a leisurely walk around the harbour, enjoying the laughter of children playfully chasing each other under the watchful eyes of their mothers.
We were simply amazed to see the long queue to catch the ferry to Universal Studios. During peak season, when schools and colleges are closed for summer holidays, the queues for entering the theme parks in Japan are more than a mile long. Since tickets cannot be purchased online, people spend the night at hotels near the park so that they can be the first few to queue up in front of the park gates way ahead of opening time. All this felt so insane! However, these parks are among the best in the world, so the craze is understandable.
On the way back, we enjoyed a hot meal at a small restaurant near Shin-Osaka station. Back in hostel, we called it a night as we had a long journey (on our very first Shinkansen “bullet” train!) to the south of Honshu planned for the following day. Read all about it here.