Date of Travel: 26/02/2012
We planned to meet one of J.C.’s friends today at about 10am. As we didn’t have anything planned before that, we took the chance to have a sleep-in (well…if you call 9am a sleep-in that is…). We quickly headed down the road to Lawsons at about 9:30am to buy breakfast and headed back to the hostel to eat. To our surprise, J.C.’s friend was waiting for us when we returned! It was a bit awkward spending the first few minutes eating in front of them when Brownie and I just met them! But they were pretty cool about it thankfully!
Our first stop of the day was at Shitennoji Temple, which was located about 20 minutes away. The temple itself wasn’t that grand, as the temple was quite old. Nonetheless the ground was very spacious and the landscaping was attractive, as is the case for most temples around Japan. It was also the first temple that we were free to roam around in since leaving Nagasaki, so it was nice getting back to the activities we kick-started our Japan trip with. It was also the first time we had climbed up a pagoda in Japan. It was only 5 stories high and did not have that great a view, but it was nice seeing how the architecture was like on the interior.
Next stop was the Gokuraku-jodo Garden, which was located a short walk away from Shitennoji Temple. The building itself was reminiscent of Nijo Castle in Kyoto. The vegetation here was quite different to those we had encountered in other parts of Japan. We had a nice walk among the greenery surrounding the interior lake. It is still hard to believe that we are still right in the middle of the 3rd largest city in Japan considering how quiet and peaceful the garden and temple grounds were.
Shortly after, we started heading towards the Shinsekai district for lunch, which was located another 10-15 minutes away from the temple grounds. It was quite an interesting walk along the way, passing by fire stations, other buildings with interesting architecture, and the Tsutenkaku Tower looming in the distance. This was a district was once upon a time seen as the centre of growth in Osaka (Shinsekai means “New World”), but other parts of Osaka has risen in dominance since. The gloomy appearance of the tower is a constant reminder of what could have been in years past.
One of Osaka’s many food specialties is Kushikatsu. It is basically “deep fried everything you can think off”. It is surprisingly popular, as we saw by a massive queue into such a shop. In addition to the usual deep fried seafood and meat, there were deep fried onion, cheese, lotus root, asparagus, tomatoes and more. J.C.’s friend brought us to one of those places for lunch. Can’t say I am a fan, as despite the amount of deep fried meals I had throughout this trip, I actually dislike deep fried food as I just feel like complete crap after having it. Having a meal comprising almost completely of deep friend food was way too much for me. Luckily they had also ordered Yakisoba and a delicious egg and pork dish called tonpeiyaki, so it wasn’t all bad.
After lunch, we explored the Shinsekai area together with J.C.’s friend. The place was very lively and colourful; a bit like Dotonbori from the night before. As with Dotonbori, many of these buildings had very interesting exterior decoration. There were small interesting alleyways around the place, featuring heart locks (for couples to declare their love) and a place to play shogi and go. After exploring for a while, J.C.’s friend wanted to bring us up to the top of the Tsutenkaku Tower. However, there was a thirty minute waiting time in the queue. There were still many things we wanted to do in the afternoon, so we had to decline their offer. We felt bad about it too as they had been so nice to us. Thankfully they understood and offered to travel with us to the Umeda district before parting ways.
Umeda is one of the busiest areas in the whole of Osaka. A large number of high rise buildings and shopping malls are located here. The first order of the afternoon for me was a short stop at Yodabashi Camera to see if I could find a new pair of headphones (as mine broke sometime on our trip between Ogimachi and Takayama). Afterwards, we headed up to the main walkway leading out from Osaka JR station and had a great view of the area. On there, we spotted a mall with a ferris wheel and decided to have a look. We eventually found the mall (Hep Five) and spent a while exploring it while waiting for the sun to start setting outside. It had large whale sculptures hanging over the ground which was a bit intimidating but awesome all the same. Brownie was getting a bit of a headache so we stopped by an ice cream parlour for a quick snack. Luckily he recovered very quickly afterwards!
Once it started getting darker, we started walking towards the Umeda Sky Building. The walk there was interesting, as we really got a feel for how built-up Osaka was compared to the many cities and towns we had visited recently. Part of the walk was along the train lines, which gave us the opportunity to take some photos. There was also an automated carpark, which I had not seen up close and personal before.
