Since you are a frequent traveler, have you visited Japan? If so, maybe you saw attractions in Tokyo. Have you been to Osaka? We came to Osaka to use it as our base for a two week stay in Japan. Osaka has many interesting things to see but it is also very close to Kobe, Nara and Kyoto. I worked in Japan on three separate occasions and my base was Tokyo. Madeline and I explored lots of Tokyo attractions when we lived there. You can see our posts about Tokyo on this blog. But, if you are more adventurous, like us, you can travel further. On this trip, we decided to land in Osaka and not Tokyo. From Osaka, we visited Kobe, Nara and Kyoto. We also added Tokyo, Kanazawa and Fukuoka which are all about 3 hours away from Osaka on the Shinkansen. We have posts on Kanazawa and Fukuoka that you can check out. Of course, we did our homework, and both had JR Passes for two weeks. You can read the economics of a JR pass in our post on the subject.
We didn’t use a tour company because we were very familiar with trains and the metro in Japan. If you read our posts on the JR pass, you’ll have a good idea about Japan trains. The metro trains all over Japan run like clockwork. If they are ever late, there are formal apologies! Since we purchased our JR passes in the USA, we needed to get them validated.
After we arrived in Japan and got settled in our Osaka hotel, we took the hotel bus to the JR station in Osaka. Our first job was to validate our JR Passes, which we purchased in the USA. The passes are converted into the official documentation we would need to travel. So, we needed to go to the train station in Osaka to get this accomplished.We stayed at the Hyatt Regency in Osaka and took the complimentary Hyatt Regency Osaka Shuttle Van to the JR station. On the way, Madeline spotted an interesting red brick building that looked like a government office.
Osaka City Central Public Hall
1-chome-1-27 Nakanoshima, Kita-ku, Osaka-shi, Osaka-fu, Japan 530-0005
We didn’t visit the building, but she did manage to get a good shot of it. I think what caught her eye was the grouping of pink sakura trees in front of this very interesting building. Admittedly, this was just a photo opportunity, but we did research the building later. The Osaka City Central Public Hall is a European style, Taisho Period architecture, and is used for cultural, artistic, and social activity purposes.
After research, we learned that the building style is Neo-Renaissance, incorporating elements of baroque grandeur, and the Viennese Secession style. Construction was completed in 1918, and the construction cost of ¥1 million JPY which would be ¥5 billion JPY in today's money. The architects were Shinichiro Okada and Kingo Tatsuno, leading figures in the architectural world of the Meiji period. The building was restored in 2002.
After arrival at the JR Osaka station, we took our Japan Rail pass vouchers to the ticket office since they needed to be exchanged for the bona fide passes. In order to do that, we walked to the JR ticket office in Osaka station. The JR station is quite large, so we had to walk through lots of shops in order to get to the main area of the station. Once you arrive, there is signage for JR Rail passes so we queued up waiting for an agent. She helped us promptly and gave us our passes.
We thought of taking this bus and did a lot of research on it. There is a nice discount for a 2-day bus trip over a single day trip. The idea of the hop on and off bus tour was appealing but we realized that if we hopped off somewhere, we’d likely be waiting up to an hour for the bus to return.
So, we decided to do 2-day trips to Osaka on our own because we had subway and JR experience in the city. We will tell you all about our activities later in this post. However, we’d recommend the Wonder Loop to others if you are a bit less adventurous than us or perhaps you just want to see lots of things and take pictures from the bus.
The Osaka Wonder Loop bus would take you around the city, stopping at 14 different locations and places of interest all offering something different. The bus tour also includes a river cruise which is called the Wonder Cruise. This cruise will take you to the rivers and canals of Osaka. You can catch the river cruise close to one of the bus stops called Dotonbori (#13). This pontoon boat will take you on the canal, through the water lock and onto the river with illuminated bridges and riverbanks around Nakanoshima. The Wonder Cruise boarding points are all within walking distance from a Wonder Loop bus stop.
Day 1 Self-Guided Tour of Osaka
1-1 Osakajo, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi, Osaka-fu, Japan 540-0002
We decided to visit Osaka Castle after researching how to get there. We were staying at the Hyatt Regency in Osaka which is very close to a few metro stops.
Madeline and I started at Nakafuto and changed to Chuo in Cosmosquare. We then took the Chuo line all the way to Tanimachi Yonchome. You might see it as Tanimachi 4-home since Yon is 4 in Japanese.
We looked on the yellow map you’ll find in any Japanese subway and found the exit for Osaka Castle. Exit 9 has quite a lot of stairs and if that’s too much for you, there are other exits with elevators or escalators. From there, it was simply a manner of navigating a bit which we could do visually, but you also could plug it into Google Maps.
Osaka Castle has gone through some turbulent times over the years. The construction of Osaka Castle began in 1583 on the former site of the Ishiyama Honganji Temple. Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1537-1598), a powerful feudal lord and warrior during the Sengoku period, built Osaka Castle during a period of unrest which had followed numerous wars over the previous decades. The feudal lord was obsessed with gold and insisted that gold be applied to much of the castle’s interior furnishing, with this motif also appearing on the exterior awnings to this day. Upon completion, Hideyoshi held the castle as a stronghold, which led to a secession of the wars that were raging in Japan at that time – essentially unifying the country and bringing temporary peace.
