Our last stop on our Japan tour was Osaka It’s just a couple hours from Tokyo and is in central Kansai region of Japan. Osaka is a city of about 3 million people though it seemed bigger as we arrived in the Shin-Osaka station. Osaka is famous for its food and has earned the nickname “the nation’s kitchen.” Shortly after we arrived in Osaka I was happy to notice that the prices are about 25-33% cheaper than Tokyo for just about everything.
When we got to Osaka we walked to our Airbnb where we would be staying for 9 days. On our way there, we saw a large grocery store. After we got settled in, we headed there to pick up some essentials and things for dinner. We ended up buying some Kobe beef steaks and Diem did some slick MacGyver work in cooking the steaks and veggies with only a small pocket knife. The steaks were fatty, delicious goodness. They are still pretty expensive for a traveler’s budget (~$15-20 USD each), but they are a bargain for what you would have to pay in a restaurant back home or even in Japan. We were still pretty tired from the day so we stayed in and went to bed early.
Our first full day in Osaka started off a little delayed. Apparently all the hiking we did on Miyajima Island and Amano Hashadate caught up to us because we ended up sleeping until almost noon. We finally got moving and our first stop for the day was Himeji, about 25-30 minutes outside of Osaka. Himeji is a small town famous for its castle (nicknamed the “White Rose”) located high on a hill. You can actually see the castle from train station exit and it’s pretty striking. It’s about a 10-15 minute walk from the station to the entrance to the castle. You can walk right up to the castle but the entrance fee to enter the interior part of the castle grounds up on the hill is 1000 yen. We got some good pictures from the exterior and since we had a second stop to make, we headed back to the train station to go to Okayama.
Okayama was another 25-30 minutes from Himeji. Okayama is famous for its Kurashiki Honmachi Street and Korakuen landscape garden. Okayama city is the capital of the Okayama Prefecture which is nicknamed “The Land of Sunshine” because it experiences more sunshine than any other Japanese Prefecture. We walked along the Kurashiki River (about a 15 minute walk from the train station) but as it was about 5 PM, a lot of the shops and museums lining both sides of the river were closing. We saw some people taking a river boat ride but there weren’t that many people around. Okayama used to be a middleman town, transporting rice, sake, and other goods to the mainland of Japan from the different port cities of Osaka and Kobe. Okayama was a cool little town but it would have been nice to see the town when all the shops and museums were open. We took the train back to our place and called it a night.
Our second day we were still a little exhausted from the amount of traveling and hiking we’ve been doing these last couple of days/weeks. We decided to take a rest day and stay in and work on our blogs and watch some TV. In the afternoon I went for a run along the Yodo River, which had a nice view of downtown Osaka and the beautiful Umeda Sky Building. There’s a nice long path along the river alongside a grassy area that is used for baseball, soccer, and general outdoor activities.
The next day we got another late start and decided to check out the Osaka Castle and an all-you-can eat yakiniku place that was highly recommended in our research. The yakiniku place didn’t open until 5 PM so we grabbed lunch at a nearby conveyor belt sushi place. The sushi was OK but not great and not as good as the conveyor sushi we had in Tokyo. After lunch we made our way to the Osaka Castle. The castle is actually a concrete reproduction of the original castle that was built in 1597. The main tower is five stories on the exterior and eight-stories on the interior. It played a major role in Japan’s rich history, trading hands a number of times. So far on this trip we’ve seen a lot of castles so to me, Osaka Castle didn’t really stand out. It was 600 yen to go inside the castle but we were planning on getting a 3 day pass to the entire Kansai region which included entry to the museum so we decided we’d come back later. We went back to the yakiniku place and ate our faces off. It was really good for $10 all you can eat but it would have been nice to get a little more diversity in the meat options.
We’ve been pretty lucky with the weather in Japan. We only had a few rainy days up until Osaka. Our fourth full day was another rainy one in Osaka so we stayed in. We really didn’t mind because we were pretty exhausted from our travels till now so it was nice to relax and take it easy. We made our way out to the grocery store again and had a nice meal at home.
