Japan had always been in my Destination List. Due to its distance from the United Arab Emirates, where I spent almost half of my life, it took a while before I made it there. It is one of the Far East countries that my daughter wanted to visit also. We would often talk about it when travel popped up in our conversation. While on her indefinite work hiatus, we decided it was the best time to go. This trip was even more memorable because our one-and-a-half-year old little girl shared the fun with us. Here are what we did, and a few more activities that we wanted to do but reserved for next time.
Stay in a Ryokan
What better way to experience Japan in its authentic style than stay in a Ryokan! This traditional bedroom setting took away our worry of our toddler falling off the bed while we slept. The only challenge for me was, it was so comfy that getting off the bed was not easy. I don’t know about my daughter, but every morning before getting up , I found myself snoozing most of the time. Customary to Japanese hospitality and their “Omotenashi” culture, the Ryokan where we stayed in Osaka and Kyoto both provided us with unlimited supply of their unique Japanese tea varieties, sweets, and cookies free of charge. For tea lovers like my daughter and me, this was a perfect treat that awaited us daily.
Osaka Castle Park
The picturesque Osaka Castle Park, nestled in the heart of the city, is home to one of Japan’s most famous landmarks – the centuries old Osaka Castle, which was turned into a Museum in 1997. Three luscious gardens keep this park vibrant throughout the year: (1) Nishinomaru Garden – where about 600 cherry blossoms grow including the Japanese native someiyoshino cherry, (2) Ume Grove – known for 95 different apricot flowers that bloom from about 1250 trees, (3) Omoide-no-mori (Grove of Remembrance) – popular for colorful array of autumn leaves. It is no wonder this park attracts both the Osakans and tourists alike whatever the season.
Umeda Sky Building
This modern 40-storey edifice located in the business district is the 19th tallest building in Osaka Prefecture. It is one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks not only for its towering height but also because it holds the famous Lumi Sky walk on its rooftop. This floating garden boasts of the 360-degree panoramic daytime view of Awaji Island and Akashi -Kaikyo Bridge, and radiant city lights at night from the rooftop corridor. Excited to experience the Lumi Sky Walk, we reserved our second day for this adventure. Getting there, we discovered it was not for the fainthearted. Access to this floating garden require getting into the glass and metal lattice encapsulated escalator without fear of falling. You will not fall for sure, but due to the building’s obvious height and nerve-racking open space ambience, it’s the sensation that you’ll get. A glimpse underneath the see-through escalator caught me by surprise and trembled my knees. Instantly, I felt nauseated. Convinced that the roof-garden observatory adventure was not for us, we proceeded to take aerial photos of the city peeping through the glass windows at the 40th floor observation deck instead. I still think that the Lumi Sky Walk is worth a visit; and I’m determined to find a less intimidating way to get there if the future takes me back to Osaka. I shall probably close my eyes or look up the sky on my way to the top!
Photo-Op (or #Selfie) with the Glico Man
There is a meeting place in the Southern Downtown, Osaka called Ebisu Bridge, made popular by Glico Man – a symbol of Glico candy. This simple graphic advertisement depicts an athlete running on a blue track in a victory pose. Although this ad has been altered many times since its installation in 1935 – to celebrate sports events like The World Cup, and in support of Osaka’s Hanshin Tigers baseball team – it has withstood the test of time, being the only lasting graphic signage facing the bridge. The current graphic that continues to illuminate this popular meeting place at night is said to be the 6th version. Ebisu Bridge is where most #selfie and #groupie take place in Osaka day or night. Anyone passing through this bridge stand to get randomly photographed 99.99% of the time. So why not take your own photo-op, or version of #selfie? Anyway, it’s free, and you’ll have proofs that you’ve been to Dōtonbori!
My daughter’s Japanese friend who happened to be on a business trip in Osaka very kindly treated us to lunch at a local restaurant in Dōtonbori. She suggested that we sample their famous Okonomiyaki dish (usually called “Japanese pancake”). Translated into English okonomi means “as you like”, and yaki means “grilled”. Each table in the restaurant was equipped with a grill in the middle. I patiently watched while the chef stirred the mix as he dropped the ingredients one by one into the sizzling grill. I wondered how long it would take for me to taste the finished product. I cannot remember now how long we waited, but I remember the dish was good, and a nice choice compared to the usual sushi and sashimi that I eat in YO! Sushi. Looking back, I appreciate the blessings of having friends in different parts of the world.
Dōtonbori Food Trip
Where else to feast on street food but in Dōtonbori! If you prefer the fine dining, they have that too. Lunch and dinner at any of the food and beverage outlets in this area guarantee a happy-filled tummy. There are a wide range of dish selections available from Bento, Ramen, Tempura, to all sorts of meat, seafood, and vegetable dish sautéed, grilled, steamed or boiled. Whether you chose to splurge on a fine dining experience or venture to taste the street food you don’t need to go far. Dōtonbori has a good mix of both. You may find the menu in Japanese too complicated to read and remember, but the service crew will be happy to translate them for you.
Shopping in Namba
We found our way to Namba on our first day in Osaka by foot. While on this area, we saw various shops selling kitchen, and tableware that were colorful and attractive. If you are planning to upgrade your home decor at a reasonable budget, try checking their stock. You might find what you are looking for. A few more steps, and you will notice some chic accessories and fancy jewelries on display counters that are good for everyday use. To feed our curiosity, we carried on window-shopping. There were lots of souvenir items, and stationery stores selling cutesy Japanese school novelties appropriate for little kids and grade school children. If you are thinking of buying inexpensive souvenirs to give away, Namba got them for you. Our toddler was only interested in the yellow duckling that she saw in one of the toy stores, so I bought that one for her. For those who came to shop, I’m sure they did not go home empty handed like us. In case it’s not obvious, let me tell you, we traveled to Japan for the scenery and food!
Osaka houses the Universal Studios in Japan, one of four Universal Studios theme parks owned by USJ Co., Ltd. and the first of its kind to open in Asia. The park is similar to the Universal Orlando Resort as it showcases special attractions both from Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood. Opened on 31st March 2001, it is a popular amusement park for the Japanese, Asians, as well as Western tourists and expatriates. The park is said to have attracted more than 10M yearly visitors since 2013. Coming from the Philippines, you do not need to travel all the way to the USA to watch their shows. Our Ryokan home was already waiting for us in Kyoto, so we had to miss the Universal Studios. Next time, perhaps.