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26 August 2012

A Day in Osaka

By Yun Qing

When I flew to Japan last year, AirAsia did not have a direct flight to Osaka so we flew into Tokyo. The first Kuala Lumpur to Osaka flight was on Nov. 30, 2011. I thought I should share my trip to Osaka for those who are flying directly into the Kansai city.

My mother and I traveled from Tokyo to the Kansai region with the purpose of visiting the historical sights in Kyoto. We also took a break from temple-seeing for one day and visited Osaka, the historical commercial center of Japan.

Instead of taking the Shinkansen, we took a commuter train from Kyoto to Osaka. The Japan Rail Pass was not that economical for our trip so we used the Kansai Thru Pass instead. The ride was about an hour but felt even shorter than that because of the scenery and the people-watching.

After arriving at Osaka station, we headed to our first stop, Dotonburi, which is Osaka’s famous food street. Our Kansai Thru Pass included fare for the subway so we saved on that.

As it was still too early for lunch, we headed to Don Quijote (pronounced Donkey Hoh-teh). A Japanese friend, S-san, once told me: “Don Quijote is the most un-Japanese store.” I didn’t understand her until I visited a branch.

The stores (usually 24 hours) are packed with goods in an organized mess,in contrast to regular Japanese stores with super organized stock.

The undiscounted items are not any much cheaper than other shops but the allure lies in the variety of stock (some have second hand branded bags and cosplay outfits) and the long opening hours.

The Dotonburi branch is located at 542-0084 7-13 Soemoncho Chuo-ku Osaka-shi, Osaka.

Lunchtime
After an appetite inducing stroll in Don Quijote, it was time for lunch! I wanted to try fugu after reading about a certain restaurant in my guidebook.

It wasn’t difficult looking for the restaurant as it had a large pufferfish floating in front of it as well as the hiragana of the name of the restaurant: TSU-BO-RA-YA.

As it was just before lunchtime, there wasn’t a lot of customers inside. We ordered two set meals, since they were cheaper than à la carte.

Oh, I forgot to mention that I could have died from eating fugu. Well, I believe I was in good hands since all fugu chefs must obtain a license to prepare and sell fugu.

Anyway, raw fugu is surprisingly chewy. Not a nice bubble gum chewy but a rubber eraser chewy. However, when cooked, the meat is so tender that it really melts in your mouth. Yummy!

Sightseeing
We didn’t have much planned after lunch so we decided to go to Osaka Castle. While it was too early for cherry blossoms, the castle was still beautiful.

After paying for the tickets, we took the stairs up to the viewing gallery for a great view of Osaka town.

A heart-stopping incident happened! My handbag fell off the railings! Fortunately, there was a net right below and a helpful stranger with long hands helped me fish it up. Arigatou!

Inside the castle, there was an exhibition on the history of Osaka Castle. I learned that the castle was not the original one built in 1583 but was reconstructed as parts of it were destroyed. The things you learn!

After the castle, we visited the Osaka Museum of History. It was a rather impressive museum with plenty of life-sized figurines. There was a fake archaeological site where children can pretend to dig for old pots. The best part was actually the view of Osaka Castle at one of the stairways.

Evening approaches
There was still daylight so I thought we should go to the Shinsekai district where my guidebook promised I will have a great Japanese meal at one of the restaurants.

Unfortunately, the restaurant was closed so my mom and I walked around. We saw the Tsūtenkaku but it was still early and was unlit.

The area around Tsūtenkaku was a bit seedy. We passed by plenty of adult film cinemas with provocative movie posters. I imagined that the yakusa (Japanese mafia) was watching us so I didn’t dare take any pictures.

We headed back to Dotonburi for dinner. It was in a kaiten sushi (conveyor belt sushi) restaurant which claimed to be the first restaurant serving sushi on the conveyor belt. Hmm.. its claims might be true. Unfortunately, the quality was not that good.

After a quick stroll of Dotonburi, we headed back to Kyoto on one of the Express Limited trains.

Question: Kyoto or Osaka as base?
If you are flying into Osaka from Kuala Lumpur, you might be wondering if you should stay in Kyoto or Osaka?

My mom and I based ourselves in Kyoto as we wanted to see the historical sights and be there for Jidai Matsuri.

But if you are a city person and love neon lights, you should definitely base yourself in Osaka and visit Kyoto, Nara and Kobe as day trips.

About the author
Yun Qing is a Singapore-based travel enthusiast with a short-term travel goal of visiting all 13 Malaysian states. Her long long-term goal to go on a round-the-world trip next year if the world has not ended.
She writes about her journeys and the food she meets at YQ, travelling ISFP. Connect to her on Twitter @yqtravelling or on Facebook.