The next day we bought a 3 day Kansai Thru Pass that is good for unlimited travel on most of the trains (but not the bullet trains) in the Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe region and good for the buses as well. The pass is pretty expensive (around $50 USD) but since we were going to be traveling a lot between Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe, we figured it would be worth it. We hit a bit of a snag though because on our first ride to Kyoto, the pass fell out of my pocket. I noticed it right when we arrived in Kyoto and we talked to the train worker to see if anyone found my pass and turned it in but unfortunately no one did. We waited for a bit for him to contact other station stops and then made our way toward the Arashiyama bamboo forest in Kyoto. We passed a river along the way which was nice and had lunch at an Italian restaurant that was decent. The Arashiyama bamboo forest was really pretty but it wasn’t that big, just a 200m walk down a single road. We walked around the area, went up to an observation deck and had plans to go to another temple in Kyoto but the temple was over an hour away and it was getting late so we decided to head back to Osaka.
To make the day feel less like a wasted day because I lost my Kansai Thru Pass ticket, we decided to go to the observation deck of the Sky Umeda building in Osaka which is next to the Umeda train station. The building comprises two towers joined by an observation deck on top and a bridge connecting the two towers. The observation deck roof costs 1000 Yen and features a doughnut shape that provides an unobstructed 360-degree view of the city. The building was originally conceived in 1988 as the "City of Air" project, which planned to create four interconnected towers in northern Osaka. Eventually, the Japan economic bubble of the 1980s burst and brought the number of towers down to two. Luckily, we had a beautiful day and a clear view of the city. We took a lot of pictures on top of the deck but decided not to wait for the sunset because we were getting hungry. We had dinner at an all you can eat Shabu-Shabu place in the Osaka train station that was really good. It was all the beef and pork you could eat for 90 minutes and they had a nice variety of vegetables for the two different broths. We stuffed our faces and waddled back to the apartment to call it a night.
Since I lost my 3 day Kansai Thru Pass, the next day I bought a 2 day Kansai Thru Pass (~$40 USD) so we can still have unlimited travel the next two days. We took the train to Kobe which is about an hour ride from the Umeda Station. Right outside of Kobe station there is a small hike to the Nunobiki waterfalls. There were two main waterfalls that were actually pretty nice. The paths weren’t very crowded so we had most of the hike to ourselves. It started raining though so we went to search for some Kobe beef for lunch. I feel like eating Kobe beef in Kobe Japan is a necessity, so even though we’ve cooked our own Kobe beef a couple of times in Japan, we went to get the full experience at a restaurant. The first place we went to was a fancy looking restaurant near the train station but they turned us away because we didn’t have a reservation (or because we looked pretty ragged). Diem did some research and we headed to a little mom and pop restaurant in town. The place was really small and probably only seated about 10-15 people total. The owners however, were really nice. The mother waited on us, the father butchered the meat and prepared the vegetables, and the son cooked the food for us on the hibachi grill. The food was delicious but still a little pricey.
After lunch, we walked down to a temple nearby then decided to do a little sake tasting. Kobe is home to a number of sake breweries and we found out that a lot of them have free tastings and free tours. We probably went to four or five breweries which are all really close together and walking distance to each other. The best was the Hakutsuru brewery, the first one we went to, which has a cool self-guided tour about the sake brewing process. We were feeling pretty good after the tastings and we wanted to catch the sunset by the Akashi Kaikyō Bridge between Kobe and Ajima. The bridge was completed in 1998 and has had the longest central span of any suspension bridge in the world. You can take a “Bridge World” guided tour. The tour includes a visit to the very top of one of the bridge's 300-meter-tall towers. The tour, however, is in Japanese only, held twice a day on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, takes 2.5 hours, involves a lot of walking, costs 3000 yen per person and requires advance reservations so we didn’t do it. There’s a park down next to the bridge entry that has a beautiful view of the bridge and the sunset. We watched the sunset there then made our way back to Osaka, which was an hour train ride.
The next day we were feeling lazy. It was another cloudy rainy day in Osaka so we decided to stay in again, relax, and work on our blogs. We also had to pack for our trip to Korea the next day.
Even though Tokyo and Fukuoka may rank higher in some lists of the most livable cities in the world, to me, Osaka was the most livable city in Japan. It’s probably because it’s the city we spent the most time in, but it is much more affordable than Tokyo and is a lot less confusing to get around. It’s also centrally located in Japan so trips to Tokyo, Kobe, Kyoto, Hiroshima, etc. are really accessible even if you don’t take the bullet train. Osaka was just the place we needed at the end of our Japan tour and any place that is considered Japan’s kitchen is all good in my book.