iAfter that really exciting and enjoyable trip to Universal Studios and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, it was time for us to see and explore another part of Osaka. On our second full day in the city, we decided to devote the day learning all about the city’s history and culture.
I remember 20 years ago, my mom came home from her trip to Japan and one of the gifts she had for her travel collection was a block of wood with a laser-etched design of Osaka castle. That gift really stuck with me and made me want to see the castle for myself. Flash forward to the present and I find myself walking towards the green spires of the castle itself.
Even before we reached the castle, there was already a lot of things to see and do. The area surrounding the castle was filled with food stalls laden with custard cakes of varying flavors, beef and pork cuts barbecuing, ducks and other birds swimming or diving into the moat, and people just making their way to the castle. We certainly took our time, savoring the beautiful pathways and the wonderful gardens as the castle slowly revealed itself to its visitors.
It was only after we had entered the gate and having walked a good 20 minutes from Osakajokoen station that I finally saw Osaka castle in all its beauty, majesty, and glory. Once again and with all historical buildings/structures, I was amazed at the beauty and architecture of the castle. The light green tiled roofs, the golden accents, the white walls, and the huge windows were just magnificent. From any angle, the castle was just amazingly beautiful, even with visitors crowding around us, we still managed to pull a perfect selfie.
Given our tight schedule for the day, we opted not to go inside and explore Osaka Castle (¥600/Php. 300). I wanted to, but the price was a bit on the steep side but I am pretty sure there was a lot more to be seen and behold inside the castle’s keep (later on, my brother would tell me that it houses a museum and visitors can try out samurai armor).
Instead of exploring the castle, we decided to bask in its glory and enjoy the souvenir shop just in front of it. This was probably a good call, inside the souvenir shop, all the traditional handicrafts, wooden puppets, geisha dolls, paper fans, and whatever Japanese souvenir you could ever want were practically sold in that shop. The best part? They were all cheap and discounted, but don’t get me wrong that just because it was cheap or discounted the quality wouldn’t be as good. Nope, you are wrong in thinking that, I was able to snag a very lovely samurai kokeshi doll (¥3,500), a gold and silver leaf chopstick (¥3,800), and Tricia was able to get a really exquisite and intricate geisha doll for less than Y1,000! Those dolls would normally cost around ¥3,000 – 4,000. Not going to Osaka castle but shopping for handicrafts and souvenir items was a pretty good tradeoff. Sadly though, I wasn’t able to find any laser-etched wood blocks of Osaka Castle, just to update what my mom brought home many, many years ago. Maybe next time.
Osaka Museum of History
In our excitement, we forgot that the weather was feeling uncooperative today. When we got out of the souvenir shop there was a slight drizzle that threatened to dump a whole lot more. So we ran and ran and decided to stop by the Osaka Museum of History to kill time. Rain or not, stopping here was not intentional, but was part of our itinerary.
Paying ¥400 (student discount…shhh, I still have my old graduate school ID) plus ¥200 more for an English audio guide, we made our way to the 10th floor to begin our journey into Osaka’s history. The museum is arranged into three floors, each floor focusing on the three big periods of history: pre-historical/ancient, Middle Ages, and the modern/contemporary age. To be honest, I am really not a fan of the first part of the museum, even with the audio guide I couldn’t help but not pay attention. We then made our way down to the next exhibit, the Middle Ages, which was a more enjoyable and interesting exhibit. Life-size exhibits, dioramas, mock-ups, and exhibits showcasing everyday life were all in the museum. Going back to the audio guide, in all parts of the museum, we used the guide to tell the story of Osaka. It wasn’t so obvious in the first part of the museum, but in the subsequent floors/ages, the guide told the story of life during that time, explaining the significance of the structures or the roles of each person. In each exhibit, everything was meticulously explained and therefore made the museum that much more interesting.
Besides the exhibits, the museum also had interactive exhibits: an archaeology site where you can reassemble broken pots, dig up artifacts or even play a game. In one part of the museum, volunteers gamely taught visitors how to play an old shooting game using fans. It was challenging to the say the least and I had no such luck trying to hit the small target. Tricia on the other hand was more adept and even won against her opponent.
In the end, the museum was an exciting look at Osaka’s rich history, it covered the basic history of the city, which was fine by me. Having the audio guide was helpful, especially a lot of the exhibits didn’t have English translations on it. For ¥600, it was a good enough museum to while away the time and wait for the rains to stop. An added bonus: a beautiful view of the Osaka skyline and Osaka castle.
Dotonbori and Kuromon Ichiba Market
History aspect aside, we were now done and we checked that off our bucket list. It was time to move on to another part of Osaka, this time we were intent on exploring Osaka’s other title “Japan’s kitchen” and we were aching to try out some okonomiyaki and takoyaki.
The moment we got off to head on to Dotonbori, we were greeted by a whole swarm of people, people were either shopping or eating, but mostly they were eating and we wanted to experience the same. The thing with Dotonbori, it isn’t just one place, it’s an entire district filled with restaurants, grills, side streets with more chairs, and every conceivable nook and cranny crammed with a wide-variety of Japanese food. With no plan in mind, we randomly chose a restaurant and ordered an okonomiyaki (¥900) and a takoyaki (forgot the price).
From Dotonbori, we then moved on to Shinsaibachi and see Glico Man, but the moment we got to Shinsaibachi, we did a quick about face. That day, it was a Saturday, the crowd going in and out of Shinsaibachi was immeasurable. It was a sea of humanity just making their way from one shopping store to the next, and it was scary! With no choice, we moved on to Kuromon Ichiba market. The market, at that time, was slowly winding down for the day. That didn’t mean that there wasn’t anything left to do, there were still lots to see and do. Plus, our stomachs were still rumbling from taking on all the food aroma.
In the market we were greeted by food, upon food, upon food. If I looked to my left I would spot giant crabs, if I looked to my right there would be skewers of unagi glistening, if I looked to the front, beautiful mochi, and to my back, well more food. It was endless and exciting, certainly not Tsukiji Market exciting, but all of Japan’s bounty was right in front of us at cheap and affordable prices.
On that day, I remember trying out mochi and unagi, the mochi was soft and very glutinous; while the unagi, fresh and very flavorful. Along the way, my eyes feasted on all the beautiful fish and crustaceans that were on display.
The real scene stealer though was seeing the famous fugu or pufferfish. Yep, those fish were happily swimming in their tanks, while their dead brethren (and its poison) were being served. I did not have the guts to try it out, for one it was expensive and secondly, I was scared. Nevertheless, it was nice seeing fugu in real life and with the knowledge that one wrong move could send you to a paralytic death.
So we ended our last full day in Osaka, filled with beautiful memories, lots of gifts, and a full stomach. Spending one whole day wasn’t enough to really appreciate the city, nevertheless it gave me a glimpse into the city’s culture and history.
540-0002 Osaka Prefecture
Take the local JR train to Osakajokoen
- Gardens and grounds are free
- Castle museum ¥600 (Php. 300)
Osaka Museum of History
540-0008 Osaka Prefecture
It is a 10 minute walk from Osaka castle
- Adults: ¥600
- Students: ¥400
- Audio guide: ¥200 (optional)