If you've never heard of Osaka, you are not alone. I only discovered this city existed when I moved to Okinawa and began to immerse myself more into the "travel scene". Since Osaka is very close to Oki (less than a 2 hour flight) and has a lively nightlife scene, many junior Marines frequent the metropolitan area whenever they get a long weekend. On the other end of the spectrum, Universal Studios is located within Osaka so many families/couples also make the quick stop here as well. Ben and I personally decided to venture to this town because truthfully the flights were really inexpensive and we are suckers for a sweet deal! We later discovered that Osaka is known as "the Kitchen of Japan" so it ended up being a very important travel destination for us after all - we just didn't know it at first!
Osaka Castle and Hokoku Shrine
Our first stop in Osaka was to the number one/most basic tourist destination: Osaka Castle. I really enjoy Japanese architecture, so this place was right up my alley. However, it was actually built in the 1980's after having been destroyed multiple times which left my history-loving husband a bit disappointed. To make matters worse for Ben, the entire inside of the castle looked more like a modern museum than a castle which made us question whether the $12 we spent to go in was worth it or not. We did unanimously agree though that the panoramic view from inside the castle made up for the shortcomings of the interior. Ben and I tend to look for an observation tower/high view point wherever we visit to get an idea of our location and this trip did not disappoint.
After the castle, we took a quick tour around the neighboring Hokoku Shrine. It was a peaceful, typical Japanese shrine which gave us a break from the crowds.
Dotonbori: Day 1
Easily our favorite place in Osaka was Dotonbori Street and the surrounding area. This place is a mecca for street food, shopping and people watching. Many of the storefronts had enormous statues hanging from above which added to the chaos in a fun way. The myriad of unique smells, sounds, tastes, and sights assaulting your senses all at once is a feeling i'll never forget!
Ben and I shamelessly visited this area on three separate occasions, we love it so much that we came home from our trip and watched a YouTube video about it just to confirm how awesome it is! There was just an unbelievable amount of energy and soul in this area that it left us both starry-eyed with amazement.
Craft Beer Live Festival
During our city exploration, Ben and I ran into the "Craft Beer Live 2017" festival and we figured, hey, why not? The event was being held right on the riverfront and featured craft beer from all over the Kansai region of Japan. Craft beer really isn't my thing, which is probably why I disliked the four I tried, but Ben seemed to really enjoy his beer choices which included "Lucky Cat" and "Hoppy Boy". Once our bellies were filled with beer, we pushed on.
Karaoke With Some New Friends
Later on in our first night in Osaka, Ben and I found ourselves gazing at our favorite Glico Man billboard with not much of a plan. Next to us happened to be another plan-less couple from Indiana who were travelling through out Japan. After striking up a conversation, and realizing how compatible/similar we all were, the four of us decided to check out Osaka's famous bar scene. Our night started off innocently enough by sipping chu-hais and sake in a small side street bar. We then hit the famous expat bar "The Blarney Stone" where our little group met some very unusual, interesting characters. Ever have a Turkish expat insist you play the piano on his phone app while he listens to it in his giant ear phones? Ben can now say he has....
The 80s cover band playing in The Blarney Stone, plus many beers and tequila shots later, left us impassioned and intoxicated enough to do KARAOKE! Man oh man, I wish I could post the video evidence on this post, but this is seriously when Ben peaked in his life. I have never seen this man belt out tunes so passionately and surprisingly on-key, his shower and car performances have been seriously weak compared to this moment in his life - my hubby's got vocals!!! Anyway, when you do Karaoke in Japan you rent out a tiny little private room with a table where you can order drinks and food. You're only singing in front of your friends/whoever is in your room so there is no embarrassment whatsoever (the drinks help too). I personally found my inner Beyonce (and destroyed my vocals chords) when "All the Small Things" came on. It was SO MUCH FUN and will probably be one of my favorite memories from my time in Japan. Good enertainment and good company, what more could you ask for?
The Most Important Part: FOOD!
Like I said before, Osaka is "The Kitchen of Japan" and it's name did not disappoint. Ben and I spent an absurd amount of money buying as much food as our bodies could possibly handle for research, of course (just kidding, we are totally food obsessed). Although I've been maintaining a strict vegetarian diet for the past 7 months, I had to make the executive decision, for the sake of culture, to eat seafood during this trip. The little guilt I had was worth each and every perfect dish that I consumed in this city. I will forever dream about Okonomiyaki and Takoyaki for the rest of my life....
The Ancient City of Nara
We decided to spend a half day in the nearby city of Nara after we heard about the very friendly and very sacred deer that roam around there. Nara is more well known for being "The Ancient City of Japan," dating as far back to 710 AD, and features stunningly well preserved temples and shrines, but the deer really sold the place for me! These gentle creatures roam around pretty much everywhere and are super comfortable around humans. You can buy deer crackers for about $1.50 and feed them straight from your hand, but be warned- they can get very pushy and might bite or knock you over to get to your bounty! Ben and I luckily had no close deer encounters, but coming from an area where being near a deer means you're most likely dodging it with your car, we were still a bit scared.
This is one of the most absurd things I have ever seen. What you are looking at is a grown woman being pulled out from a tiny tunnel in this pillar. Legend has it that if you can get your way through the opening, your wish will come true. This particular woman got stuck and was shrieking as she was getting pulled through. Ben and I were legitimately scared and quickly made our way to another area of the temple. I can confirm though that she did make it through in one piece, for better or worse...
Shinsekai and Tsutenkaku Tower
Shinsekai is an area of Osaka that is known for being a bit off the beaten path from the tourist scene. It's more gritty and geared towards Japanese locals rather than outside visitors. It was covered in a ton of neon lights and signs, classic Japan, and was another area that visually stunned me.
In Japan, manholes are very important artistic features. Manholes are decorated differently and by theme depending on the area they are found in. If the area is known for fish, it will have fished decorated manholes, this castle represents Osaka Castle. I've seen many in Tokyo, Okinawa, Osaka and Nara and they are all just as beautiful and detailed as this one.
Dotonbori: Day 2
Back to Dotonbori because like I said, we are obsessed!
Den Den aka the "Nerd" District
Our Airbnb was located in Den Den town which is also known as the Anime/Manga/Electronic/Nerd district. On our last night we hit the Sega store to see what this scene was all about. There were five floors which all comprised of either arcade games or the "claw" games as seen below.
A side note, Japan also has the best vending machines and we definitely scored some pretty interesting merchandise if you ask me....
It was a chaotic, unbelievably exhausting and EXCITING weekend in Osaka and Nara. Ben and I were filled we so much wanderlust when we got home that we already booked our next trip... Looks like we'll be headed to Kyoto for Labor Day! Until next time.
We're Kara, Ben and baby Zoe also known as the Lesniaks. We’re a Marine Corps family currently stationed in Yorktown, Virginia after a three year tour in Okinawa, Japan. Enjoy our adventures, travels, photos, thoughts, and life together!
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