A few years after Hideyoshi's death, Tokugawa troops attacked and destroyed the castle and terminated the Toyotomi lineage in 1615. Osaka Castle was rebuilt by Tokugawa Hidetada in the 1620s, but its main castle tower was struck by lightning in 1665 and burned down. It was not until 1931 that the present reconstruction of the castle tower was built. During the war it miraculously survived the city-wide air raids. Major repair works gave the castle new glamor in 1997. The castle tower is now entirely modern on the inside and even features an elevator on the outside of the building allowing easier accessibility. The inside of the castle now serves as an informative museum about the castle's history and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. There usually is a long line for tickets for this museum but if you are short of time, you can simply stroll all the grounds and take pictures.
The castle has a large moat that surrounds it. Both inside the castle and outside are parks worth exploring. We came during sakura (cherry blossom) season, and many visitors simply come to view the trees in blossom. In autumn, they have the ‘koyo’ (falling leaves) season. For sakura season, they also have a nighttime festival with lights that are on the castle itself as well as on the sakura trees that line the moat and area all over the grounds. In the picture, you can see the sakura trees everywhere along the water.
It is quite easy to spend hours roaming around and enjoying a beautiful day underneath the trees, imagining the amazing things that occurred there in the past. We spent about 1.5 hours roaming about. Madeline and I noticed that it was possible to take a short boat ride around the surrounding moat. We saw people on it.
We also noticed, for the weary traveler, they offered a golf cart to take you from a spot close to the metro all the way to the castle. For seniors, it was only 100 JPY or less than a dollar in the USA.
Even before you enter the castle grounds, there are plenty of interesting shots. You can see all the tourists atop the castle. They have a view of the city, the moat and sakura. Pretty sweet.
If you had a castle, you had to make sure you had solid protection. Assuming you were able to cross the moat, you faced these massive doors.
On the grounds and before you follow the crowd toward the larger building, we saw this impressive statue. Here is Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Japan's second great unifier statue.
On our way to the inner grounds, I had to take a photograph of Madeline with her sakura t-shirt amidst all of the sakura trees that were all over the castle grounds.
The castle’s inner courtyard allowed a full view of the castle. You can see all the tourists who have come for the day.
The castle can now accommodate people with walking disabilities. This modern elevator allows access to the castle.
They had a spot for children to dress in samurai outfits with a toy sword and they would take photographs. This guy looked pretty real.
Here is a man dressed as a Ninja warrior just strolling around the grounds.
This couple was dressed for a wedding it appears. We saw photographers closely following them to the next photo location.
Osaka Castle is also famous for its incredibly well-built stone wall, which is impressive in its sheer size, with an estimated 500,000 to 1 million large stones used in its construction. The moat walls stand at up to 65 feet tall and 300 feet wide. We exited the castle grounds after spending about an hour walking around, photographing and reading the signs of history.
Kyoikuto in Osaka Castle Park
3-3 Osakajo, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi, Osaka-fu, Japan 540-0002
As we exited the castle grounds and headed back to the main exit, we noticed a large structure flanked by sakura.
Kyoikuto means Education Tower. It is a memorial tower for the victims of some of the disasters that occurred in Japan. It recognizes the Muroto typhoon in 1934 and the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995. As you can see from the photo, there are sakura. We learned that there is also a wisteria trellis and hydrangea bushes as consolation to the victims of the disasters.
We now wanted to travel to the Ohatsu Tenjin shrine. So, we used our Pasco cards to board the subway to take us back to the Higashi-Umeda station.
Ohatsu Tenjin/Tsyuono Tenhinsha
2-chome-5-4 Sonezaki, Kita-ku, Osaka-shi, Osaka-fu, Japan 530-0057
We approached this shrine from Higashi-Umeda. You could also walk from Osaka Station.
We knew it was a short walk from the station. The shrine is a 10-minute walk southeast of Osaka Station, or just 4 minutes from Higashi-Umeda Subway Station.
We simply used Google Maps, but you also could ask directions to the covered shopping arcade called appropriately – the Ohatsu-Tenjindori Shotengai. This shopping street is packed with shops, bars, and dining options.
This shrine has multiple names. It is called 'Tsuyuno Tenjinsha’, but the name 'Ohatsu Tenjin' is the more popular name today because of the shrine's romantic past.
We had read about the story of the two star-crossed lovers, with destinies intertwined. We loved the romantic notion, and we know that many lovers and young couples continue to be drawn here.
The story is Japan's very own 'Romeo and Juliet'. The play tells the tragic story of two star-crossed lovers, the geisha Ohatsu and the apprentice trader Tokubei, and it was supposedly based on a historical double suicide that took place at the shrine in 1703. In the play an unfortunate combination of family pressures, financial misfortune, and the betrayal of a friend, threaten to keep the lovers apart. Unable to live without each other, they decide to meet at the shrine and take their own lives. Ohatsu and Tokubei's story was brought to fame by Japanese dramatist, Chikamatsu Monzaemon. As a result of this story of true love, the shrine has gained popularity with young lovers and couples. The name 'Ohatsu Tenjin' is in reference to the story's female protagonist.
The lover's story can also be read in detail at the shrine, with information provided in several languages. People purchase special offerings and cards here. People also write their prayers for success in love on special wooden plaques called ema, many of which bear the image of Ohatsu and Tokubei.
We found a photo opportunity but there was nothing I could do with a selfie. I generous Japanese man saw our predicament and mastered the shot. This is the customary pleasant behavior we encountered all over Japan.
We loved the romantic symbolism of the place, and it really is not hard to find. Be sure to say Ohatsu Tenjin because most everyone will know the shopping street and the original story of the Japanese lovers.
We walked so much on this day that we walked back to Osaka Station to meet the very convenient Hyatt Regency Osaka shuttle which comes every 30 minutes on the hour and half hour. We decided that there was too much to see in one day. You can read about our day 2 attractions tour of Osaka here!