The grounds around the Umeda Sky Building were very modern and spacious. There weren’t many people present since a lot were still at work and that this area was more of an office district compared to the area closer to the Osaka JR Station. We took a look upwards to see how high the observatory was before heading upwards.
To get to the observatory, we had to take an elevator up to the 35th floor. From there, we took a glass escalator up a further 4 floors. The view from the 39th floor was reasonable, though the reflection of the interior lights against the windows was annoying. Luckily, as the weather was good, we were allowed to go up to the roof. Interestingly, the roof was lighted up by a strange glow-in-the-dark light, where anything white reflected back blue light. We had some fun trying to take creative photos with this light. There was also a corner with more heart locks for couples.
Needless to say, the view from the roof was amazing. In addition to that, the sound of liveliness of the city really added to the atmosphere. The amount of high-rise and skyscrapers was amazing, especially coming from Christchurch where you could probably count the number of buildings over 10 stories high with your fingers. I also spotted a building where part of a bridge passes through it (top right photo). It was an amazing feat of engineering, though I would not want to be based on that building.
We headed down from the observatory and observed the nearby grounds. There was a fountain display that was quite attractive, and a garden located at basement level. The modern feel of the place was a sharp contrast to the old temple grounds we encountered earlier in the day. This is one of the reasons why I just love Japan, as the old and the new seem to integrate together seamlessly.
The basement itself was interesting, as it featured dozens of restaurants which were set up as if it was an old alleyway reminiscent of Gion in Kyoto or the Chaya districts in Kanazawa. It had a miniature shrine, vehicles that were used in the day, paved floors, strange displays, and fake building exteriors. It was done really well. Unfortunately we could not find something which we wanted to eat at a reasonable price, so we decided to head back to the Umeda train station for dinner. Funnily enough, we actually found a shortcut that went under the train tracks we saw earlier in the afternoon that took us back to the Umeda station area a lot quicker than before.
Since Hep Five was close by, we decided to head back there for dinner. A lot of the restaurants were packed, but luckily we managed to find one with some tables that wasn’t too expensive. While having dinner, we started discussing what we wanted to do after. I picked up a pamphlet earlier in the day for the arcade on the upper floors of Hep Five, and saw that they had a ride called “Room of Living Dolls”. I jokingly suggested that we should go as I thought that J.C. would not be keen on horror related stuff. But surprisingly, J.C. agreed to it in a heartbeat. As such, we headed upstairs to the arcade to try the ride.
We had no idea what to expect for the ride. The person in charge of the ride asked which room we wanted. We had no idea, so we asked which was scarier. He then led us to a dark room surrounded by creepy dolls, and we were asked to sit down and put headphones on. He then turned off the light and exited the room. We then listened to an elderly woman speak. It was quite well done as it felt like the woman was actually speaking right in our ears, and moving around in the room. But then all hell broke loose when the lights in the room started flickering and large thunder sounds burst through the headphones. It was really deafening. Unfortunately, we had no idea what the woman was saying as it was in Japanese, but soon there were loud bloody screams and yelling, and the sound of something cutting up something else. At one stage, the sound was too loud so I took off my headphones momentarily. I then heard in the background “Somebody I used to know” by Gotye. I had wondered at that moment whether it was signalling that I was never going to step foot outside of this room ever again! Nothing much was happening during the ride, so I started pushing Brownie, who in turn decided to start pushing J.C., who thought that there was a robotic arm actually pushing him and was frozen in fear! After one final blood hurling scream, the chairs suddenly dropped and moved towards the table, and the ride was over. We walked out feeling somewhat disappointed to be honest, as we were expecting an actual haunted house or room that we had read up online before going on this trip. But nonetheless it was a great story to tell! We wandered around the arcade for a few more minutes before calling it a day and headed back to the hostel.
Subway from Dobutsuen-mae to Umeda – 230 yen
JR Trains covered by JR National Pass
Bonsai Guesthouse – 3,000 yen
Breakfast from Lawson @ Momodani – 441 yen [green tea cream bun, sakura flavour red bean bun, water]
Green tea ice cream @ Hep Five – 320 yen
Dinner at some Udon Restaurant (replaced by Korean restaurant) @ Hep Five 7th floor – 780 yen [Curry udon and oyako-don set]
Lunch shouted by J.C.’s friend
Umeda Sky Building entrance fee – 700 yen
TOTAL (cost for whole trip in brackets)
9,361 yen (504,419 yen total)